National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes


Historical background—

Article 338 of the constitution of India originally provided for a special officer for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes charged with the duty to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provivided for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under the constitution and to report to the president upon the working of these safeguards at prescribed intervals.

In pursuance of this provision a special officer is known as the commissioner for Scheduled Castes ant Scheduled Tribes was appointed for the first time on 18th November, 1950.

By 1965 the commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes had 17 regional offices located in various states, headed by assistant commissioners for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who were, in July 1965, re-designated as deputy commissioners.

This field organization of the Commissioner was reorganised in to 5 Zonal Offices in June 1967 and placed under the control of the newly created Directorate General of Backward Classes Welfare in t the Department of Social Welfare.

In 1978, the Government set up a non-statutory multi-member Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes; the Office of Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes also continued to exist.

The first Commission for SC and ST was set up in August 1978 with Shri Bhola Paswan Shastri as chairman and other four Members.

In 1987, the Government modified the functions of the Commission and renamed it as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Later, the 65th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1990 provided for the establishment of a high level multi-member National Commission for Scheduled Castes and STs in the place of a single Special Officer for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

This constitutional body replaced the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as well as the Commission set up under the Resolution of 1987.

Again, the 89th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2003 bifurcated the combined National Commission for SCs and STs into two separate bodies, namely, National Commission for Scheduled Castes (under Article 338) and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (under Article 338-A).

 

National Commission for Scheduled Castes

Composition—

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes has a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and three other Members.

At least one other Member shall be appointed from amongst women.

The Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members of the Commission are appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.

The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairperson and the other Members shall hold office for a term of three years from the date on which he/ she assumes such office.

 

The functions, duties and power of the Commission—

It shall be the duty of the Commission—

[a] to investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Castes under this Constitution or under any other law for the time being in force or under any order of the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards;

[b] to inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Castes;

[c] to participate and advise on the planning process of socio-economic development of the Scheduled Castes and to evaluate the progress of their development under the Union and any State;

[d] to present to the President, annually and at such other times as the Commission may deem fit, reports upon the working of those safeguards;

(e) to make in such reports recommendations as to the measures that should be taken by the Union or any State for the effective implementation of those safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio- economic development of the Scheduled Castes; and

[f] to discharge such other functions in relation to the protection, welfare and development and advancement of the Scheduled Castes as the President may, subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament, by rule specify.

 

The Commission shall, while investigating any matter referred—

to in sub-clause (a) or inquiring into any complaint referred to in sub-clause (b) of clause (5), have all the powers of a civil court trying a suit and in particular in respect of the following matters, namely—

[a] Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him on oath;

[b] Requiring the discovery and production of any documents;

[c] Receiving evidence on affidavits;

[d] Requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office;

[e] Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents;

[f] Any other matter which the President may by rule, determine;

The Union and every State Government shall consult the Commission on all major policy matters affecting Scheduled Castes.

 

National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

Composition—

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and three other Members.

At least one other Member shall be appointed from amongst women.

The Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members of the Commission are appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.

The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairperson and the other Members shall hold office for a term of three years from the date on which he/ she assumes such office.

 

The conditions of service and tenure of office of the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes—

The conditions of service and tenure of office of the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other Members of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes are governed by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and Members (Conditions of Service and Tenure) Rules, 2004 notified by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on 20 February 2004.

These Rules, inter alia, provide that:

The Chairperson shall be appointed from amongst eminent social-political workers belonging to the Scheduled Tribes, who inspire confidence amongst the Scheduled Tribes by their very personality and record of selfless service;

The Vice-Chairperson and all other Members out of whom at least two shall be appointed from amongst persons belonging to the Scheduled Tribes;

At least one other Member shall be appointed from amongst women.

The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairperson and the other Members shall hold office for a term of three years from the date on which he/ she assumes such office.

The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairperson and the other Members shall not be eligible for appointment for more than two terms.

The Chairperson shall have the rank of a Cabinet Minister and the Vice-Chairperson that of Minister of State and other Members shall have the rank of a Secretary to the Government of India unless otherwise specified.

The Chairperson, the Vice-Chairperson and other Members shall be entitled to such salaries and allowances as admissible to a Secretary to the Government of India. Provided that the Chairperson shall be entitled to a rent free accommodation.

 

The Functions and Duties of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes—

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been created by inserting the new Article 338A in the Constitution of India.

