Governors are culpable

Governors are culpable
Indigenous communities all over the world are experiencing various forms of alienation. Among all, alienation of rights over land, forest and other natural resources is the most serious one. The evolution of the modern ‘nation-sate’ has resulted in the usurpation of the territorial autonomy and traditional rights of indigenous peoples. India became an independent nation in 1947 and established a parliamentary democracy in 1950. The indigenous peoples of India are known as Adivasis, meaning the ‘first inhabitants’, with the official name of ‘Scheduled Tribes’. Most of them are concentrated in the nation’s Central, Eastern and Northeast regions. These regions are witnessing a variety of ethnic and socio-political conflicts. Adivasis are one of the few sections of society in India who do not shy away from rebelling against the authority in power whenever their rights are violated and a threat to their culture and self-governance is felt. The continuum of various adivasi insurrections has a long history since 1766.

To contain the adivasi insurrections in different parts of the country, the colonial government has enacted legislations such as the ‘Laws Local Extent Act, 1874’ and the ‘Scheduled Districts Acts of 1874’. The Government of India Act, 1919, classified the adivasi areas into ‘wholly excluded areas’ and ‘areas with modified exclusion’. In Government of India Act, 1935, the categorisation was changed to ‘excluded areas’ and ‘partially excluded areas’. In the post-Independence period, these were subsequently added in the Constitution in the form of the Fifth Schedule (for partially excluded areas) and the Sixth Schedule (for excluded areas).

Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana states comes under the Fifth Schedule. Among these 10 states, seven states are experiencing insurrection. The Fifth Schedule has entrusted specific responsibilities to the Governor of the respective state. They are broadly categorised into administrative, consultative, legislative and regulatory functions. Understanding the provisions of the Fifth Schedule with particular reference to the Governor’s role is important in understanding the subtleties of structural and institutional aspects of insurrection and Adivasi discontent.

The ongoing insurrection in Central India is a political struggle rooted in the issues of equality, justice and rights. The Fifth Schedule contains the ‘Provisions as to the Administration and Control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes’. The schedule was added to the Constitution following the motion moved by Dr B R Ambedkar on September 5, 1949. A brief list of responsibilities of the Governor as accorded in the Fifth Schedule of Article 244 (1) are as follows:

1. To send annual reports to the President of India regarding the administration of Scheduled Areas in the state.

2. Consulting the Tribes Advisory Council (TAC) on matters of welfare and development of adivasis.

3. Making regulations for peace and good government in Scheduled Areas.

4. Prevention of land alienation from adivasis to other sections of society.

Governor’s role

The functioning of the Governor in implementing the provisions of the Fifth Schedule is very poor. It is significant to remember that no law can be applied automatically to Scheduled Areas without the notification of the Governor. If the Governor of a Scheduled Area finds that any law enacted either by the state Assembly or Parliament is adversely affecting the lives of adivasis, then she/he has the power to repeal or amend such laws. There is not a single case that can be found since 1950 where a Governor of the Scheduled Area has repealed or amended any law enacted by a state Assembly or Parliament on the grounds that it has serious implications on adivasis’ welfare. Sadly, not even a single Governor of a state in the post-Independence period has exercised these special responsibilities. This is an abdication of responsibilities accorded in the Constitution by Governors.

The Tribes Advisory Councils are the democratic forum created under the Fifth Schedule to advise the Governor in the matters of adivasi welfare and development. The Governor has to make rules and regulations on how TACs have to function in Scheduled Areas. In most of the states, TACs are headed by their chief ministers (Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Jharkhand). The voices of adivasi representatives in TAC meetings have hardly been given prominence or preference in the decision-making process. The Governors’ neglect in empowering TAC, coupled with reluctance of the state governments to heed the voices of TAC, has contributed to the alienation of adivasi communities. Governors have failed to prevent land alienation and this has displaced adivasi communities from their land, livelihood, habitat, culture and society.

The alienation has been further attenuated by the policies of liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation, and most importantly industrialisation post-1990. All these factors have produced a fertile ground for the insurgents to carry out the politics of insurrection, with the adivasis as foot soldiers under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The insurrection has become the “largest internal security threat” as emphasised by the former prime minister Manmohan Singh in 2006. The poor governance in Central India is a consequence of the structural constraints embedded in the Fifth Schedule, and particularly Governors’ ineffective implementation of the provisions of the Fifth Schedule. Governors have to exercise their special responsibilities and constitutional authority to bring about positive developments in the lives of adivasi communities. It is high time the Governors participated effectively in the nation-building process by empowering the Tribes Advisory Councils. This will provide democratic space and political inclusion of the adivasi voices in policy-making and implementation.

(The writer is a Doctoral Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development,  Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru)

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