Key reports unpublished in vacancies case of Scheduled Tribes

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Key reports unpublished in vacancies case of Scheduled Tribes

Guwahati: On March 9, Antarsingh Arya, a BJP leader who previously served as a cabinet minister in the state government of Madhya Pradesh, was appointed as the chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST).
NCST is an institution constituted under Article 338A of the Constitution of India. It basically consists of five persons: Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three other members.
Its main objective is to monitor and investigate the protections provided to Scheduled Tribes under the Constitution and other laws such as the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) and the Scheduled Areas Act by extension of Panchayats.

The appointment of a new chairperson came after an 8-month-long vacancy in the post and two weeks in February and March, where all five member posts at NCST were vacant.

Three other persons were appointed as members on March 9: Asha Lakra, Jatothu Hussain and Nirupam Chakma.

However, there are numerous vacancies in non-member posts. According to information obtained under Right to Information (RTI) by this reporter, 70 non-member posts at NCST are currently vacant.

“It’s like appointing a chairperson but not providing him with any staff. Members alone cannot deal with all the files and correspondence that come their way,” K C Deo, former Union Minister at the Tribal Affairs Ministry, told.

Deo questioned the effectiveness of an institution like NCST, which has multiple vacancies in posts for supporting staff.

This reporter sent queries to Arya, the NCST chairperson, the secretary and the three other members – Lakra, Hussain and Chakma – seeking an explanation about the vacant posts.

We also sent queries to Arjun Munda, tribal affairs minister and Anil Kumar Addepally, the minister’s secretary, since the ministry is responsible for appointments to Group A posts, while NCST appoints the rest of the officers. None of them have responded. This copy will be updated if they do.

The NCST is dependent on the Ministry of Tribal Affairs for its budget. And allocation to NCST in the last five years has fallen from around Rs 20 crore five years ago to Rs 12 crore in 2022-23. People aware of the matter told this reporter that NCST has previously sought a higher budget and that non-allocation of a higher budget is also one reason for the high number of vacancies at NCST.

Working group on forest rights dissolved

Under the previous chairman, Harsh Chouhan, NCST had constituted a working group to look into issues related to FRA. According to an order seen by this reporter, the working group was dissolved on March 11, soon after the appointment of the new chairperson.

An important task members of the working group had undertaken was to assess the implementation of FRA across six states: Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Assam. This assessment was conducted by the TEER Foundation and submitted to NCST last year.

However, NCST has not yet signed off on the report.

“I wish NCST [under the new chairman] completes what was started earlier. They asked us to evaluate FRA implementation in six states. We completed it.

Now it is for the Commission to summon each of the six states and seek action on our report and recommendations,” said Milind Thatte, a former member of the FRA working group, which now stands dissolved. He also added that NCST should place the report in public domain.

This reporter had filed an RTI seeking a copy of the report on January 27. No response was received even after the expiry of 30 days. An appeal was filed on March 3. No response has been received so far.

TEER Foundation also submitted another report to NCST this February. The report comprises an assessment of the rejection of FRA claims and was again commissioned by NCST under the previous chairperson. This report, too, has not been made available publicly yet.

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