The Duties assigned to the Commission are as given below—

[a] To investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution or under any other law for the time being in force or under any order of the Government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards;

[b] To inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation  of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Tribes;

[c] To participate and advise in the planning process of socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes and to evaluate the progress of their development under the Union and any State;

[d] To present to the President, annually and at such other times as the Commission may deem fit, reports upon the working of those safeguards.

[e] To make in such reports, recommendations as to the measures that should be taken by the Union or any State for effective implementation of those safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes, and

[f] To discharge such other functions in relation to the protection, welfare and development and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes as the President may, subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament, by rule specify.

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has been assigned certain additional functions.

These duties relate to measures to be taken—

[1] to confer ownership rights in respect of minor forest produce to STs living in forest areas.

[2] to safeguarding the rights of the tribal communities over mineral  resources, water  resources etc. as laid down by law.

[3] to plug  loopholes and to  work  more viable livelihood strategies.

[4] to improve the efficacy of relief  and rehabilitation measures for tribal  groups displaced by  development projects.

[5] to prevent  alienation of   tribal   people  from land and  to   effectively  rehabilitate  such  people   in whose  case  alienation has  already  taken  place.

[6] to elicit maximum cooperation and involvement of tribal  communities for protecting forests and undertaking social  afforestation.

[7] to ensure full implementation   of the provision of Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled   Areas) Act, 1996.

[8] to reduce and ultimately eliminate the practice of shifting  cultivation  by tribal that lead to their continuous disempowerment and  degradation of  land  and  the  environment.

 

Constitutional Safeguards for Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes

These are mentioned below—

Article 46 “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”.

Article 17 “Untouchability” is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “Untouchability” shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

Article 23 prohibits traffic in human beings and beggar and other similar forms of forced labour and provides that any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

It does not specifically mention SCs but since majority of bounded labour belong to SCs, this Article has a special significance for these communities.

In pursuance of this Article, Parliament has enacted the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.

Article 24 provides that no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.

There are Central and State laws to prevent child labour. This Article is also significant for SCs as a substantial portion of child labour engaged in hazardous jobs belong to these groups.

Article 25(2) (b) provides that Hindu religious institutions of a public character shall be thrown open to all classes and sections of Hindus.

Article 15(4) empowers the State to make any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for SCs and STs.

This provision was added to the Constitution through the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951, which amended several Articles.

This provision has enabled the State to reserve seats for SCs and STs in educational institutions including technical, engineering and medical colleges and in Scientific & Specialized Courses.

In this Article as well as in Article 16(4) the term ‘backward classes’ is used as a generic term and comprises various categories of backward classes, viz., Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, De-notified Communities (Vimukta Jatiyan) and Nomadic/Semi nomadic communities.

Article 164(I) provides that in the States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa there shall be a Minister in charge of tribal welfare who may in addition be in charge of the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and backward classes or any other work.

Article 330 provides for reservation of seats for SCs and STs in the Lok Sabha.

Article 332 provides for reservation of seats for SCs/STs in the State Vidhan Sabhas (Legislative Assemblies).

Article 334 originally laid down that the provisions relating to the reservation of seats for SCs/STs in the Lok Sabha and State Vidhan Sabhas (and the representation of the Anglo-Indian community in the Lok Sabha and the State Vidhan Sabhas by nomination) would cease to have effect on the expiration of a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution.

This Article has been amended, extending the said period by ten years on each occasion

Article 371 A, B, C and F contain special provisions with respect to Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and Sikkim respectively.

Article 16(4) empowers the State to make “any provision for the reservation in appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State”.

Article 16(4A) specifies that nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion, “with consequent seniority” to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State”.

Article 16(4B) Specifies that nothing in this article shall prevent the State from considering any unfilled vacancies of a year which are reserved for being filled up in that year in accordance with any provision for reservation made under clause (4) or clause (4A) as a separate class of vacancies to be filled up in any succeeding year or years and such class of vacancies shall not be considered together with the vacancies of the year in which they are being filled up for determining the ceiling of fifty percent reservation on total number of vacancies of that year”.

Article 320 (4) provides that nothing in clause (3) shall require a Public Service Commission to be consulted as respects the manner in which any provision under Article 16(4A) may be made or the manner in which effect may be given to the provisions of Article 335.

Article 335 mentions that the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making to appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State”.

“Provided that nothing in this Article shall prevent in making of any provision in favour of Member of SCs & STs for relaxation in qualifying marks in any examination or lowering the standards of evaluation, for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of services or posts in connection with affairs of Union or of a State” (Constitutional 82nd Amendment, Act, 2000).