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Welfare schemes for neglected Denotified and Nomadic Tribes need a big boost

By Bharat Dogra 

One of the most neglected sections of India’s society consists of denotified tribes, nomadic and semi-nomadic communities and tribes (DNT, NSN). The number of people of these communities is likely to be as high as 120 million or even more but we seldom hear about them. This neglect has also spread to welfare schemes for them which have been by and large very few and are under-budgeted.
Some time back there was a sign of hope when a new scheme meant specifically for economic empowerment of these communities was announced. This scheme, called SEED in short, received a modest allocation in 2021-22 of INR 50 crore ( one crore=10 million), but the actual spending under this scheme was later found to have been only INR 20 lakh or less than 0.5%. Next year in 2022-23 the allocation was reduced to INR 28 crore and the expenditure during the first 9 months was found to be only INR 2 crore. During 2022-23 only a small sum of INR 5 crore was allocated for the Development and Welfare Board for DNTs, but what is worse is that in the first 9 months up to 31 December 2022 the actual expenditure was only 2.3 crore.
Another problem is that some of the development or educational budgeting for these communities have been merged with those for other backward classes and as these communities are the least influential, it is quite likely that their interests will get less attention. A scheme for their educational and economic development has been merged in PM Yasasvi. It will be better to have some schemes dedicated entirely to these communities. In addition of course it is very important to increase the allocation for these schemes and to ensure their proper spending for meeting important welfare objectives.
Some time back Justice D.Y.Chandrachud gave voice to the suppressed agony of millions of members of denotified tribes when he clearly stated that injustice and discrimination was still being suffered by them over 7 decades after independence. Speaking on the occasion of the 13th B.R.Ambedkar Memorial Lecture on ‘Conceptualizing Marginalisation’ organized by the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, South Asia, he stated, “ The British enacted the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 through which a tribe, gang or class of persons ( believed to be) addicted to the systematic commission of offences were notified. The Criminal Tribes Act was later repealed in 1949 and the tribes were ‘de-notified’.”
Futher the learned judge known for his deep concern for marginalized sections of society noted, “However even after nearly 73 years since the tribes were denotified, the members of the tribes are still subject to oppression and cruelty. Members of the denotified tribes are still picked up by the investigating officers to cover up shoddy investigations.”
It is high time to realize more widely the urgent need for respecting the aspirations of as many as 120 million people in India belong to denotified and nomadic tribes (DNTs). The National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi Nomadic Tribes.has observed,"The Commission was shocked to notice the living conditions of large sections of these people during its field visits. It was appalled by the fact that some of these communities are far away from receiving the benefits of freedom and social justice even though they are classified as ST, SC or OBC. The welfare measures implemented for these groups either have not reached them or are irrelevant in their context. Those among the concerned communities who got the benefits of welfare are basically the ones who are better off and organised and the vulnerable groups are completely left out of their reach."
"The nomads nurture a feeling that independence of the country has no meaning for them, as their condition has become worse in the more recent past."
Based on these observations the commission made a number of recommendations aimed mainly at helping the DNTs to make better use of existing government programs. These can help in framing good welfare schemes for these communities. Recommendations to provide essential facilities for the settlements of DNTs and some land to the landless were also made.
The Commission stated,"One of the major problems being faced by the Denotified Tribes is a continuing stigma of criminality about them and which has made them vulnerable to frequent police action merely on the basis of suspicion arising out of the stigma of criminality. It is, therefore, necessary that the Denotified Tribes get rid of this stigma at the earliest and live a dignified life like the mainstream citizenary of the country."
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Protecting Earth for Children’, ‘A Day in 2071’ and ‘Man Over Machine—A Path to Peace’

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