Policy Engagements and Blogs

Understanding the Land Rights of Tribal Populations in Scheduled Areas


Though only 8.2% of the total population, the Scheduled Tribes (ST) constitute 55% 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 is rampant amongst the STs. 51% of all STs are below the poverty line compared to 40.2% for the national average, and 65% of the STs are landless as per the 2011 Census. 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, Orissa 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 in the states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the CPR Land Rights Initiative project on ‘Land Rights in the Scheduled Areas of India, attempts some preliminary answers to this question.

Key findings

No data existed on the extent of geographical area in the Scheduled Areas. Based on extensive 2011 census village and district level mapping of data, the Initiative has determined that 10.5% of all India’s geographical area lies within the Scheduled Areas.
Based on Census 2011 data available with the Initiative, even though the Scheduled areas were designated tribal majority areas, on average today, only 30% of the population in the Scheduled areas is tribal. That is, in actual fact, the designated tribal majority areas are tribal minority areas today due to continuous displacement of the tribals.
On all three narratives of development, representation, and rights to land, the Scheduled Tribes are pitted against the dominant mainstream of Indian society. The power imbalance between the tribals and the mainstream society requires both protective laws and a powerful state disposed towards the protection of the Scheduled Tribes.
The special protective provisions in the Fifth and Sixth Schedules cannot be seen in a vacuum but have to be seen against the backdrop of a contrary legal regime of land acquisition, forest and mining laws, through which the state actively displaces and facilitates the displacement of tribals from the Scheduled Areas.
The protective legal regimes fail also because of meagre financial allocations for their implementation and active subversion or confused implementation of the regimes by the administration.
A presentation of the key findings are available in the video (above). The panel discussion that followed can be accessed here. The Initiative also analysed Supreme Court cases on land acquisition over 66 years, delving deep into the massive power imbalance between the state and land losers. A video recording of this analysis can be accessed here.