Tag Archives: tribal development

Observing ‘Public Policy response to Group Inequality in India’ through a Panel Discussion


MPP 2016-2018

George Orwell captured the fundamental dilemma that has faced all political theorists in one simple yet elegant form, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The manifestation of this phenomenon is still witnessed across the world, with some trying to remedy it, while others attempt to aggravate it. A panel discussion on the idea of this equal-ness not in terms of singular and individual inequality but in terms of inequality experienced by the virtue of a language one speaks, the caste one belongs to and the name by which one address God, happened on 11th January 2017. The panel was constituted around the idea of inequitable impacts of rule of law policy priorities on certain social groups. In asking who the drivers and direct beneficiaries of the national process of development, we must also consider interests that lie outside the “mainstream”, how stringently rights to property are protected and whether marginalised groups have a voice in shaping the economic choices that directly limit their opportunities or disadvantage them further.

The first guest was Arvind Narain, an NLSIU alumnus who is affiliated with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore.

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Mr. Narain began by outlining the diverse, plural and overlapping hierarchies at work in India and brought us back to the Ambedkar-Gandhi debates on how to best treat social difference in politics. From there, his focus was on the role of law in better understanding and targeting the emergent political hierarchies and the transformative promise of the Indian Constitution. He stressed that democracy must be counterweighted by legal institutions to protect the rights of minorities. However, when you have judgments like Section 377 that invoke ‘popular morality’ and seek to use them to curtail basic rights, then you have what he described as “democracy on a soil that is undemocratic”. Democracy then, isn’t populism but is the on-going creation of a framework of rights, duties and social harmonies that enable every individual to participate in and contribute to the national life. Law has clear limitations, however – when the civic and social objectives set forward in the Preamble are for liberty, equality, fraternity and justice, how can something like fraternity in society be measured or consciously used to transform our polity? The transformative goals of the Constitution are just as much the results of stronger, more vocal civil society and of understanding the essentiality of positive rights as they are of laws and institutions. In the end, Mr. Narain linked law and morality by pointing out how legal measures from fact-finding reports to legal journalism can advance the cause of civil rights, even in the contemporary scene.

The second speaker was Dr Ratnam, Coordinator at Centre for Ambedkar Studies, University of Hyderabad, who spoke about the response of Public Policy towards people categorised under Scheduled Caste in India. He talked about the altering terms which have been used to address the scheduled caste interchangeably by the state and the social movements. The use of different terms to recognise them has laid an impact on the way the issue has been constructed. The lack in clarity in recognising the issues has further impacted the affirmative action taken. In his speech, he mentioned the conflict between ensuring equality and homogeneity at the same time. He questioned that if we are all equal in front of the law then what objective does affirmative action achieve. The entire society has been stratified into castes and further into sub-castes not only because people recognise themselves with the diversity which they bring in but also because public policy recognises these categories. Public Policy thus addresses a number of questions of varied nature at the same time. The affirmative action acts as an aid in most cases but also lead to increasing differences and conflict, some of the times. The Nation strives for equality but which parameters of policy shall achieve equality is the lingering question. He stressed on the fact that under the umbrella of neo-liberalisation along with the state the forms of discrimination has also changed which has become a heavier challenge for public policy. He ended his lecture on the note that the Constitution which is the product of flesh and blood of our countrymen should be implemented in the real sense to stop the violence towards marginalised groups.

The third speaker, Dr M. C. Srinivas, Joint Director of the Social Welfare Department, Government of Karnataka has the special duty of enforcing reservations for SCs and STs. With thirty-eight years of experience in implementing government policies for the development of the Scheduled Tribes, Dr. Srinivas gave us an insider’s peek into the progress made, gaps persisting and governmental and structural deficits. The foremost issue is the problem of identification of the Scheduled Tribes.

