This article is written by Oishika Banerji of Amity Law School, Kolkata. This article provides a detailed discussion of the National Commission for SCs and STs in India.
Caste-based discrimination has been prevalent in India for ages. Putting relevance on the same with the aim to control, and thereby erase such prejudice, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, also being the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, along with other members of the Constituent Assembly, wanted to mandate protection to backward classes by means of the supreme law of India, the Constitution. These communities came to be known as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by Clause 1 of Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution respectively. Followed by this, Articles 338, and 338-A of the Constitution of India lays down the provision for the establishment of the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes respectively. Both the national commissions are constitutional bodies unlike the other national commissions like the National Commission for Women, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and others which are statutory bodies. This article discusses the two national commissions set up with the aim of ensuring socio-economic development in democratic India.
Evolution of the commissions
As have been mentioned earlier, Articles 338, and 338-A mandates the establishment of the national commissions for SCs, and STs with the aim of improving their living conditions, availability of resources, safeguarding their interests, agricultural practices thereby accelerating socio-economic growth.
National Commission for SCs
The events which contributed towards the formation of the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes have been presented hereunder;
- 1978: By means of a resolution, the Government had set up a non-statutory, multi-member Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes along with which the Office of Commissioner continued to exist as well.
- 1987: The previously established Commission in 1978 came to be known as the National Commission for SCs and STs.
- 1990: By the 65th Constitutional Amendment, a multi-member National Commission for SCs and STs replaced the Commissioner for SCs and STs.
- 2003: By the 89th Constitutional Amendment, the National Commission for SCs and STs got divided into two separate bodies, namely, National Commission for Scheduled Castes (under Article 338) and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (under Article 338-A).
- 2004: The National Commission for SCs came into existence with a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson, and three other members.
There have been 6 National Commissions for SCs that have been constituted between 2004 to 2021 namely;
- The first National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) was on 24th February 2004.
- The second National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) on 25th May 2007.
- The third National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) on 15th October 2010.
- The fourth National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) on 22nd October 2013.
- The fifth National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) on 1st June 2017.
- The sixth National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) on 24th February 2021 with Shri Vijay Sampla as the Chairperson, Shri Arun Halder as the Vice-Chairman, Shri Subhash Ramnath Pardhi, and Dr. Anju Bala as the members.
It is to be noted that the President by warrant under his hand and seal appoints, and determines the tenure, service conditions of the Chairperson, Vice-Chairman, and the members of the Commission.
National Commission for STs
Formed by Article 338A of the Indian Constitution, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) was constituted on 19th February 2004. It is necessary to note that Scheduled Castes are different from the Scheduled Tribes in terms of their culture, tradition, and other background elements, because of which, special attention was called for resulting in the formation of a constitutional body that will specifically focus on the Scheduled Tribes community of India. Working in the same line as the National Commission for SCs, the NCST till the present date has been constituted three times which was the result of the 89th Amendment Act, 2003, namely;
- The first commission was formed on 19th February 2004.
- The second commission commenced on 14th June 2007.
- The third commission was formed on 21st July 2010.
Dr. Rameshwar Oraon has been re-appointed as the Chairperson of the Commission for the 2nd time followed by this, Shri Ravi Thakur was designated to the Vice-Chairperson position. But the members who were appointed, due to their sudden demise, have left the two members’ seats vacant for the current commission. Just like the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes, it is the President who has been vested with the power to appoint and to determine the tenure, and conditions for service for the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, and members of the Commission.
Functions of the Commissions
Both the Commissions have the common aim of improving the socio-economic conditions of the backward communities recognized by the Constitution as Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes. But in order to achieve the same, certain functions allotted to these commissions have to be taken into account.
Functions of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes
The functions of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes are provided hereunder;
- The National Commission for SCs has been vested with the responsibility of conducting investigation and looking after matters in association with the legal rights of the Scheduled Castes.
- The NCSC advises and plans a process in which socio-economic development can be achieved at both Central, and state levels, thereby taking into account the deprivation aspects in relation to the Scheduled Castes community.
