By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao*
The Tribal Advisory Council (TAC), a constitutional arm under Fifth Scheduled of the Constitution has been established by the Government of Andhra Pradesh by issuing a Government Order (GO) Ms No 84 ceasing the political and legal question for it. However, a political debate afresh has been raised, rallying around the question of political identity of the nominated tribal members to the TAC. To my mind, the vantage point for the political discussion should be what impact the TAC has created so far? To answer this question one has to refer the key policy decisions taken by TAC and its implementation status to understand the politics of tribal rights.
The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution refers to administration and control over the Scheduled Areas (SAs) and Scheduled Tribes(STs) in the State. Para 4 of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides the provision for establishment of Tribes Advisory Council with not more than twenty members, to advise on matters related to the welfare and advancement of Scheduled Tribes in the State. Three-fourth of its representatives would consist of schedule tribes members of the State Assembly. In case the number of such representatives is less than the number of seats in the TAC to be filled, then the remaining seats shall be filled by other members of those tribes.
In the State of Andhra Pradesh there are 7 tribal MLAs, of which 6 representing the YSR party while the lone member representing the TDP. Since the number of the total ST MLAs is less than the three fourth of the total permitted strength of TAC, the government has filled with 8 other members of the Scheduled Tribes. Thus there is no legal flaw in issuing the GO Ms 84 constituting the TAC. What impact it has created when the TAC had full strength of tribal MLAs representing the various political parties is the pertinent question now. The analysis on the role played by TAC reveals that several decisions of TAC have remained un implemented, woefully lack of commitment towards tribals from both successive ruling and non-ruling political parties.
Tribal Land Rights protection:
The key policy decisions including on the practice of some non-tribals keeping tribal women as mistresses so as to grab their land, the TAC “resolved in 1977 to request the Government (i) not to recognise the second marriage of a non-tribal with a tribal lady and to see that the land of tribals is not enjoyed by the non tribals through such a marriage”. It was further resolved in 1995 that the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Area Land Transfer Regulation, 1959(LTR) should be amended to declare the land purchased in the name of tribal women, married or kept as concubine by non-tribal men, as null and void.
To address the issue of the intrusion of relatively more dominant and powerful tribals from plain areas into the Scheduled Areas and exploiting the land belonging to forest dwelling STs. The TAC accepted the proposal in 1994 to provide identity cards to the local tribals as there are a large number of cases of migration of non-locals into Andhra Pradesh so as to corner benefits extended to the local STs. This decision was taken based on the proposal of the commissioner, tribal welfare, for banning alienation of land of the Chenchu tribals through an ordinance.
The term “transfer” under LTRs which prohibits tribal land alienation does not include testamentary disposition which means disposal of property through execution of a “will”. This provides scope for further tribal land alienation. In this backdrop, the TAC unanimously resolved in 2010 to remove the term testamentary disposition of property by bringing in an amendment to the provision of Section 2 clause (g) with the word “transfer” under LTRs. However, this decision has not been translated into action.
The TAC had also resolved in 1982 to approve amendment to the regulations with retrospective effect stating: “in view of the legal complication in implementing the Land Transfer Regulation in Scheduled Areas of Andhra Pradesh, it is desirable that the Andhra Pradesh Land Transfer Regulation 1959 which extended to Scheduled Areas (SAs) of Telangana from 1.12.1963 may be amended so as to give retrospective effect from 31 October 1949”, the date on which the Notified Tribal Areas Regulation came into force. But no efforts were made to bring the legislation into effect from 31 October 1949 through an amendment to the law.
Regarding implementation of LTRs 1 of 1970, all members of the TAC unanimously approved the proposal in 1988 recommending amendment to all the regulations and other laws in the SAs to restrict the power of stay of the courts including the High Court, and to specifically declare that no stay should be granted against the tribals without hearing both the parties. In fact, non tribals continue to obtain land possession with the support of stay orders obtained from the High Court, stalling the implementation of the eviction orders issued against them.
In February 2006 the full strength of TAC consisting of 15 Tribal MLAs representing the various political parties including Congress, TDP, CPM, CPI, CPI (ML), and BSP including the Minister for Tribal Affairs unanimously resolved to seek an amendment to the word “village” under Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA)Act 1998, extending its definition to cover land, water, and forest areas enjoyed for generation for the purpose of local governance.
In the same meeting several important policy decisions were also taken by the TAC aiming at ensuring the self autonomy of tribals in the Scheduled Areas of the State , including all the posts of Directors and Chairpersons of Cooperative bodies, Zillaparishad, Territorial Constituency (ZPTC) members, posts of Presidents/Chairman and members of Water Users Associations in the Agency Areas should be reserved for the local tribals. The other decision was Devastanams (Temples) in Agency Areas should be managed by the committee of local tribals only.
All these decisions by TAC were disregarded under political pressure from both ruling and non-ruling political parties. Thus the impact of the decisions of constitutional body-TAC has been subjected intrinsically to electoral politics, rather empowering the tribal communities in the State.
*Tribal rights activist, lawyer and researcher based in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh