Forest and Tribal Rights

Forest and Tribal Rights

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According to the Report of the High Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities of India (chaired by Prof. Virginius Xaxa), May 2014, Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Please click here to access):

• Of the nine States considered to be seriously affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE), six are States with Scheduled districts. Among the 83 LWE-affected districts, 42 districts have Scheduled Areas*. These regions are marked by the following features: (1) serious neglect and deprivation, widespread poverty and poor health and educational status; (2) exploitation and oppression by traders and money lenders, on the one hand, and absence of an effective and sensitive civil administration, on the other; (3) large-scale displacement of tribal people for development projects; (4) occurrence of all of the above despite the special Constitutional and legal provisions for the tribal people (in the form of the Fifth Schedule, laws to prevent alienation of tribal land and restoration of alienated lands, and in recent years, progressive legislations, such as Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act-PESA, 1996 and Forest Rights Act-FRA, 2006).

• Almost 60% of the forest cover of the country is found in tribal areas. Of the 58 districts, wherein the forest cover is greater than 67%, 51 districts are tribal districts.

• With regard to mineral resources, three States with substantial tribal populations – Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand - have considerable mineral reserves. These three States alone account for 70% of India’s coal reserves, 80% of its high-grade iron ore, 60% of its bauxite and almost 100% of its chromite reserves.

• According to a Centre for Science and Environment study entitled: Rich Lands, Poor People: Is ‘Sustainable Mining’ Possible? (2008), about half of the top mineral-producing districts are tribal districts – and these are also districts with forest cover of 28% which is larger than the national average of 20.9%.

• It is estimated that dams are the biggest causes of displacement in the country, although actual figures regarding the number of people displaced range from 20 to 50 million. However, it is generally agreed that about 40% of those displaced belong to the Scheduled Tribes (STs). Given that the STs constitute about eight per cent of the country’s population, they are clearly disproportionately represented in the number of displaced persons.

• There is dearth of data of the displaced persons (DPs) and project-affected persons (PAPs), and official figures, wherever available, underestimate the number of DPs/PAPs. Of the estimated 60 million DPs/PAPs, about 40% are tribal people, 20% are Scheduled Caste and 20% belong to other social groups, like OBCs. Based on available government records and estimates, researchers have estimated that people have been displaced from 25 million hectares, including 7 million hectares of forests and 6 million hectares of other CPRs. It is also estimated that only 25% of all DPs have been resettled and only 21.16% tribal DPs have been resettled, with a backlog of 79%. Further, a distinction must be made between resettlement, which is a onetime process, and comprehensive rehabilitation, which is a longer process for socio-economic reconstitution of DPs/PAPs.

• The new legislation ‘The Right To Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation And Resettlement Act, 2013’, does not consider the backlog of DPs/PAPs.

• Researchers suggest that around 25% of India’s tribals become displaced persons (DP) or project-affected persons (PAP) at least once, because their regions are rich in natural resource. In absence of official data the Planning Commission report quotes the estimate 60 million DPs/PAPs arrived at by researchers. The Expert Group on Prevention of Alienation of Tribal Land and its Restoration set up by the Government of India estimates that, of the total displaced due to development projects, 47 per cent were tribal population.

• Based on the data provided by Annual Report 2007-08 of Department of Land Resources, it can be seen that 5.06 lakh cases of tribal land alienation had been filed, which covered land area of 9.02 lakh acres, out of which 2.25 lakh cases, were decided in favour of tribals with an area 5 lakh acres land. The total number of cases rejected by the Courts on various grounds are 1.99 lakh, covering an area of 4.11 lakh acres. The high proportion of cases rejected is a cause of concern and could be due to loopholes in law and apathy, or connivance of State machinery.

• Based on the data provided by Annual Report 2007-08 of Department of Land Resources, it can be seen that Odisha has the highest number of filed cases on tribal land alienation in the court, which is around 1.05 lakh. The performance of Madhya Pradesh is dismal, as no case of disposal in favour of the tribals has been reported. In Gujarat, there is a huge gap between the number of cases (19,322) decided in favour of restoration and the number of cases (376) in which land was actually restored.

