The term tribe generally means a group of people living together sharing similar norms, values, and thought. These tribes constitute a social group and live under a fixed territory and people living in these groups are known as tribal people. Tribes are further divided into various subgroups and collectively known as Tribal Society. They are mostly dependent on the forest for their livelihood even in the modern era. “The total population of Scheduled Tribes is 10.43 crore as per the Census 2011 which accounts for 8.6% of the total population of the country. The proportion of the registered tribal population in urban areas is only 2.8%. According to the Indian Anthropological Survey, there are 461 tribal communities, of which 174 are identified as subgroups. Almost 212 tribes have been discovered in different areas of India. This community is divided according to race, customs, geographic location, and language.”
India ranks second in tribal population around the globe. These tribes are spread over the forest and hilly areas of India and characterized by their geographical habitat and culture. Tribes are considered unhygienic and ill-mannered by many and treated like untouchables and inferior due to their economic backwardness and illiteracy. They were projected to perform work that was considered lower in society. The constitution of India to safeguard the rights and status of tribal people guarantees certain provisions and Articles in the Constitution itself. Article 14 of the constitution talks about equality before law hence, the state cannot deny its citizens equality and protection. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the firm supporters for the rights of tribal people and called them Girijans meaning children of the forest. After independence, the government of India moved its focus to tribes and made several provisions and laws to improve the living standard of tribes by initiating several welfare programs.
Fifth and Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution
The fifth and sixth schedules of the Indian Constitution entail the details about the control and management of the Scheduled and Tribal Areas. ‘Schedule 5’ of the Indian Constitution defines the provisions related to tribal communities. Part 10 of the Indian Constitution entails the provisions related to Scheduled and Tribal Areas with Articles 244 – 244 A . The fifth schedule of the Indian Constitution provides for the management and control of tribes and planned areas in any state other than the four states mentioned under the fifth schedule: Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram. The sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution provides for the management and control of tribes and planned areas in the five north-eastern states, which are outside the fifth schedule named; Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura State, Mizoram.
Constitutional Rights to Tribal People
- The 5th Schedule stipulates the management and control of scheduled areas and scheduled tribes in states other than Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram. It also requires the Governor to submit an annual report on the management of the scheduled area to the President of India on a regular and timely basis. A tribal advisory committee has also been established to advise on matters relating to the welfare and development of the registered tribes mentioned in Article 244 (1) of the Constitution of India.
- The Sixth Schedule establishes special regulations for the management of tribal areas in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram. These tribal areas are designated as autonomous regions and territories under Article 244 (2) of the Constitution of India.
- Constitution of India provides the benefit of reserved seats for scheduled tribes and scheduled castes in Lok Sabha. According to Article 330 of the Constitution of India and Section 3 of the Representation of People’s Act,1950, the criteria for allocating Lok Sabha seats to registered tribes depend on the ratio of registered tribes to the total population in a particular state.
- For reservation in appointment, posts in favour of any backward class citizens which in the opinion of the state is not adequately represented in the services under the state (Article16), in a matter of promotion to the scheduled tribe (Article 16 [4A]).
- These tribal areas are funded by the government for empowerment and development. Promotion of the educational and economic interests of the tribes is the responsibility of the state as mentioned in Article 46 of the Indian Constitution. The central government provides subsidies to the states for the welfare and improvement of the tribes.
- Article 19(5)of the Constitution of India guarantees the tribal people the right to own property and enjoy it in any part of the country.
India is rich in biodiversity and the historic habitat for tribals and indigenous communities. With the recent increase in environmental threats and degradation, tribal people are facing many issues regarding the use of forest resources. To safeguard the habitat of tribes it becomes important for the government to put more light on safeguarding these resources as tribal people are solely dependent on natural resources. In response to the threats to the environment, the government of India has launched many policies and suggested interventions for the protection and conservation of forest areas. These policies have created new challenges in supporting the tribal community. The causes include-
- Procedure for determining and identifying forest area-wise is very poor.
- Due to the Overlapping of laws and policies real implementation becomes difficult.
- The government has centralized the forest areas which becomes a hindrance in the objective of social and economic justice.
Over 90% of the country’s grassland has been depleted by being under the definition of forest and then planted with nonlocal tree species so that it can be used for timber. Around the globe, the forest and land rights of tribal communities are being reinstated as an intrinsic part of conservation policies. Still, in India, the government is sceptical about such claims. To achieve the goals for conservation of forests the policymakers should keep in note to not only make provisions but also look after the proper implementation of policies in forest-dwelling areas. They should also ensure that forest areas are separated from economic use and personal use for tribals. The government of India should strengthen the implementation mechanism and harmonize with inter-state territory officials to protect the culture, livelihood, and rights of the tribal community and special emphasis should be paid on gender equality among the community of tribes.
Author(s) Name: Pratima Pal (Amity University, Lucknow)
 Census of India https://censusindia.gov.in/census_data_2001/india_at_glance/scst.aspx accessed 22 February 2022
 INDIA CONST. art. 244, cl.(a)
 INDIA CONST. art. 330
 INDIA CONST. art. 16, amended by The Constitution (Eighty-first Amendment) Act, 2000.
 INDIA CONST. art. 46
 INDIA CONST. art. 19