Historically, the monikers ‘Excluded Areas’ and ‘Partially Excluded Areas’, applied by the colonial administration to areas specified as ‘Scheduled Areas’ under the new Constitution after Independence, set the tone for a policy of least intervention in their developmental aspects. During the first three decades post-Independence, despite recognition that the ‘Scheduled Areas’ usually have tribal communities in a majority and greatly suffered from development deficits, they received barely any interventions by way of development of roads, formal education, entrepreneurship promotion, etc., due to a predominant perception that such interventions would lead to penetration of non-tribals to the tribal areas, which would result in destruction of tribal traditions and culture, in addition to their exploitation.
Interestingly, the least interventionist approach prompted and promoted by anthropologists lead by Elwin Verrier continued for a long time, leading to the expression of arrogance in some quarters amounting to “History for us and Anthropology for you!” It is not surprising to find that the recommendations made by the Dhebar Commission (1960) and the Shilu O Committee (1967) for development interventions — with simultaneous implementation of protective legislation — did not receive the desired attention with any sense of urgency. The focus of policy planners and administrators remained on protective discrimination at the cost of assimilation through a balanced development.
A conceptual break from this practice was made through the introduction of the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) during the Fifth Five-Year Plan. It called for earmarking of budgetary provisions in proportion to the tribal population by concerned states and Central ministries. But, in practice, it remained a half-hearted budgetary exercise on paper. It seemed as though the then Planning Commission did not have full clarity about formulating the TSP and the strategy for development of ‘Scheduled Areas’. The majority of the Central ministries, too, did not earmark budgetary allocations of plan schemes/programmes under their respective purview in proportion to the tribal population residing in the ‘Scheduled Areas’.
Non-lapseability of budgetary allocations was an integral part of the TSP-based approach which could not be adhered to in practice. Similarly, non-divertability of such budgetary allocations, though provided for in rule, became a notional exercise of mere earmarking of allocations in practice, with diversions allowed frequently on vague grounds that the schemes were not feasible or the “catch-22” situation that the absorption capacity was limited. Most of the medium and major projects involving huge budgetary provisions for the development of irrigation potential, industries, mining, etc., in the natural resource-rich ‘Scheduled Areas’ more often than not resulted in distress of tribal communities in terms of their displacement rather than provide employment, entrepreneurial development, irrigation facilities, etc.
TSPs — the first signs of progress
Nevertheless, with the passage of time, the application of the TSP approach to various schemes/ projects did lead to higher investment in the tribal-majority areas from the 1980s. The results of specifically targeted schemes, including the flagship programmes, started making visible impact in improving the socio-economic conditions of tribal communities in particular, and the ‘Scheduled Areas’ overall. It would be travesty of truth to say that nothing has improved over the years, though the large disparity between the tribal and non-tribal area in terms of development still exists due to a number of factors, which included but were not limited to a generalised approach in formulating and implementing the flagship programmes that formed part of what came to be known as “Bharat Nirman”. Most of the flagship programmes adopted the population-criterion for selection of villages and projects, which failed to capture the reality of the thinly-populated tribal habitats, and therefore, could not benefit in equal measure these ‘Scheduled Areas’ or address the development deficits suffered by them historically.
According to Article 244 of the Constitution, provisions of its Fifth Schedule shall apply to the administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes. The Fifth Schedule provides that the Governor may by public notification direct as to whether any particular Act of Parliament or of the legislature of the state shall apply or not to the ‘Scheduled Areas’ or any part thereof. He may specify exceptions or modifications for implementing such laws in the ‘Scheduled Areas’. The Governor has powers to make regulations for peace and good governance in ‘Scheduled Areas’ of the state. In reality, governors have not exercised powers and responsibilities conferred upon them under these provisions of the Constitution to the desired extent, and the enabling specificity and flexibility in the application of the plan schemes thus largely remained on paper. In addition, although various expert committees on administration of ‘Scheduled Areas’ have recommended posting of competent and dedicated government functionaries to ‘Scheduled Areas’, it remained otherwise in reality — these areas were made sanctuaries for incompetent and delinquent officers, or the posts were at best left vacant. The extension of Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas (PESA) has further deteriorated the situation as the accountability of public servants got diffused and the law contained many unrealistic and un-implementable provisions.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
1. Review the population criterion for earmarking funds
The implementation of protective legislation and social welfare measures needs to go hand in hand with vigorous implementation of flagship schemes and other developmental programmes in the ‘Scheduled Areas’. The geographical size of the ‘Scheduled Areas’ and prevailing development deficits should be taken into account while allocating funds instead of earmarking budgetary allocations solely on the basis of proportion of tribal population.
