An RTI enquiry revealed that the Office of the Registrar-General of India (RGI) is following the old set of criteria set out by the Lokur Committee nearly 60 years ago to define any new community as a Scheduled Tribe.

 

About the Lokur Committee

  • The term ‘Scheduled Tribes‘ first appeared in the Constitution of India. However, the Constitution does not define the criteria for recognition of Scheduled Tribes.
      • Article 366 (25) defined scheduled tribes as “such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this constitution.
      • Article 342, simply, prescribes procedure to be followed in the matter of specification of scheduled tribes.
  • As a result, during initial years after independence, the definition contained in 1931 Census was used to categorise Schedule Tribes.
      • Census-1931 termed Schedule tribes as “backward tribes” living in the “Excluded” and “Partially Excluded” areas.
  • Against this backdrop, the Government of India set up an Advisory Committee on the Revision of Lists of Schedule Casts and Schedule Tribes, also known as Lokur Committee, in 1965.
  • One of the mandates of this committee was to revise the list of SCs and STs in a rational and scientific manner.

 

Criteria set out by Lokur Committee

The criteria set out by the Lokur Committee for defining a community as a tribe are —

  • indications of primitive traits,
  • distinctive culture,
  • geographical isolation,
  • shyness of contact with the community at large,
  • backwardness

 

Criticism of Lokur Committee recommendations

  • Obsolete criteria —
    • These set of criteria set were out by the Lokur Committee nearly 60 years ago and hence may have become obsolete considering the process of transition and acculturation over the time.
      • Acculturation is cultural modification of an individual, group, or people by adapting to or borrowing traits from another culture.
  • Condescending in nature —
    • Terms like primitive and the requirement of primitivity to be a characteristic of Scheduled Tribe indicates a condescending (superior) attitude by outsiders.
    • What we consider primitive is not considered by the tribals themselves.
  • Rigid and dogmatic approach —
    • Many experts believe that the committee followed a rigid and dogmatic approach while setting out the criteria.
    • Example – with respect to the geographical isolation criterion, they point out that as infrastructure development continued across the country, how can any community remain in isolation?

 

Steps taken by the government to develop new set of criteria

  • The government task force on Scheduling of Tribes was constituted under the leadership of then Tribal Affairs Secretary, Hrusikesh Panda in February 2014.
  • While concluding that the criteria fixed by Lokur Committee may have become obsolete, the task force had recommended changes to the criteria in May 2014.
  • Based on this, the Tribal Affairs Ministry had, in June 2014, prepared a draft Cabinet note to overhaul the criteria and procedure for scheduling of new communities as STs.

 

What are the new set of criteria which are under the government’s consideration?

  • The new criteria under the government’s consideration included —
    • Socio-economic, including educational, backwardness, vis-a-vis, the rest of the population of the State;
    • Historical geographical isolation which may or may not exist today;
    • Distinct language/dialect;
    • Presence of a core culture relating to life-cycle, marriage, songs, dance, paintings, folklore;
    • Endogamy, or in case of exogamy, marital relationship primarily with other STs
      • This criterion is for scheduling of a community as ST and not for determining ST status of an individual.
  • The draft Cabinet note also proposed, Communities which have adopted a ‘Hindu’ way of life will not be ineligible merely on this ground.
  • It further recommended considering the population of the new community in relation to the existing ST population of the State.
  • It further added that all these criteria had to be looked at holistically and none should take precedence over another.