Monday, January 31, 2011

Failure of the Group Specific Equity Policy: - the case of the Scheduled Tribes

An opportunity to get a ring side view and observe, assess and evaluate public polices is rare. I was fortunate, as a member of a Committee to assess the situation in Andhra Pradesh, visited many tribal and primitive communities during 2010. Overall, close to 9% of India’s population are the STs, over 700 - highly diverse communities are notified under Article 342 of the constitution of India; of these 75 are ‘primitive tribal groups (PTGs)’.

Consider a village in Vijanagaram district with two distinct tribes living side-by-side - Kondavara, a non-primitive tribe and Savara, a primitive tribe. The Kondavara reported some cultivation rights over half an acre to three acres of rain fed land on the hilly terrain but with no clear land title. Fortunately all 81 households were covered under the MG-NREGS with Rs.100 as wage, and worked on land improvement on their plantations in a cooperative basis. It was common to find Kondavara’s seek wage employment in the nearby plains as well and also participated in market exchange.

Whereas the Savara being a PTG were under the control of ‘integrated tribal development authority’ ITDA. They were provided with employment on daily fixed wages to work in the forest, but only for limited number of days in a year. According to the Savara’s the MG-NREGS wages offered worked out to be less than Rs. 20 per day and therefore they were disillusioned this work offer. The private wage this community got in the village was as low as Rs. 70 for males and Rs. 40 for females. They rear small ruminants and cattle. Savara’s rarely traveled to outside areas and their marriage linkages were found to be within a 10 Kms range and amongst their own tribe. Although some land on the hills was assigned to them, they did not report a clear ownership and land was unfit for cultivation of cereals.

A contrasting differentiation of these communities was physical location of their living quarters. The non-primitive tribes occupied a street horizontally with relatively better housing. The Savara’s, on the other hand lived in homes built vertically, climbing up on the rocky terrain towards the hills. This street was full of rocks exposed due to the rain water gushing vertically through the street. It was not easy to climb up to homes on the higher end even for well built men let alone women and children. There was hardly a dwelling which looked neat and tidy as was the case in the horizontal street.

Another visit was to a tribal village cluster in Prakasam district - a resettlement of the Chenchu’s, Yerakala and Sugali, all primitive tribe from within the forest; and the other a cluster of non-primitive communities. The ITDA could provide one acre of land to about half of the resettled primitive families and also semi-finished single room residential quarters, but without a kitchen and toilet in them. The resettlement had drinking water facility and also electricity. Men undertook bamboo cutting and honey collection under the government program, women also collected minor forest produce such as medicinal herbs and roots. This settlement was serviced by a Girjan Society (GCC) which purchased the forest produce for a predetermined price, and were also covered under the PDS. We also found girls and boys educated and trained to become teachers but with without any jobs.

The neighborhood settlement was occupied by non-primitive inhabitants living there since long. This settlement was bereft of facilities and services available to the resettlement. Women from this settlement were not allowed to collect the minor forest produce therefore they were in basket making; while men ventured getting bamboo on the sly from the forest. Most of men were reported to be under lockup for having taken bamboo from the forest. Neither the state government agencies nor the ITDA have covered this settlement for the provisioning of welfare schemes, nor were programs such as the MG-NREGA and SHG. To my understanding this bunch of 23 households had in fact no identity and lived a highly vulnerable and deprived life.

The above examples present highly contrasting scenarios. The primitive tribes in spite of the presence of ITDA were found to be extremely vulnerable compared with the non-primitive groups in first example; where as in the latter case it was the non-primitive group which was found to be at the verge of penury. The origin of such differentiation is due to policy as well implimentative shortcomings with respect to the primitive and non-primitive tribes residing in the same location. How, why and who make these sharper differentiation between the communities and for what purpose is not very clear. However, in the first example, the freedom and choice that the non-primitive group had, so as to travel and visit the plain areas for work and market appears to have empowered them. In the second example, since the primitive groups were resettled from within the forest they were showered with a number of benefits while the original dwellers in the same location were left to fend for themselves and in fact found to be victimized.

Overall, the ST areas suffer from provisioning of basic services such as education, health and employment. Even the ST hostels for girls were found not having running water and the adolescent girls were seen using brooks and streams nearby for their daily routine, bathing and washing. While qualified girls and boys belonging to primitive tribes remain unemployed, all government functionaries including the teachers were non-STs commuting from plain areas on work. They were seen travelling on a daily basis to the work place on their ultramodern expensive motorcycles; and many inaccessible locations are bereft of institutions and personnel.

It is important to state that these are the areas covered under the ‘Schedule 5’ policy established in 1950 which is directly overseen by the Governor of the state with the help of the ‘tribal advisory councils.’ The STs are easy to identify and live in clusters of their own and policies to effect group equity should be easy to implement. But the reality is otherwise; it gives an impression that government is running an enterprise, with bonded PTGs which can be subject to ‘bonded labor laws’. It also appears, in the name of protecting these communities; opportunities are denied for them to access the fruits of the modern development.

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