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In Karnataka, only sixty-five out of seven hundred and five tribes have been identified as Scheduled Tribes. The main agenda of the government through the promulgation of numerous schemes and programmes is to bring these tribes out of the forest and into the ‘mainstream’. This poses a problem as the majority of the tribes do not want to join the mainstream. Although Karnataka has been a pioneer state in the adoption of the SCSP and TSP Act, 2013 which enabled the allocation, mobilisation and distribution of funds (which can be carried forward for two more years if under-utilised instead of lapsing). Karnataka has also enacted numerous schemes to take forth social services like education, PDS, residential education (KREIS), Anganwadis, housing, infrastructure and hospitals to the fringe forest dwellers who don’t want to come out. While the paper trail of schemes and programmes points to the good intentions of the powers-that-be, Dr. Srinivas admits that there are major gaps in implementation, lack of grass root level monitoring systems and of course, corruption and apathy inherent in some civil servants that ensures systemic failures and a protraction of the deplorable state of exclusion, discrimination, poverty and underdevelopment of the Scheduled Tribes.


Mr Maqbool Ahmed Siraj, Journalist, activist, and researcher on Muslim issues in India, the final speaker on the Panel gave an overview of the socio-economic conditions of Muslim communities in India.Related image Bringing his experiences as a journalist and social activist his entire work on Muslims highlights the general psyche of the rest of the population towards Muslims. Over six dynasties of Muslim rulers had flourished in India making them the oldest ruling class yet Muslims and Christians are externalised minorities while Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists are internalised minorities in India. Muslims are both religious and linguistic minority with the socio-economic realities of the community known to be grim due to low education, poor residential conditions and lack of access to sanitation and health, absence from top leadership and bureaucratic positions. In the political sphere, on an average the representation of Muslims as MP’s has been 32-34 while the required number of Muslim MP’s for proportionate representation is 75. The welfare measures for Muslims have been slightly better in South India, with states like Karnataka having 4 per cent reservation for Muslims and Tamil Nadu having 3.5 per cent reservation for Muslims and Christians. Nevertheless, in order to neutralize biases and social exclusion and increase political representation of Muslims, public policy must critically evaluate the need to consider socio-economic backwardness of the Muslims for reservation.

The panel was divided in its focus ranging from caste groups, tribal groups, religious communities and the potential impact of laws on disparities. Despite this divergence, the vision and goal were commonly shared, the panel emphasised on the need for corrective and preventative measures and of the impetus on the political elites and social institutions to stop the incessant otherisation of the entire mass of population. The impact of reservations and socio-economic schemes have been enormous, but not sufficient. The panel focused on the tools and the requirement for such an equality within the legal and political conscience of  India.  If summarised in a single sentence, the panel’s message sought an embodiment of a common identity grounded in the constitutional morality, where all humans are equal and no one is more than equal.

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Forest Rights Act: Ten years later


MPP 2016-2018

December 18th, 2006 witnessed the historic passage of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Almost a decade later there is only a tiny portion of the vast forest land of India which has been brought under its purview. The tribal population all over India still face an ongoing struggle on a daily basis but with considerable support from civil society groups and Government officials, they have been partially successful in acquiring their rights under the act. We take this opportunity to share a glimpse of their lives which we observed during our fieldwork visit.


This village Panchayat (or Rachabanda in Telegu), in Andhra Pradesh meeting, to discuss Rehabilitation & Resettlement package they will receive if the Polavaram Dam project goes through. The package being offered to them is as per the 2013 Act and not the updated version they are entitled to, causing them a loss of nearly Rs. 6,00,000. The project has forced the villagers to understand Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 and Forest Rights Act 2006 – all laws that rely on vigilant and aware Gram Panchayats to protect local interests.

                In a corner of Rajasthan, this is the state of the government primary school. It has been running for approximately four years and at present, 52 stud
img_3528ents study under this shelter.
A local man is willing to donate the land it currently stands on but due to errors in his application filing, it was immediately rejected. He had originally filed an individual rights claim (as laid out in 3(1) of the Act) instead of a community development claim (as given in 3(2)).  Despite the ambitious promise of the Act, a lack of understanding of its details prevents many communities on Scheduled lands from receiving their basic rights, in this case, primary education.

