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Tuesday 13 April 2010

Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes


Scheduled Castes (SC) are communities accorded with special facilities provided by Indian constitution viewing their long history of being oppressed, excluded and denied from the mainstream Hindu population, and accorded with the most polluted occupations like manual scavenging and leather works.

Indian after independence has faced a lot of trouble in identifying and labeling population as SCs because of politico-economical reasons. The exact documentation has not been done as they show state wise as well as regional variation. The 2001 cebsus shows they constitute about 16 percent of India’s population.

Nature of their problems:

Traditionally SCs constitute a bulk of Indian population who had to lie outside the vernacular system and had no chance of entry to the upper caste through change processes described by M. N. Srinivas. This resulted in denial of access to resources, public service and decision making. The census shows that about 19 percent of them live n Urban centres and most of them are still engaged in inhuman and vulnerable profession. They have highest fertility and low level of literacy.

Constitutional provisions for protection and development of scheduled castes

The National Commission for Scheduled Caste (NCSC) classifies different safeguards in the following broadheads:

  1. Social Safeguards
  2. Economic Safeguards
  3. Educational & Cultural Safeguards
  4. Political Safeguards
  5. Service Safeguards

1. Social safeguards:

Articles 17, 23, 24 and 25(2)(b) of the Constitution enjoins the State to provide social safeguards to Scheduled Castes.

Article 17 relates to abolition of untouchability being practiced in society. The Parliament enacted the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989to tackle the problem of untouchability, which is being practiced against Scheduled Castes.

Article 23 prohibits traffic in human beings and 'begar' and other similar forms offorced labour and provides that any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. Although there is no specific mentions about the SCs in this Article but majority of the bonded labours comes from SCs. Thus, this Article has a special significance for them. The Parliament enacted Bonded Labour system (Abolition) Act, 1976 for identification, liberation and rehabilitation of bonded labourers.

Article 24 provides that no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment. Even in this Article, there is no specific mention about the SCs but substantial portion of child labour engaged in hazardous employment belong to SCs.

Article 25(2)(b) provides that Hindu religious institutions of a public charactershall be opened to all classes and sections of Hindus. The term Hindu includes personsprofessing Sikh, Jain and Buddhist religion.

2. Economic Safeguards

Articles 23 24 and 46 form part of the economic safeguards for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The provisions of Articles 23 and 24 have already been discussed in earlier paragraphs.

Article 46 provides, "The States shall promote with special care the educationaland economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation."

3. Educational and cultural safeguards

Articles 15(4) empowers the State to make special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and for SCs. This provision has enabled the State to reserve seats for SCs in educational institutions in general and professional courses etc.

4. Political safeguards

Reservation of seats for SCs/STs in the local bodies of the States/UTs, Legislative Assemblies of the State and in Parliament is in practice.

Article 243D assures the reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in every Panchayat according to the proportion of population. Such seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Panchayat. No less than one third of reserved seats should be allotted to women.

Article 243T assures the reservation of seats in Municipality area. The rule is same.

Article 330 assures reservation of seats for SCs and STs in the House of the People. The allotment of seats is based on the number of the seats and proportion of SCs and STs in the state or Union Territories.

Article 332 assures reservation of seats in the state legislative assembly. The allotment of seats is based on the number of the seats and proportion of SCs and STs in the state or Union Territories.

6. Service safeguards:

The allotment of seats is based on the number of the seats and proportion of SCs and STs in the state or Union Territories. The effect of this amendment is that the SCs/STs promoted earlier than their counter-part in general category by virtue of reservation policy shall be senior to general category in the promoted scale/post.


Scheduled Tribes (ST) represent substantive indigenous minority population of India which are recognised by fifth schedule of Indian Constitution on the basis of their ‘primitive’ technology, relative geographical isolation, distinctive culture and relative shyness of contact with larger communities.

According to 2001 census they represent roughly 8 percent of Indian population mostly living in less accessible places of the country. Today they represent second largest landless population. The geographic distribution shows two concentric zone of their habitation. First, at the central belt of the mainland India, second, at the north eastern region.

Criteria for labeling:

Criteria for labeling a population as ST have been a source of debate. The labeling of a population as ST has political and electoral importance. Furthermore the criteria are themselves problematic. The criteria are primarily based on traits like language, social organisation, identity, economic and technological achievements, and cultural distinctiveness. However, these features also characterises other communities. Traits like language and identity are also volatile, since, many groups have lost their primary language and identity. The economic criteria like egalitarianism, reciprocity and self-sufficiency no longer holds to be true. Yet with these debates, Government of India is determined to provide special incentives to these special groups. At present with 698 ST groups of India represent world’s largest population of STs.

Nature of problems:

At a global level, the indigenous population faces two major problems identified by United Nations, a) Poverty and b) social discrimination. World Health Organisation focuses on the fact that these people suffer from higher rate of infant mortality, under and mal nutrition and lower life expectancy.

