Though only 8.6% of the total population, the Scheduled Tribes (ST) constitute 40% of the people displaced since independence due to the construction of dams, mines, industrial development and the creation of wildlife parks and sanctuaries. Poverty and landlessness are rampant amongst the STs. 47.1% of all STs are below the poverty line in rural areas as compared to 33.8% for the national average, whereas 28.8% of all STs are below the poverty line in urban areas. In spite of being the only group with constitutional protections for their land rights, 9.4 % of the STs are landless compared to 7.4% for the national average. Therefore, clearly, this group has disproportionately borne the burden of economic development.
This, despite the fact that the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Indian Constitution carve out a separate legal and administrative framework for certain designated tribal majority areas within the territory of India. The Fifth Schedule designates tribal majority areas in ten tribal minority states within peninsular India including, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Rajasthan. The Sixth Schedule designates such tribal majority areas in north-eastern states, including Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura. Of these, Meghalaya and Mizoram are tribal-majority states.
This begs the question as to why despite the existence of special constitutional and legal provisions for safeguarding the rights of tribals to land and also special affirmative action provisions for the STs, they continue to remain the most displaced, most vulnerable, and most impoverished of all groups in India. Through archival and field research, the CPR Land Rights Initiative project on ‘Land Rights in the Scheduled Areas of India', attempts some preliminary answers to this question.