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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 22, May 22, 2010

Peace Now in Tribal Areas Open Letter to President of India

Tuesday 25 May 2010, by B.D. Sharma


Dear President,

I, with my life-long association with tribal affairs, beginning with the troublesome days in Bastar (1968) and having the privilege of being the last Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (1986-1991), am constrained to approach you at a critical time when we are witnessing virtual collapse of the constitutional regime for the tribal people while being attacked and suppressed in a war-like situation.

I approach you directly because people (including the tribal people) look up to you as also the Governor as the constitutional head of India and the concerned State to discharge their duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, as made explicit through their respective oaths. As President, you have various rights and duties under Article 78 of the Constitution whereby all discussions of the Cabinet and administration are to be communicated to you and you are expected to submit matters for consideration of the Cabinet.

In particular, the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution requires the Governor to give you annual reports and such special reports required by the President with regard the administration of the Scheduled Areas and the power of the Union in your name shall

“extend to the giving of directions to the State in the administration of the said areas”. (Vth Schedule, pr. 3)

No reports of consequence have been made. The constitutional machinery of the Tribes Advisory Council (Vth Schedule, pr. 4) yielded no advice.

Under the law, the Governor can ensure that no law of Parliament or the State shall apply to the extent indicated. At present, tribals are being ruthlessly exploited and suppressed by uses and abuses of land acquisition and public order. Yet no action is taking place.

In fact, going by the Ministry of Home Affairs’ perception, the tribals are effectively not the responsibility of the Union—which is only assisting the State Government. How can this be? The executive power of a State extends to the Scheduled Areas subject to the provisions of the Fifth Schedule. Moreover, ‘the executive power of the Union shall extend to giving of directions to the State as to the administration of the said areas’.

I am constrained to state at this critical phase of the history of tribal people that the Union Government is guilty of abdicating its constitutional responsibility by allowing the situation to degenerate from that of stray revolts in the 1960s to a ‘war-like situation’ at the moment. It has remained unconcerned with the simmering discontent from day one of the adoption of the Constitution. It has not issued a single direction to any State in 60 long years. You, as the head of the nation at a critical time, must ensure that the Union Government accepts unequivocally its constitutional responsibility with due apologies for the declimated, shattered and disinherited tribal communities whose irretrievable loss—physical, economic and emotional—is an un-washable blot on the fair face of our nation that still stands by equity and justice.

May I invite your kind attention to some crucial aspects of the virtual ‘war-like’ situation vis-à-vis the tribal people in extensive parts of our country? No less a person than Shri K.R. Narayanan, one of your worthy predecessors, in his address to the nation on January 26, 2001 drew pointed attention to enlightened laws for protection of tribal lands and their affirmation in judicial verdicts, yet was plagued by dilemmas of development that were not suitably addressed. He poignantly observed: ‘Let it not be said by future generations that the Indian Republic has been built on the destruction of green earth and the innocent tribals who have been living there for centuries.’

There is cruel insensitivity and total lack of understanding, some honourable exceptions apart, about the tribal ethos amongst our ruling elite when they address the tribal as ‘poor’ and talk about his joining the ‘mainstream’ of national life. They hurt the simple people to the core who are super-sensitive about their ‘honour’. Let it be known that the tribal is not poor. He is Deprived and Disinherited in his own Domain, his ‘Des’, ironically amidst the unbounded bounty of Mother Earth to her dearest children. They are the brightest jewels in the rich mosaic of the great Indian civilisation and proud of its vivacious diversity.

That is not all. The tribal people are ‘the most democratic people on earth’. The founding fathers, therefore, especially bestowed them with a protective shield, the Fifth Schedule, described as the ‘Constitution within the Constitution’. Yet these communities were virtually ‘criminalised’ on the dot with the adoption of our Constitution. The colonial laws engulfed the hitherto excluded areas. They have no place for the ‘community’ and its ‘customs and traditions’, the unwritten laws of their ‘Village Republics’. The Governors, endowed with limitless powers for removing any such dissonance, have remained unaware to date about the castastrophic impact of this lapse on their part on the life of the tribal people.


The provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), appeared to come as a saviour that is designed to erase the above mentioned historical injustice. It engendered unprecedented fervour amongst the tribal people throughout the country. It was perceived as restoration of their dignity and tradition of self-governance, symbolised by ‘Mava Nate Mava Raj’ (Our Village Our Rule). Yet this fervour has faded as no one’s concern. It is so because the ruling elite are not prepared to go by the spirit of PESA. It remains virtually unimplemented in all States.

The fund of goodwill for the tribal people in our country has been phenomenal beginning with the Panchsheel of the Nehruvian era; the unique constitutional provisions elevating tribal affairs as a national task away from party considerations; matchless comnmitment for elimination of exploitation concomitant with development in Tribal Sub-Plans (1974); ushering in a Village Republic-like frame under PESA (1996) and a pledge to undo the historical injustice in the Forest Rights Act (2006). Yet, the saddest part of this commitment is that no promise in that long chain has remained unbroken, in some cases even promises—squared, cubed and beyond. I am enclosing an illustrative list of broken promises.

In this realm of broken promises are the predatory administration and unconcern at the top that could not even keep a count of heads displaced, unrest spread and revolts multiplied. It was natural for the victims in the wild who could not be conquered even by the British. The cooption-bid through so-called developmental programmes backfired. It vitiated the egalitarian ethos. The youthful rebels against the iniquitous system became their allies. ‘With dadas in the vicinity at least—guard, daroga and patawari—no longer bother us,’ was the simple response of the simple people, reported by me way back in 1989. Yet no amends have been attempted notwithstanding ubiquitous admission that it is not a law and order problem.

In conclusion, I would like you to urgently consider:

a. persuading the Union to publicly state its special responsibility towards the tribals;

b. initiating proposal for Peace Now;

c. setting up a chain of command to the highest level, amendable to access, by those affected, for regular oversight, review and action;

d. honouring within one year honestly all promises that have been made to the tribal people and broken by the state;

e. examining immediately and reversing decisions where permissions requiring consultation with the people under PESA were fabricated, coerced or otherwise vitiated;

f. working out a comprehensive solution to confront the existing chaos; and

g. visiting some of the areas experiencing intense constitutional crisis.

I remain

With regards,

Yours sincerely,

B.D. Sharma

Copy to

1. Shri Manmohan Singhji, Prime Minister of India, South Block, New Delhi.

2. Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister, North Block, New Delhi.

3. Shri Veerappa Moily, Minister of Law and Justice, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi.

4. Shri P. Chidambaram, Home Minister of India, North Block, New Delhi.

5. Shri Kantilal Bhuria, Minister Tribal Affairs, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi.

6. Dr C.P. Joshi, Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi.

7. Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Paryavaran Bhawan, Lodi Road, New Delhi.

Dr B.D. Sharma is the former Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

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