The tribal outfits in Rajasthan have demanded inclusion of over 165 village panchayats of seven districts in the scheduled areas under the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) to facilitate the control of local communities over minor minerals and minor forest produce as well as development activities in the region. It will also ensure statutory protection of the tribal population.
On the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on Monday, the tribal groups said the population of Scheduled Tribes in these panchayats had crossed 50%, making them eligible to be declared as scheduled areas. Consequently, the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, will apply to these areas.
The scheduled areas at present comprise 5,697 villages in southern Rajasthan, having a tribal population of more than 50%, as notified in 2018. As per the 2011 Census, the total population of scheduled areas was 64.63 lakh, in which the tribals were 45.57 lakh, making up 70.43% of the population.
The tribal groups have also been spearheading a movement for creation of a separate State, Bhil Pradesh, to be carved out of the tribal-dominated areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The issue has gained strength after the victory of two Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) candidates in Dungarpur district in the 2018 State Assembly election.
In addition to the BTP, the tribal groups also submitted memorandums addressed to the President on this subject in several districts in the four States last month. BTP State president Velaram Ghogra said the tribals were not getting full benefit of reservation in the TSP areas despite forming the majority. “The government should stop its drive to bring the tribals to the so-called mainstream, because they are living in harmony with nature and taking care of precious natural resources,” he said.
Former civil servant Satyanaryan Singh, who earlier served as the TSP Director, told The Hindu that the demand for creation of Bhil Pradesh was not practicable. “The allocation of funds and implementation of development programmes in the TSP areas have benefited tribals,” he said.
The demand is also apparently linked with political developments last year, when the BTP withdrew its support to the ruling Congress over the latter allegedly blocking the election of a BTP-backed independent candidate to the post of Zila Pramukh in Dungarpur during the panchayat elections.
As an ally of the ruling party, the BTP had voted for the Congress’ candidates in the Rajya Sabha elections held in June last year and backed Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot during the subsequent political turmoil. BTP MLAs Rajkumar Roat and Ram Prasad supported the Congress during the confidence vote on the floor of the State Assembly on August 14, 2020.