                  The Nayakheda village in Achalpur block of Melghat in Maharashtra is one of the model villages in the area. The Gram Sabha with help from non-governmental organisations like KHOJ has successfully acquired its rights under the Forest Rights Act. The villagers have also established their rights over the vast forest land and taken it upon themselves to protect, conserve and reforest the area. It is the present generation which has made a rigorous effort to restore their forest and agricultural land, stopped migration and hence built a stable village economy.

                    In the Western Ghats of Karnataka, the seven forest dependent tribes of Kodagu district are the Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kuruba, Panjari Yerava, Pani Yerava, Malekudiya, Soligas and Marathi / Naiks.

Image source: CORD

The socio-political and economic disparities can be explained due to the gaps in the implementation of Forest Rights Act, along with the lack of transparency and accountability of the Forest bureaucracy. Characterised by the colonial mindset of administration and solitary decision-making authority, the forest wealth and lives of the tribals has been under rigid surveillance by the forest department. The struggle for rights has been an ongoing saga but has gathered momentum in the form of civil society organisations which are playing an instrumental role in advocacy and campaigning for implementation of Forest Rights Act. Kodagu is also famous for the Nagarhole Park which is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, declared as the thirty-seventh Tiger reserve under ‘Project Tiger’ in 1999. Coorg Organization for Rural Development (CORD), an NGO has documented several case studies regarding the violation of rights and skewed rehabilitation arising from such conservation regimes.

Our fieldwork participation helped us see that the experience of the Forest Rights Act is varied, with different regions facing specific challenges. Despite this, many of India’s forest dwelling communities retain deep connections with the forest and can protect them more effectively than a distant bureaucracy.
The Forest Rights Act recognises this wisdom and the benefits of a ‘democratic forest’, but it needs sustaining commitment and cooperation in order to succeed.


(The group in Andhra Pradesh took the accompanying photo and included Arvind Balaji, Kalidoss Nanditha, Rohith CH and Shreoshi Dutta. 
The group in Rajasthan took the accompanying photo and included Devarchan Banerjee and Smita Mutt. 
The group in Maharashtra took the featured photo and included Aishwarya Gupte, Doohan Vaz and Trisrota Dutta. 
The group in Karnataka included Ananya BJ, Anoop Ramakrishnan, Apoorva S, Kabir Khan and Sattvika Ashok.)


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MPP 2016-2018

An intrinsic component of a Public Policy program is an experience of the ground reality. In order to comprehend the actual workings of a policy initiative or government scheme, the batch of 2016-18 engaged in three weeks of fieldwork. Different groups of nascent policy analysts spread across Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand and West Bengal and worked on a range of policy issues. We spent three weeks in villages, drinking water out of wells, cooking our own food, living with limited infrastructure, facing the lack of water and electricity connectivity, realising that a very prominent section of the Indian population still lives without the basic technology we take for granted. The social, economic and political reality of these areas is harsh. Life is tough. The mainstay of our work was an analysis of the implementation process of policies and barriers to effective implementation. We worked with the Forest Rights Act, Integrated Child Protection Scheme, Juvenile Justice, Child Development and Protection, Rural Development, Tribal Development, Women’s Health and Education, Child Education and Child Rights, RTI and the Rehabilitation of displaced and tribal communities.

In a meeting with Jharkhand State Livelihood Mission team, Pradan

We were linked with NGO’s established in these different areas, who have been working with the people for at least twenty years in bridging the gap between government policy, government officials and the people. Some of our partner NGO’s were CORD (Karnataka), MKSS, Seva Mandir and URMUL (Rajasthan), PRADAN (West Bengal and Jharkhand), Khoj (Maharashtra) and Samata (Andhra Pradesh). We engaged with the local people, children and women, Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, government school officials, Ward members, the Panchayat, police officials, and of course, the organisation workers.

It has been an enriching and eye-opening experience, one that will ground all our future endeavours. Accounts of personal engagement and learning will soon grace the walls of LOKNITI, so stay tuned to know more about the India no one talks about.