India’s affirmative measures:

India has taken a number of affirmative measures for the upliftment of tribal people. It is important to see initiatives taken by India in her several five years plans for the benefit of her weaker section.

Five year plans and development initiatives for Scheduled Tribes:

An analysis of five year plans show that the schemes under tribal development programmes have ranged from infrastructure building to empowerment. The schemes range from collective welfare to family and beneficiary oriented programmes. Though the thrust areas have undergone change from one plan to another, some of the important issues like providing food security and nutrition, improving health services and checking morbidity, and education have been given priority during all the planning periods.

The first plan (1956 -61) emphasised the equitable distribution of development inputs. It emphasises the importance of providing special provision for weaker section of Indian population.

The second plan (1956 – 61) emphasises on reducing economic inequalities between Tribals and others. It showed the sensitivity to their cultural and mental life. 43 multipurpose tribal blocks were set up. Later these blocks were termed as Tribal Development Blocks (TDB).

The third plan (1961 – 66) continued with the same principle of reducing economic and other inequalities. The number of TDB increased to 489, each of which covered 25000 people.

The fourth plan (1969 – 1974) focused on the rapid increase in the standard of Tribal people’s living. Six pilot projects were set up in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa for the benefit of tribals.

The fifth plan (1974 – 78) launched the concept of Tribal Sub Plans (TSP) which is aimed at providing direct development incentives additional to overall state and/or central budget. TSP took two strategies, first, promotion of development initiative to raise their standard of living and second, protection of tribal interest through legal and administrative support.

The sixth plan (1980 – 85) seen high degree of devolution of funds to help tribals crossing the poverty line.

Seventh plan (1985 – 90) showed substantial increase in the flow of funds for the development of STs through infrastructure facilities and enlargement of coverage. Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation (TRIFED) to provide credit and marketing facilities to the Tribals is set up. National Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) is set for employment generation activities.

The eighth plan (1992 – 97) efforts to minimise the gap between levels of development between Tribals and Non tribals.

The ninth plan (1997 – 2002) emphasises the issues of empowerment. It recognises the importance of creating and environment where STs can lead a life of self reliance and dignity. It puts emphasis on three vital components, viz. i) Social Empowerment, ii) Economic Empowerment, iii) Social Justice.

The tenth plan and eleventh plan largely follow the same procedures with an emphasis on tackling unresolved issues. The eleventh plan has created a working group which will look into the empowerment issues.

Further Reading:



Beteille, A. (1998). The idea of indigenous people, Current Anthropology, Vol 39, No. 2, 187 – 91.

Bhatt, A. (1990). Poverty tribals and development: a rehabilitation approach. Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Rath, G. C. Eds. 2006. Tribal development in India: the contemporary debate. New Delhi: Sage


To bring all those who are considered the socially and economically backward on par with the rest of the society, it is a must that they should be assisted in all possible ways. Education which can accelerate amongst them the process not only of conscientisation but also of becoming economically independent should be made accessible to everybody. Government of India describes OBC as "socially and educationally backward classes", and government is enjoined to ensure their social and educational development.


Besides the SCs and STs, there exists a huge proportion of people who are identified as socially and educationally backward classes. Talk of implementing similar welfare measures to this section (OBC) has ignited resentment especially among the high castes. However, it is the constitutional obligation of the government under Articles 340(1). 340(2) and 16(4) to promote the welfare of the OBCs.

Steps taken:

Article 340(1) gives presidential power for appointing commission to label communities as OBCs.

Article 340(2) appointed commission will make needs assessment and take necessary actions.

Article 15(4) states are empowered to take any special initiative for betterment of the OBCs.

In 1953, first commission was constituted. They were responsible for determination of the criteria for the identification of OBCs, investigation of the conditions of these people, make suitable policies for their wellbeing.

The commission did the following:

1. They determined the criteria on the basis of: a) relative low caste position, b) relatively low educational status, c) inadequate representation in decision making bodies and economic participation.

2. The listed backward communities.

3. Recommended for a census based data on backwardness, treatment of women as backward, and reservation up to 70 percent of seats for backward groups.

In 1979, the Mandal Commission was set up, with similar task. They did the following:

1. Used social, educational and economic criteria.

2. Used social position, manual labour activities, early age at marriage, above state average women participation in labour activities as social criteria.

3. Used school attendance, drop out rate, below state matriculation rate as educational criteria.

4. Used possession of asset per family, kuchha house inhabitation, distance from source of drinking water, loaning behaviour at least 25 percent negatively higher than state average as economic criteria.

Ramiah (1992) noted the debate regarding OBC is far from resolved. It is important to note that with provisions for betterment of the social backward classes India’s nation building process would be benefited. With more participation of people from weaker section we can really think of a country having policy which benefits all. However, it is important to do periodic evaluation of the processes through which we visualise benefits for OBC people.

Further reading:

Ramiah, A. (1992). Identifying other backward classes. Economic and Political Weekly. June 6, 1203 – 1207.