It may be noted that tribal communities constituting about 8% of the total population are in a majority in about 15% of the country’s total geographical area, the major chunk of which is specified as ‘Scheduled Area’. In Odisha, for instance, more than 45% of the state’s geographical area has tribal communities in a majority, while ‘Scheduled Areas’ constitute about 55% of the total geographical area of Jharkhand and 61% in Chhattisgarh. These areas are thinly populated with a large number of scattered villages. The tribal population of these states is about 23%, 32%, and 26% of the total population, respectively. Considering the fact that these large chunks of areas had been treated during the colonial era as ‘Excluded’ and ‘Partially Excluded’ and did not receive adequate attention for many decades even after Independence, earmarking of funds solely in proportion to tribal population considering the whole state as a unit, particularly, for infrastructure development i.e., road communication, etc. becomes a case of ‘too little and too late’. The existing practice of treating the state as a unit, and according greater priority to villages with higher population, for development of physical infrastructure (e.g. under PMGSY) invariably goes against the interests of thinly-populated ‘Scheduled Area’ districts.
It is a reality that the tribal areas are endowed with natural resources in abundance. Infrastructure development in these areas, particularly road communication and creation of irrigation potential, along with educational development and provision of public health facilities, will help the economy grow faster and reduce the inequity in developing the relatively poorer sections of the society.
2. Ensure infrastructure for elementary education
The national norms for opening of schools, primary health centres (PHCs), sub-centres, etc., have been relaxed in favour of ‘Scheduled Areas’. However, the ground reality does not fully match with the stated policy. There are a large number of non-functional schools without teachers or partly functioning with a single teacher. The teachers themselves are often appointed on contractual basis with remuneration below the minimum wage rates. It is often forgotten that education is a first generation input for tribal communities. Absence of a conducive atmosphere at home and lack of awareness among parents place the tribal students at a disadvantage ab-initio. The deficit can be bridged by recruiting more teachers with proper remuneration and maintaining a healthy teacher-student ratio. Considering the poor communication facilities and non-availability of reasonable residential facilities in remote tribal villages around school premises, it is desirable to make provisions for accommodation of teachers, which is possible by adding two extra rooms for residential purposes to each of the existing school buildings. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan guidelines which permit construction of additional class rooms can be modified to this effect.
Considering the low density of population in ‘Scheduled Areas’ coupled with small and scattered villages, it may not be feasible to open schools within a distance of one kilometre from the habitation everywhere, as the national policy envisages. The most viable option, therefore, is to open residential schools for the children of the smaller tribal habitations, which do not have primary schools within a distance of one kilometre, which also cater to students from other poor tribal families, thereby provisioning for 100% enrollment. Although the Ministry of Tribal Affairs runs a scheme for opening of Ashram schools, clear stipulations need to be made to the effect that the first priority for admission in such schools will go to those tribal students from those habitats which do not have primary schools as per the prescribed national norms. In the absence of such priorities and stipulations, a few Ashram schools are opened casually and boarders of such schools do not necessarily include all the children in the school-going age group of villages which do not have primary schools within one kilometer distance. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs may, therefore, specify norms clearly stating that the first priority in admission would go to the students of villages which do not have accessible primary education.
It is often seen that the vacancies of teachers are justified on the ground of non-availability of eligible tribal candidates against the reserved posts. This situation is the result of inadequate attention towards tribal education in past. However, the minimum qualification prescribed for primary school teachers itself renders the tribal candidates ineligible. It is, therefore, necessary that the educational qualifications for primary schools in respect of tribal teachers are relaxed temporarily for a fixed period of time, of say, 10 years from the date of appointment. The appointment of less-qualified tribal candidates in primary schools can be made subject to their acquiring the required qualifications within 10 years of recruitment, wherever qualified tribal candidates for district cadre teacher’s posts are not available. Simultaneously, development of educational training infrastructure must be taken up in each Scheduled Area district.
3. Ensure flexibility in flagship schemes
Almost all the national flagship programmes have a clear bias in favour of bigger villages due to higher weightage for higher density of population. The uniform approach followed in implementing flagship programmes, therefore, needs to be changed. It is also noticed that allocations are made for different components and flexibility for adjustments among various components is limited. There should be a mechanism to allow diversion of funds from one component to another or higher allocation of funds for the components which are considered more viable.
