The UN General Assembly resolution that created 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals refers to indigenous peoples 6 times in its political declaration, in targets, and in calling for indigenous people’s participation in reviewing country level progress. The Constitution of India also obliges Government to improve socio-economic condition of Scheduled Tribes (STs) through provisions under Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles of State Policy, and Schedules V and VI. Despite these international and national commitments, unrest is growing among tribal communities over alienation from lands, forests, and related resources and impoverishment. Among various demographic groups in India, STs have lowest Human Development Index (HDI) while also suffering severe geographical and cultural exclusion, dimensions not captured in HDI.
Legislative safeguards such as Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) or PESA 1996 and Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 have not stopped appropriation of tribal land by Government itself for ‘development’ projects. Then there are land grabs by non-tribal individual contract farmers and by companies. Even collection and marketing of Minor Forest Produce (MFP), a livelihood for most tribal families that contributes around 40 % of their income, is still a monopoly of state forest bureaucracies. This is despite PESA and FRA provisions that recognize ownership, control, and management of all MFP by Gram Sabhas.
In Odisha too, where 62 STs constitute 23 % of population, and scheduled areas comprise 44 % of area of the state, underdevelopment of tribal community remains salient. Tribal areas have critical gaps in communication, roads, and other economic infrastructure while STs have higher incidence of income poverty and lower literacy, health, and nutrition levels than general population. Taking cognizance of ST’s lagging behind in development indicators, in 2018, Government of Odisha (GoO) announced formation of Special Development Councils (SDCs) in nine ST majority districts. SDCs will have representation from every tribe, exercise decision making powers, and have financial resources to preserve unique socio-cultural identity of STs while developing their economic capacities. It is still unclear how SDCs will improve on pre-existing institutions for tribal development such as Tribes Advisory Council (TAC) and District Planning Committees (DPCs).
- How can PESA be effectively implemented in Odisha’s Scheduled areas to ensure participatory governance by tribal communities? Can Governor’s office play a positive role?
- What can improve FRA potential to secure STs’ land and community forest rights in Odisha?
- How can institutional mechanisms such as Gram Sabhas, Forest Rights Committees, DPCs, and TAC be strengthened?
- Can SDC be a game changer for tribal empowerment in Odisha?
- What can enhance development of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)?
- How can stringent planning, allocation, and monitoring of Tribal Sub Plan funds be ensured?
- What can be done to revitalize impact of Integrated Tribal Development Agencies?
- How can MFP based livelihoods of forest dependent tribals be safeguarded and improved?
- Which best practices can ensure sustainable rehabilitation of tribal victims of development?
- What laws and mechanisms can ensure just restoration of alienated lands to tribals?