Policy Engagements and Blogs

The Legal Regime and Political Economy of Land Rights of Scheduled Tribes in the Scheduled Areas of India

Ankit Bhatia

September 7, 2018


The Scheduled Tribes (‘STs’) or adivasis consist of a number of heterogeneous tribal groups that have historically self-identified, and been identified by the Indian state, as lying outside the mainstream of society, partly because of their ’distinctive culture and way of life as a group’, and partly because of their ‘geographical isolation’. There are as many as 750 Scheduled Tribes in 26 states and 6 union territories of India. The Indian Constitution enshrines special political representation and affirmative action provisions for STs, and also delineates special protections for land rights of Scheduled Tribes, vis-à-vis the state and other communities, in geographically demarcated tribal majority areas known as ‘Scheduled Areas’. This is because land is not only the most important source of tribal livelihoods, it is also central to tribal identity, history, and culture. However, despite these special protections, the Scheduled Tribes remain one of the most vulnerable, most impoverished, and most displaced of all groups in India. 47.1% of all STs in rural areas are below the poverty line as compared to 33.8% for the national average, whereas 28.8% of all STs in urban areas are below the poverty line as compared to 20.9% for the national average. Inspite of being the only group with constitutional protections for their land rights, 9.4 % of STs are landless compared to 7.4% for the national average. While STs constitute only 8.6% of the total population, it is estimated that they constitute 40% of all people who have been displaced during the period 1951 to 1990, some more than once, due to the construction of dams, mines, industrial development, and the creation of wildlife parks and sanctuaries. Only 24.7% of ST population that was displaced during this period was rehabilitated. Therefore, it is clear that these groups have disproportionately borne the burden of economic development. Why is this so?

The Fourth Annual CPR Land Rights Initiative Conference featured the launch of the Report on ‘The Legal and Political Economy of Land Rights of Scheduled Tribes in the Scheduled Areas of India’, which provides some answers to these questions. Through a review of constitutional provisions, laws, and policies, governing the rights of Scheduled Tribes and the administration of Scheduled Areas, and the financial and administrative structures that effectuate these protections, the Report delineates a conflicting regime of protective and displacing laws, as well as conflicting policy narratives underlying these laws which facilitate the displacement of Scheduled Tribes and their corresponding landlessness. The Report also contains extensive primary data on the current mapping of Scheduled areas, and the current distribution of dams, forests, and mining activity, in the Scheduled areas.

Watch a presentation by Namita Wahi on the key findings of the report (above).

This Report will be the focus of panel discussions and deliberations at the NCST CPR Land Rights Initiative National Seminar on Friday, September 14, 2018.