Govt contemplates separate law to protect ST rights

Ministry concerned over marginalisation of tribes

Aiming to provide better protection to Scheduled Tribe (ST) community rights, the Centre is planning to formulate a separate Prevention of Atrocities Act soon.

Though there is the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to prevent atrocities against both scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, the Ministry of Tribal affairs feels that the existing law is protecting the rights of SCs more than STs.

“The proposed Act will be exclusively for the STs aiming to protect their rights in forest wealth, mineral resources, land, water, grazing areas and other related issues” sources in the government told Deccan Herald. This means, the existing law will be only for SCs and the new law will be for STs, they said. Following the complaints that Scheduled Tribes were being denied their rights in forest wealth and being marginalised in their own lands due to rampant mining and encroachment of forests by land sharks, the Ministry thought to have a separate prevention of atrocities law to protect the vulnerable section of the society, sources said. The Act will protect the STs even from exploitation by money lenders, they added.

Union Tribal Minister  Kishore Chandra Deo, who held a detailed meeting regarding formulating the new law with officials, is likely to seek the opinion from various rights groups to incorporate their views.

The Tribal Affairs Ministry is under pressure from various corners to protect the rights of tribals following the complaints of a large number of forest dwellers being left in the lurch in mining rich areas.

Intel caution

The intelligence agencies have cautioned the Centre that displacement of tribal settlements and denial of their rights have forced the tribals to join Maoist insurgency in most of the tribal dominated states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. 

Despite the Centre enacting the Forest Rights Act, 2006, many states have failed to implement it properly. Minister Deo, in his recent letter to various states, said that tribals and forest dwellers were facing harassment, threats of eviction and forced displacement which is against the Act.

Despite the demand from tribals, the conversion of forest villages to revenue villages is hardly being carried out, he said, asking the states to protect the rights of forest dwellers.

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