• Based on the Forest Rights Act claims status (data provided by Ministry of Tribal Affairs) as of 31 January 2014, it could be seen that there is generally a gap between the land claimed and the actual extent of the titles issued to the claimant. Claims under FRA are often rejected due to absence of ST community certificates. The Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD) claims have largely not been entertained due to lack of evidence. OTFD’s have mainly been discouraged from filing claims and most of their claims have been rejected at the Gram Sabha level itself or not accepted by the Forest Rights Committee (FRC). Claims have also been rejected due to inability to prove plot cultivation for seventy five years prior to 13th December 2005. There are reports of claims being rejected on the ground that the claimed land is ‘disputed’.

• An analysis of the NSSO data for the 49th round (Jan- June 1993) and 64th round (July 2007- June 2008) shows that the proportion of migrant households among ST in rural areas decreased between 1993 and 2007-08, but the trend was the opposite in urban areas. The NSSO 64th round shows that in urban areas, the proportion of ST migrant households was higher than the proportion of migrant households of other social groups.

• The Government of India, in its Draft National Tribal Policy, 2006 records 698 Scheduled Tribes in India. As per the Census of India 2011, the number of individual groups notified as STs is 705.

• Over 80% of STs work in the primary sector against 53% of the general population, primarily as cultivators. However, the number of STs who were cultivators, declined from over 68% to 45% in 2001 whereas the number of tribal agricultural labourers increased from about 20% to 37%, demonstrating increasing landlessness among tribals. This trend has intensified, as can be seen in data from the 2011 Census.

• It is estimated that, in the last decade, about 3.5 million tribal people are leaving agriculture and agriculture-related activities to enter the informal labour market.

• The sex ratio among the STs is 991 females to every 1000 males in rural areas and 980 females to every 1000 males in urban areas (during Census 2011), the average sex ratio being 990.

• Between 1991 and 2001, while the decadal growth rate of the general population was recorded at 22.66, the ST population growth rate was 24.45. Similarly, between 2001 and 2011, when the general population growth rate was 17.64, the growth rate of ST population in the corresponding period was 23.66. On the whole, the ST population within the total population of India has increased from 8.2% in 2001 to 8.6% in 2011.

• In many States, the STs as a proportion of the population have remained fairly constant between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. However, States/Union Territories such as Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chhattisgarh, Daman and Diu and Nagaland have recorded small decreases in the relative proportion of STs in the population between 2001 and 2011 (upto about 3% decrease in Nagaland).

• Odisha has the largest number of notified STs (62) followed by Karnataka (50), Maharashtra (45), Madhya Pradesh (43) and Chhattisgarh (42).

• Among the South Indian States (without any Scheduled Areas), Karnataka has the largest number of STs (50) followed by Tamil Nadu (36) and Kerala (36).

• Among the States and Union Territories, Lakshadweep ranks top with the highest proportion of ST population (within the state) of 94.8%, followed by Mizoram (94.4%), Nagaland (86.5%), Meghalaya (86.1%), and Arunachal Pradesh (68.8%). Uttar Pradesh stands last with the lowest proportion of ST population of 0.56%, followed by Tamil Nadu (1.1%), Bihar (1.28%), Kerala (1.45%), and Uttarakhand (2.89%).

• Regarding the distribution of ST population by States, Madhya Pradesh stands first with 14.7%, followed by Maharashtra (10.1%), Odisha (9.2%), Rajasthan (8.9%), Gujarat (8.6%), Jharkhand (8.3%), Chhattisgarh (7.5%), Andhra Pradesh (5.7%), West Bengal (5.1%), Karnataka (4.1%), Assam (3.7%), Meghalaya (2.5%), and the remaining States represent 11.6% of the tribal population. Proportion of ST population in the rural areas is 11.3% and in urban areas is 2.8%. More than half the ST population is concentrated in the States of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Jharkhand and Gujarat.

• Karnataka and West Bengal, neither of which have any Scheduled Areas within its State boundaries have 4.1% and 5.1% of the country’s ST population, respectively.

• There are 90 districts in India, where the tribal population is more than 50% of the total population. In 62 districts, the tribal population is more than 25%, but less than 50% of the total population. STs reside in as many as 543 districts in India.

• Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), currently including 75 tribal groups, have been identified as such on the basis of the following criteria: 1) forest-dependent livelihoods, 2) pre-agricultural level of existence, 3) stagnant or declining population, 4) low literacy rates and 5) a subsistence-based economy.

