In response to the January 2018 report by the National Commission for Denotified, Semi Nomadic, and Nomadic Tribes (NCDNT), several ministries have backed the need to enumerate these communities in the next Census so as to get an accurate estimate of the most deprived populations in the country.
The responses are part of the exercise launched by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to implement the NCDNT report prepared under the chairpersonship of Bhiku Ramji Idate. Comments were invited from 22 ministries, commissions, and government think tanks on several recommendations of the commission, including starting with the need for “a proper systematic caste-based census in respect of DNT/NT communities” in the 2021 Census.
The Commission has asked for according Constitutional protection to these groups, bringing them under the umbrella of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and assured sub-quotas. However, all of these can only follow once there is a definite headcount on their numbers. In its response, the Ministry of Finance has said, “Unless Census is carried out and used for preparation of state-wise and community-wise lists, any further action will not focus on the intended beneficiaries.” The Finance Ministry has added that issues of constitutional safeguards, sub- quotas, skill development and jobs can be addressed only once the Census data is available. The Ministry of Culture too has held that Census 2021 should collect information about these communities and has supported the idea of sub-quotas.
The Renake Commission report of 2008, the precursor to the Idate Commission report, had presented a rough estimate of their numbers as 10 crore. The last time their population was enumerated was in Census 1931 with the practice being discontinued since Independence. Since then, many denotified and nomadic tribes have been arbitrarily classified as Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes for the sake of reservation. However, being the “poorest of the poor, most marginalized and most downtrodden communities”, as noted by the Idate Commission report, most do not get the benefit of reservation. Moreover, 94 denotified, 171 nomadic, and 2 semi-nomadic tribes are completely left out of the quota system as they are not classified as either SC or ST.
In its reply to the report, the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India has noted that those not classified as SC /ST have “no scope for enumeration in Census 2021” and therefore the Social Justice ministry could start by extracting the figures relating to these communities from the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), which has not been made public till date. Making a similar point on the SECC data, the Ministry of Rural Development has also agreed to earmark housing quota for these communities under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
Last month, NITI Aayog offered to set up a working group to come up with policy suggestions on issues pertaining to these communities. “Following letters sent out by minister Thaawarchand Gehlot, the ministries of Finance, Health, Culture, HRD, Rural Development, Housing and Urban Affairs have sent in responses and so have the NITI Aayog , Census Commissioner, and Indian Council of Social Science Research. Soon, we will make our policy recommendations once others send in their replies on matters concerning their ministries,” said sources.
Ministry of Home Affairs, which has a significant role to play in repealing Habitual Offenders Act that continues to stigmatise entire DNT/ NT communities, is yet to write in. Other crucial ministries that have not responded so far include Drinking Water and Sanitation, Skill Development, Environment and Tribal Affairs, the National Commissions for Human Rights, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the UGC.