For example, incentives are given under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) for institutional deliveries. In ‘Scheduled Areas’, the infrastructure for the institutional deliveries is grossly inadequate. To illustrate, in Odisha more than 50-70% of the posts of doctors remain vacant for years in some of the ‘Scheduled Area’ districts, and equipment and other facilities hardly exist in primary health centres. Road communication is far from satisfactory, thereby restricting approach to the district hospitals, in which too, only about 10% beds are earmarked as ‘female wards’. It would doubtless be better if higher allocations under NRHM are earmarked for construction of primary health centres, sub-centres and for providing incentives, including residential facilities, to the health functionaries posted at the Block and village levels. More posts for health workers need to be created in addition to special drives for filling up of the existing vacancies as there is no back-up from the private sector in these areas.
4. Ensure cohesion, provide incentives
The administrative infrastructure in ‘Scheduled Area’ districts is usually not strong enough to be effective for implementing most of the flagship schemes, which in reality at times tend to become expenditure-driven. Multiplicity of administrative arms (ITDAs/ITDPs and DRDAs) which function in ‘Scheduled Area’ districts with similar mandates and without any effective coordination between them has only added to the confusion among tribals, besides diffusing accountability of the public functionaries. The extension of Panchayats to the Scheduled Areas has not succeeded in reconciling the dichotomy and administrative fragmentation by providing a single line of administration.
The capacity and needs of line departments responsible for implementation of schemes need to go hand in hand with allocations that are received for various planned and non-planned programmes. Moreover, since ‘Scheduled Areas’ do not provide the essential infrastructure and facilities, government functionaries try to avoid postings in those areas. Functionaries of state cadres should, therefore, be provided with financial incentives and accommodation facilities for their families in the state or regional headquarters during their posting in the Scheduled Area districts. They could be given fixed tenure of one to two years to be followed by a choice posting as in Armed Forces.
5. Involve tribal communities
One of the reasons cited for non-execution or delay in execution of development projects i.e., roads, bridges, minor irrigation projects, buildings etc. in tribal areas is unwillingness of contractors (who are mostly outsiders) to execute these works in remote locations and inadequate entrepreneurship among the local people. Steps have hardly been taken to train and build capacity, and encourage local people to take up such vocations. Empanelment of contractors at the lowest level (‘D’ class) is usually done on the recommendation of bigger contractors who do not appear to be keen to involve the local/tribal people for executing projects. The local people, therefore, remain indifferent or uninvolved which ultimately leads to imbalance and conflicts. In any case, the process of development can not be sustained if it is merely superimposed from outside.
It is therefore, necessary to identify the local tribal youth and train them to develop their entrepreneurial skills. Once the educated tribal youths are trained in the contract management, easily implementable and technically less complex projects can be awarded to them to start with, along with some hand-holding. Stipulations to this effect can be made in the flagship programmes. Over a period of time, the trained tribal youth, with some experience in successfully implementing simpler projects, can graduate to higher levels to execute bigger and technically more complex projects. This would lead to actual empowerment in addition to breaking the dissonance between the local communities and the programme implementation.
6. Specially designed, targeted projects
Implementation of specially-designed and targeted schemes, with relatively small financial budgets, has nevertheless greatly contributed to the improvement of critical infrastructure of tribal districts. The Long Term Action Plan (LTAP) introduced by the Central Government to address the development deficits of relatively backward and LWE-affected Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) districts of Odisha helped in bridging many critical gaps. This scheme, rechristened the Revised Long Term Action Plan (RLTAP), along with two other schemes, namely, the Backward Area Development Fund (BRGF) and Integrated Action Plan (IAP) gave impetus to decentralised planning and aimed at bridging those critical development deficits which remained unaddressed by other bigger central and centrally sponsored schemes.
The district administrations leverage the flexi-funds available under these specially-designed and targeted schemes, which amounted to only about Rs. 60 crore per annum for each of the KBK districts of Odisha, but which hugely helped in dealing with the challenge of under-development. Unfortunately, these schemes which have been found to be effective have now been suddenly discontinued, and that too without even providing time and space for substitution and grounding of alternative viable schemes. This stoppage is bound to halt the growth impetus lately imparted to these Scheduled Areas, besides adversely impacting the vulnerable tribal communities. A more prudent approach would have been to allow continuance of such schemes on cost-sharing basis with states. Simultaneously, the states could have been encouraged to fully own up the specially-designed and targeted schemes without Central support.
In conclusion, it remains a truism in the case of Scheduled Areas as elsewhere that legal provisions in relation to entitlements and programmes alone cannot be the instruments of change in the absence of certain prerequisites and actions on the ground.
( Dr Taradatt, IAS, is Chief Administrator of the KBK region in Odisha, including Nabarangpur district, which is the focus of a year-long assignment launched by The Indian Express to track poverty and transformation in India’s poorest district. The views expressed are personal)