- The NCSC inquires into complaints that are brought before it concerning the absence of application of the rights, safeguard measures that have been guaranteed by the Indian Constitution to this community.
- As it is the President who decides the appointment, term, and other related things concerning the designated individuals of the Commission, it is the responsibility of the Commission to submit annual reports on work progress, and fulfillment of the duties vested to the President. This helps in growth and increases the efficiency of the Commission.
- The Commission is vested with the responsibility of recommending measures that if implemented will help in assuring the application of the legal measures that have been provided to safeguard the welfare, social, and economic development of the Scheduled Castes.
- Along with all the above functions, the Commission has to discharge all such functions which revolve around welfare development, safeguarding culture, traditions, and other related subject matters concerning the Schedule Castes.
Functions of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
The functions of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes are laid down hereunder;
- The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes carries out an evaluation of the progress in the planning process for social, and economic up-gradation of the Scheduled Tribe Community.
- Just like the NCSC, the NCST also has been vested with the responsibility of inquiring into complaints brought before it that concern the impoverishment of the rights available for the Scheduled Tribes, and to investigate the working of the constitutional safeguards provided for this community.
- The Commission must keep track of the status of the development of the Scheduled Tribes at both Union and provincial levels.
- The Commission is obligated by the President’s orders and therefore, has to perform all such functions which the President specifies.
Along with these functions, there are certain measures that are to be adopted by the Commission in respect to ownership rights of the tribes in association with forest areas;
- The Commission must ensure that certain measures need to be taken to protect the rights of the Scheduled Tribes with regard to natural resources.
- For the tribal groups who have been displaced due to unavoidable circumstances, then it is the responsibility of the Commission to take steps to improve the standards of living for them thereby facilitating them with minimum necessities for living.
- Prevention of alienation of the tribal groups, and those who have already been alienated is the sole responsibility of the Commission, and therefore, measures should be adopted to ensure the same.
- The Commission should be in charge of protecting the forests by means of undertaking social afforestation and involving the tribal communities to take an active part in the same for better functioning of the social, and environmental policies undertaken. These policies should also work towards erasing shifting cultivation practiced by several tribal communities which is responsible for degrading both the land and the environment.
- The provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, must be implemented so as to provide adequate benefit to the Scheduled Tribes.
A check on the above-mentioned functions of the Commissions is carried out by the President of India after the Commissions submits their reports which must be accompanied by a memorandum whose purpose is to explain the actions adopted on the Commission’s recommendations. The report is further forwarded to the state government, and the governor by the President, after which the governor places the same before the state legislature.
Powers of the commissions
Both the Commissions being constitutional bodies have the power to regulate their own procedures. Followed by which these bodies have been vested with all the powers of a civil court. Taking a cue from the same, the powers of the NCSC, and NCST have been presented hereunder;
- The NCSC is vested with the power to discover and produce documents that concern the development of the tribal communities;
- The Commission has the power to receive evidence on affidavits as well;
- With civil court powers being vested on the Commission, it has the authority to issue a summons for examination of documents, or witnesses;
- Both the Central and the State governments can seek advice from the Commissions whenever necessary for the purpose of policy-making.
- Along with the above-mentioned powers, there can be add-on powers that will be determined by the President of the nation.
As we come to the end of this article, it is noteworthy to mention that both the National Commissions put under the spotlight have been successful in achieving socio-economic development of the Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes communities to a reasonable extent. An initiative by the Government of India such as Tribal Sub Plan (TSP) strategy, online grievance portal, and several others have been brought up with such potentials which can help in eliminating the term “backward” that has been attached with these communities for decades. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes has taken note of the recent judgment of the Supreme Court of India which issued a direction in the case of Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan against the Bombay High Court Judgment on misuse of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (Amended Act 2015), and the implementation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (Amended Act 2015). This shows that these constitutional bodies are working in cooperation with different organs of the government to fulfill the purpose behind their establishment.
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