Essay on the Scheduled Castes and Tribes of India

ADVERTISEMENTS:

According to the 1981 Census, there were some 150.6 million people who are entitled to the benefits provided under the special provisions of the Constitution. Of these, the Scheduled Castes alone number some 104.7 million. They are divided into several groups and are spread all over the country.

The Scheduled Tribes number some 51.6 million. Most of them are in the States of Bihar, Assam and other north-eastern states and Madhya Pradesh. The Backward Classes which include the ex-criminal tribes, have not been precisely defined yet, but they are believed to number over 5 million.

Reservation in Legislatures

ADVERTISEMENTS:

Under Article 330, a certain number of seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in the House of the People. The number of these seats is in proportion to their population and is specified in the list of seats allotted to each State. As has been pointed out earlier, there are no separate electorates for these communities.

At first they were returned through reservation in plural constituencies where each voter has two votes one for the general seat and the other for the reserved seat. An amendment to the original law provides for the abolition of these double-member constituencies and the establishment of single-member constituencies for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

At present, there are 119 seats reserved in the House of the People for these communities. Of these, 79 are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and the rest for the Scheduled Tribes.

Reservation of prescribed number of seats in the House of the People and the State Legislative Assemblies does not mean that the maximum number of seats available to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes is limited to such reservation.

ADVERTISEMENTS:

On the contrary, members of these communities are free to contest as many additional seats as they choose to do. In fact, in the 1971 General Elections, in addition to the reserved seats, 6 members from the Scheduled Castes and 3 from the Scheduled Tribes were returned to the Lok Sabha against unreserved seats.

Thus in a House of 494 elected seats, members of these two communities had a total of 116 seats. Similarly, in the State Assemblies too, representatives of these communities were elected against 15 unreserved seats. Of these, 8 were members of the Scheduled Castes and the rest from Scheduled Tribes.

Thus, in a total of 3,315 seats in the State Assemblies, 691 seats were held by members of these communities. In the elections to the Lok Sabha in 1980 also the two communities won 116 seats. It is also interesting to note in this connection that these figures are proportionately higher than those held by the members of these communities as a result of the earlier General Elections.

Special Consideration in Services

ADVERTISEMENTS:

Under Article 335, a general direction to the Union and State Governments is given for giving special consideration to the members of these communities in the services consistent with the maintenance of efficiency in administration.

This means that candidates from the Scheduled Castes or Tribes should satisfy at least the minimum educational and other qualifications prescribed for various posts of the different services under the State. It must be noted, however that there is no fixation of a percentage of jobs in the Constitution for these communities.

There is also no fixed period for the continuation of this preferential treatment. Naturally, the State is expected to continue such treatment until these communities make substantial progress educationally and economically and reach a certain level of equality with the rest of the Indian society.

In the light of the constitutional provisions, the Government of India reconsidered the position of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in 1950.

ADVERTISEMENTS:

As a result, a new policy was laid down according to which the Scheduled Castes’ share of recruitment was fixed at 15 per cent for All India Services on the basis of open competition and 16 2/3 per cent for direct recruitments. The corresponding figures for Scheduled Tribes were 7.5 per cent in each category.

The maximum age-limit prescribed for them for appointment was also raised by three years. In 1952, this rule was further relaxed rising the age-limit to five years above the maximum prescribed for others.

All these provisions are also in conformity with the exception provided under Article 16(4) to the Fundamental Right of equality of opportunity in public appointments.

Further, there is a special provision in the Constitution under which in the States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa there will be a Minister in charge of Tribal Welfare who may, in addition, be in charge of the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes.

ADVERTISEMENTS:

At present, there are separate Ministries or departments for the welfare of these communities in almost all the States. In 566, there were no less than 17 Ministers and 12 Deputy Ministers in the State Governments belonging to these communities.

Besides, there were six Ministers in the Union Government, two of whom were Cabinet Ministers, another two Ministers of State and the rest Deputy Ministers. The number had been increasing steadily in subsequent years.

Special Officer

Under Article 338, the President is empowered to appoint a Special Officer for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes to investigate on all matters relating to the safeguards provided for them under the Constitution, namely, (i) representation in legislatures; (ii) claims to representation in services; and (iii) the operation of the Fundamental Rights, and to report to him on these at regular intervals.

Under is provision the Special Officer is also entrusted with the interests of the Backward Classes as well the constitutional safeguards of the Anglo-Indian community. 1

The first Special Officer, designated as the “Scheduled Castes Commissioner” was appointed under this provision in November 1950. He was assisted by ten Assistant Regional Commissioners, each in charge of a region. The Commissioner had been submitting to the President every year a report which was laid before each House of the Parliament.

Article 338 however was amended in 1990 to provide for a National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Commission shall consist of a Chairperson, a Vice Chairperson and five other members. They shall be appointed by the President of India.

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