• The majority of the PVTG population, as identified in Census 2001, lives in the six States of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

• Of the States with PVTGs, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal do not have Scheduled Areas, thereby increasing the vulnerability of these tribes, who lack the protections and rights offered by the Fifth Schedule and the Provisions of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.

• The participation of STs in MGNREGA has been decreasing since its inception in 2006. The person-days of employment generated under MGNREGA for STs for the year 2006-2007 was 36%, and it came down to 17.19% in the year 2013-14 (16% till 13 December).

• As per a study by Arvind Panagariya and Vishal More (2013), the percentage of population below the Tendulkar poverty line in rural areas was 50.3% in 1993-94, 41.8% in 2004-05, 33.3% in 2009-10 and 25.4% in 2011-12 whereas the percentage of ST population below the Tendulkar poverty line in rural areas was 65.9% in 1993-94, 62.3% in 2004-05, 47.4% in 2009-10 and 45.3% in 2011-12. The percentage of forward caste population below the Tendulkar poverty line in rural areas was 44.0% in 1993-94, 27.1% in 2004-05, 21.0% in 2009-10 and 15.5% in 2011-12.

• The study by Arvind Panagariya and Vishal More (2013) shows that the percentage of population below the Tendulkar poverty line in urban areas was 31.9% in 1993-94, 25.7% in 2004-05, 20.9% in 2009-10 and 13.7% in 2011-12 whereas the percentage of ST population below the Tendulkar poverty line in urban areas was 41.1% in 1993-94, 35.5% in 2004-05, 30.4% in 2009-10 and 24.1% in 2011-12. The percentage of forward caste population below the Tendulkar poverty line in urban areas was 28.2% in 1993-94, 16.1% in 2004-05, 12.4% in 2009-10 and 8.1% in 2011-12.

• The study by Arvind Panagariya and Vishal More (2013) shows that the percentage of population below the Tendulkar poverty line nationally was 45.7% in 1993-94, 37.7% in 2004-05, 29.9% in 2009-10 and 22.0% in 2011-12 while the percentage of ST population below the Tendulkar poverty line nationally was 63.7% in 1993-94, 60.0% in 2004-05, 45.6% in 2009-10 and 43.0% in 2011-12. The percentage of forward caste population below the Tendulkar poverty line nationally was 39.5% in 1993-94, 23.0% in 2004-05, 17.6% in 2009-10 and 12.5% in 2011-12.

• It can be seen from provisional data provided by Educational Statistics at a Glance-2012, Ministry of Human Resources Development that the drop out rates among STs have been higher for both boys and girls from Class I to Class X during 2008-09 to 2010-11. Dropout rate is the percentage of students who drop out from a given grade or cycle or level of education in a given school year.

• According to the National Monitoring Committee for Education of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Persons with Disabilities (MHRD 2012), the percentage of out-of-school children (age group 6-14 years) among STs was 5.2%, which was higher than the same among total population (4.2%) during 2009.

• The average expenditure on education for a ST student was Rs. 453/- whereas for a general student was Rs. 1008/-, as per the NSSO 66th Round.

• As per the NSSO 68th Round, nearly 65.7% STs are engaged in primary sector, 19.8% in secondary sector and 14.5% in tertiary sector. However, among non-STs, 43% are engaged in primary sector, 27.6% in secondary sector and 29.4% in tertiary sector.

• Based on the surveys conducted by National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB), it can be seen that the average intake of all nutrients among ST population, barring thiamine, niacin and vitamin C declined over the period 1998-99 to 2007-08. The intake of most of the nutrients declined in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal during the same period.

• Though, the overall prevalence of underweight, stunting and wasting (WHO standards) among 1-5 year tribal children was higher (52%, 55% and 22% versus 43%, 49% and 19% respectively), compared to their rural counterparts, but was slightly lower than the previous survey carried out in 1998-99 (57%, 58% and 23% respectively).

• At the national level, only 10.7% of ST families have tap water available with them whereas 28.5% non-ST households have the same as per Census 2011.

• At the national level, only 7.9% of ST families have tap water from treated source available with them whereas 23.3% non-ST households have the same as per Census 2011.

• At the all-India level, only 17.4% of ST households have access to improved sanitary facilities as compared with 44.3% among non-ST households as per Census 2011.

