Tribal rights are human rights as standard for bridging divide between development, social justice

| Updated: Dec 27, 2016 16:05 IST

By Shambhavi Ravishankar New Delhi [India], Dec. 27 (ANI): Tribal rights in India require fresh discussion. India's history of meeting challenges of economic growth and development is marred with instances of internal displacement of peoples (tribal and otherwise), with vast tracts of mineral-rich land, being forested and/or home to indigenous peoples. ST's constitute 8.2 percent of the population (2011 Census). There is a clear Constitutional mandate for the protection of STs, with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MTA) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) being entrusted with the task. Additionally, the Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006 explicitly recognise community rights and dwelling rights of tribal populations in forested areas. The basic framework of protection does exist, with support from the Judiciary in India. The Annual Report 2015-2016 released by the MTA states that between 1951-1990, 8.5 million tribal people were displaced because of various developmental activities, and that a mere 2.1 million out of this number have been rehabilitated. The report goes on to state that "measures" have been taken to rehabilitate more affected STs by the NCST, the Ministry of Coal and the Ministry of Mines. What these steps are, have not been listed in the Annual Report. In the endeavour to develop and grow the economy, the social costs must be included for a variety of reasons. In addition to adhering to our International commitments, safeguarding tribal rights also protects human diversity. Tribal populations are repositories of knowledge of the land, weather, environment etc. Their native understanding is vital to tackling bigger issues like Climate Change. Tribal populations are human beings and citizens of India. Human diversity is key to developing adaptation strategies to cope with the changing world. It is important to note that India was one of the countries that voted for the UNGA Resolution on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 7, 2013, (UNDRIP). The protections of the Forest Act need strengthening. Questions need answering. Why are tribal populations still disenfranchised? Why are they not a part of economic policy discourse? There is little doubt that resources cannot be left untapped, but it is incumbent upon the Government to have consultation with tribal populations before displacing/rehabilitating them. It cannot be an afterthought. The UNDRIP makes explicit mention of this free, prior and informed consent. This means that consultations must take place without coercion, in advance, in a manner that incorporates a variety of aspects affecting the issue. As an added protection verification methods, should be in place to ensure the authenticity of the entire consultation process. The law and policy must reflect this aspect of protection. On January 1, 2016, the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, came into force, a commitment that India has firmly backed. Social Justice for tribal people are mentioned in the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. The Niti Aayog, which is committed to implementing the SDGs, is yet to produce any reports of policy on this line balancing development and tribal populations. Being the Think Tank for helping India face challenges of growth, it is imperative that research is done on the issues raised here. To paraphrase Hilary Clinton, tribal rights are human rights. A human rights approach to socio-economic discussion would enhance protection, which is key if we are to avoid falling into the same situation that many other countries have of committing various atrocities against their own tribal populations. (ANI)