Making a strong political pitch to the tribal community ahead of elections,the government has set up a Sachar-type high-level committee to investigate the socio-economic status of tribals under National Advisory Council newest member and TISS Guwahatis deputy director Virginius Xaxa.
The committee,an indication of which was there in Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs Independence Day speech,has been asked to submit its report within nine months,which would mean around May when polls will be round the corner.
The political message,sources said,is clear that the Congress is looking to target the tribal vote alongside its efforts to consolidate the Muslim constituency. It may be noted that the tribal population is a vital constituency for the Congress to counter Narendra Modi in Gujarat besides making inroads across the Naxal belt in Maharashtra,Bihar,Jharkhand,Chhattisgarh,Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. This is also population which has attracted the attention of the RSS in a bid to counter religious conversion efforts.
Going by available data,the tribals have done worse than Schedule Castes despite Contitutional and legal protection right from the start. Literacy rate,going by 2011 data of the Census and the UNDP,is just about 47 per cent,well below that of the SC population. Similarly,maternal and infant mortality ratios are quite high with the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey putting under-5 mortality rate at 95.7 per 1,000 live births (national figure for 2005-06 was 74.3).
The seven-member Xaxa committees terms and conditions are almost identical to those of the Sachar Committee,which examined the socio-economic status of Muslims. It has also got a similar mandate with directions being sent out to all ministries and departments to provide assistance. The panel will also take into account the findings of all other committees on issue like the Bhuria panel and the Mungekar committee.
The terms include a set of questions on which the committee will have to provide specific answers,again quite similar to Sachar panel. Sample these:
* Identifying regions down to the block level where tribals live and visible changes that have occurred the in the wake of involuntary displacement as well as enforced migration.
* Map out the geographical pattern of their economic activity and identify their newer forms of income following shrinking of their original habitats due to urbanisation.
* What are their assets and income base compared to other social groups,patterns of ownership as well as role of public policy in facilitating/inhibiting such changes.
* Find relative share in public and private sector employment of tribals along with statewise comparison.
* Put together data of relevant indicators like literacy,dropout rate,infant mortality rate,among others,within the community.
* Identify causes of disparity behind access to available health,education and financial resources with statewise comparison.
* Assess whether there are adequate systems and structures for implementation of protective legislations like Prevention of Atrocities Act,Panchayat Act,Forest Rights Act,National Food Security Ordinance,among others.
Just like the Sachar report,the committee will have to consolidate,collate and analyse this information and identify areas of government intervention.
Other members of the committee include Usha Ramanathan,an expert on law and poverty; social scientist Joseph Brara; anthropologist K K Misra; community and public health expert Abhay Bang,bureaucrat Sunila Basant and Secretary,Tribal Affairs.