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.