Successive ruling parties in Andhra Pradesh have ignored long pending and pressing demand for inclusion of tribal dominated villages into the stateâ€™s Scheduled Area. However, steps seem to be afoot, belatedly though, to finally rectify this gross neglect. Andhra Deputy Chief Minister and the Minister in charge of Tribal Welfare Pamula Pushpa Sreevani held a recent meeting on November 4, to deal with this key issue. If resolved, the tribal people living in several villages will get the benefit of special protective measures under Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.
The term Scheduled Areas means those areas declared by the President of India under Paragraph 6(1) of Article 244 of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution in a state after consultation with the Governor of that state. The declaration would ensure that the cultural and economic interests of the tribal people in the region are protected. However, no criteria is spelt out in the Constitution to identify the areas and notify them.
Criteria for declaration of Scheduled Area
The general features considered to identify and notify Scheduled Area in the country are
(a) Preponderance of tribal population
(b) Compactness and reasonable size of the area
(c) Under-developed nature of the area
(d) Marked disparity in economic standard of the people, as per the recommendations of the Scheduled Tribes Commission (1960-61), known as the Dhebar Commission.
However, no norms were set for these features. Hence, it was left to the states to decide based on political and administrative expediency. The Scheduled Area in relation to Andhra and Telangana was first notified in 1950 after the commencement of the Indian Constitution, and it was covered by further modifications in 1951 and 1955 under the AP Scheduled Areas (Cesser) orders.
Rationalisation of Scheduled Areas
At the time of devising and adopting the strategy of the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for socio economic development of Scheduled Tribes during the Fifth Five Year Plan (1974-79), certain areas besides Scheduled Areas were also found having a large tribal population. The file relating to the revision of the Scheduled Area in Andhra has been pending since 1975 when the then Union Home Minister addressed a letter to the then Chief Minister suggesting rationalisation, to include compact areas having more than 50% tribal population.
The state cabinet meeting in March 1976 in principle agreed to include non-scheduled villages in Andhra to the Scheduled Area where the Scheduled Tribe (ST) population was 50% and above, and where such villages are contiguous to the existing Scheduled Area.
Accordingly a proposal was submitted to the Government of India in 1980, proposing to include 115 uninhabited villages and 679 non-scheduled villages in the Scheduled Area as per the 1971 Census, which was approved by the Governor as well. However, the Union government suggested that the proposal be coterminous with the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) that was drawn up earlier.
Thereafter the file took several bureaucratic turns due to several impediments including the formation of mandals in place of taluks, change in demographic profile of the villages, and finally bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, compounded by delayed bureaucratic exercise in moving the file.
The file then got parked in the Tribal Welfare Department without moving further due to a policy decision of the government to constitute mandals, replacing erstwhile taluks as a unit for revenue administration in 1986. Then, a revised proposal was again submitted to the Union government with 803 villages as per the 1981 Census. The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs formulated a memorandum for the central cabinet along with the Draft Scheduled Area (AP) order, 2000 and sought confirmation from Andhra government for the listed villages.
Population influx and change in demography
Further verification of the listed 803 villages revealed that three of those villages already figured in the Scheduled Area. Therefore bureaucratic exercise again restarted afresh as per the 2001 Census to identify the villages for inclusion in the Scheduled Area. As per the initial proposal based on the 1971 census, 777 villages were having more than 50% of ST population, but the figure reduced to 747 as per the 2011 Census.
However, the number of villages having less than 50% ST population was increased to 53 from 23. But the figure of 800 villages in both the 1971 and 2011 Census was maintained, although there was an alteration of names of the villages.
The Tribal Welfare Department again pushed the file to the Union government, along with a revised proposal for 800 villages as per the 2001 Census, thinking that no approval was essential from the state cabinet. But the Union government returned the file specifically requesting that it should be duly authenticated by the state government first.
The Tribal Welfare Department submitted the file to the Andhra government in 2013 for necessary approval for inclusion of 247 villages to the Scheduled Area of erstwhile Khammam, Warangal, Adilabad and Mahaboobnagar district and 554 villages in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, East Godavari and West Godavari District.
Later the movement of file was further halted due to demand for formation of a new state â€” Telangana.
Formation of Telangana in 2014
After bifurcation, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs requested both the state governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to submit fresh proposals for rationalisation of Scheduled Area in 2014 as per the 2011 Census.
There were around 554 villages covered by 39 mandals in the residuary state of Andhra as per the earlier list. The proposed villages included 240 in Srikakulam district, followed by 182 in Vizianagaram district, 91 in Visakhapatnam district, 40 in East Godavari district and only one village in West Godavari district.
Decision of AP TAC
The Andhra Pradesh Tribes Advisory Council (AP TAC) chaired by Pushpa Sreevani, the Deputy CM, took a serious note of this pending matter in 2019 and recommended re-verification of the earlier list of 554 villages in view of the revised proposals called for by the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
With the influx of population from outside over a period of time and continued marginalisation of tribal people, several representations piled up with Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDAs). The representations by tribal groups demanded inclusion of tribal dominated villages to Scheduled Areas, in addition to the 554 villages already identified.
Several â€˜chenchu gudemsâ€™ in Srisailam ITDA Area, which are contiguous to the Scheduled Area of erstwhile Mahaboobnagar district in Telangana, argued that they deserved being notified as Scheduled Area in addition to several tribal dominated villages in other parts of the state.
Therefore, the number of villages may likely increase from 554 to more than a 1000. The exact figure will become known only after identification of the villages by the ITDAs in the state as per the 2011 Census and norms set by the governments. Until then, the long pending demand for rationalisation, a demand to simply be included and recognised, remains unfulfilled.
The writer is a lawyer and an activist working for tribals rights for more than three decades. Views expressed are the authorâ€™s own.