• Nationally, 74.7% ST households practice open defecation whereas the figure for the same among non-ST households is 47.2% as per Census 2011.

• Only 9.5% ST households have access to clean cooking fuel (includes PNG/LPG, electricity and biogas) whereas 31.1% non-ST households have access to the same in India as per Census 2011.

• Nearly 61.7% ST households have electricity as main source of lighting whereas 71.3% general households have the same as per Census 2011.

• As per the Rural Health Statistics (2012) provided by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there is a huge shortfall of physicians, pediatricians, or any other specialist at community health centers (CHCs) and doctors at primary health centers (PHCs) in the tribal areas. Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu show huge shortfall in terms of availability of physicians. On the other hand, Maharashtra, Kerala, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sikkim and Manipur shows large shortfall in availability of pediatrician. Shortfall of any kind of specialist is also high in the states like Andhra Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and Nagaland and Rajasthan.

• As per the Rural Health Statistics (2012), doctors’ shortfall at PHCs level in tribal areas is huge in the states like Assam, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Orissa.


The key recommendation of the High Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities of India (chaired by Prof. Virginius Xaxa), May 2014 are as follows:

(Source: Report on India’s tribal population kept under wraps -Mukta Patil, Down to Earth, 29 December, 2014)

On legal and administrative framework

* Laws and policies enacted by Parliament to be made applicable in the 5th and 6th Schedule areas only through discretion of the governor, who must be advised by the Tribes Advisory Council on applicability or non-applicability of said policy.

* Restructure the Tribes Advisory Council (TAC). One half of the council should constitute of elected state legislature members while the other half must be chairpersons of the district panchayat bodies. The TAC must be empowered and the scope of their ambit must be widened to include constitutional provisions, laws, policies, and administrative matters pertaining to Scheduled Tribes.

* The areas where tribes are sizeable in number in villages should be brought under scheduled areas, especially in states like West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Goa.

* Autonomous Councils must be covered under State Finance Commission, and not left at the arbitrary mercy of the State government for funding.

* Traditional political institutions must be formally recognised by the State, and tribal women should have one-third reservation in all ADCs and other political institutions.

On livelihoods and employment status

* Establish agro-based training institutions and labour-intensive processing industries in tribal regions. Tribal farmers should be motivated to undertake organic farming and eco-forestry. Priority be given to water management and micro watershed development programmes.

* Prevent tribal land alienation and restore alienated land to owners as per the provisions of PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act) and confirmatory Acts by various States. National and State level monitoring agencies be set up to prevent alienation of tribal land.

* Ensure participation of tribals in protection and management of forests. The newly acquired land under FRA (Forest Rights Act, 2006) should be utilised for forestry rather than food grain cultivation.

* Extend credit and marketing facilities to the tribals. The credit policy must be on par with other social groups.

On land alienation, displacement and enforced migration

* State must try to minimise displacement, and follow a rights based approach to rehabilitate them. Displacement should be democratic and rights of tribal communities to refuse the acquisition of their land should be recognised.

* Empower gram sabhas to prevent land alienation (through the Samantha judgement and PESA Act) and form Registered Scheduled Tribe Co-operative Societies to take up mining activities in Scheduled Areas.

* Make legal provisions to return unutilised tribal land for its acquired purpose or to use it to resettle displaced tribals.

* Rehabilitation be treated as a continuous process to be monitored until the alternative livelihood becomes economically viable. Tribals should be given a stake in assets and economic activities being created on their acquired land.

* Rectification to include Common Property Resources such as government land and panchayat land under the Forest Rights Act. Community land should not be recorded as government land in land surveys.

* Empower gram sabhas plenary powers to fight cases of tribal land alienation collectively. The gram sabha should also be legally empowered to restore alienated land on detection, pending legal justice.

On legal and Constitutional issues

* Implement community forest rights and recognise various community forest rights and rights of vulnerable communities such as particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) and pastoralist communities.

* Remove contradictory processes like diversion of forest land that hampers implementation of the protective provisions under the FRA.

* Form a Judicial Commission to investigate cases filed against tribals and their supporters to allay concerns about misuse of criminal law by the state.

* Ensure that PESA is internalised into administrative practice. Government officials including forest departments continue to deny access to tribals to that which is their right.

*Note: Please click here to access the definition of Scheduled Areas.  

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