Article 338A inserted by Constitution 89th Amendment established National Commission for Scheduled Tribes(NCST).
Functions of The Commission
- Investigate, monitor & evaluate issues pertaining to legal safeguards provided to members of Schedule Tribes(STs) under Constitution, laws or government orders.
- Inquire into specific complaints relating to violation of rights & safeguards of STs.
- Participate and advise in planning process relating to their socio-economic development Evaluate progress of development of STs.
- Submit annual report and other reports to President regarding working of safeguards, measures needed for effective implementation of programs/schemes for welfare and socio-economic development of STs
- Other measures to be taken by NCST for protection, welfare and development & advancement of the Scheduled Tribes, namely:
- Conferring ownership rights in respect of minor forest produce to the Scheduled Tribes living in forest areas.
- Safeguard rights to the Tribal Communities over mineral resources, water resources etc. as per law.
- Development of tribals and to work viable livelihood strategies.
- Improve efficacy of relief and rehabilitation measures for tribal groups displaced by development projects.
- Prevent alienation of tribal people from land and to effectively rehabilitate such people whose case alienation has already taken place.
- Elicit maximum cooperation and involvement of Tribal Communities for protecting forests and undertaking social afforestation.
- Ensure full implementation of the Provisions of Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996.
- Reduce and ultimately eliminate the practice of shifting cultivation by Tribals that lead to their continuous disempowerment and degradation of land and the environment.
Power of NCST
For Investigation and Inquiry into matters related to Scheduled Tribes, the Commission is vested with powers of a Civil Court having authority to:
- Summon and enforce attendance of any person and examine on oath.
- Discovery & production of any documents.
- Receive evidence on affidavits.
- Requisition any public record or copy thereof from any court or office.
- Issue Commissions for examination of witnesses and documents.
Concerns & Challenges:
- Despite constitutional stature, NCST has not brought about qualitative change in lives of STs.
- More concerned with day to day matters of transfer, posting and employment of tribals in government.
- All petitions received by NCST are not recorded.
- The mismatch between atrocities taking place and cases which NCST deals with can be attributed to the following reasons:
- Not all cases which are registered require Commission’s intervention
- Understaffed: lack of dedicated staff to deal with the volume of cases that are registered.
- Tendency among staff to concentrate on more easily manageable service cases and neglecting other cases pertaining to the atrocities.
- The Commission rarely issues summons to officers from different departments or ministries for non- compliance of orders from the Commission regarding redressal of complaints.
- In cases where atrocities are committed by public servants including police and forest officials, follow up with the complaints become difficult for the Commission.
- Overlapping jurisdiction of NCST with other government agencies with respect to investigation into atrocities committed on STs.
- Commission functions under Ministry of Tribal Affairs and appointment by the Centre also becomes another area of concern.
- Chairman and Members of NCST should be carefully chosen keeping in view their capability, commitment and experience.
- Adequately staffing the NCST to fulfil its duties. Increasing the number of regional offices of NCST for ensuring one regional officer for all states having substantial tribal population.
- Existing independent investigating machinery in the Commission needs to be strengthened.
- To effectively deal with violation of rights of STs, the Commission should be conferred powers to impose sanctions on defaulting officials to enable the Commission to effectively discharge its functions relating to safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes.
- The report of NCST along with action taken report should be laid before each house of Parliament within three months of submission.