National Commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes

For effective implementation of various safeguards provided in the Constitution for the SCs & STs and various other protective legislations, the original constitution had provided for appointment of a Special Officer under Article 338 of the Constitution.  This special officer, called Commissioner for SCs & STs was assigned the duty to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards for SCs and STs in various statutes and to report to the President upon the working of these safeguards.  In order to facilitate effective functioning of the office of the Commissioner for SCs & STs 17 regional offices of the Commissioner were set up in different parts of the country.

However, there was a concern of the politicians that that the Office of the Commissioner for SCs & STs alone was not enough to monitor the implementation of Constitutional safeguards.  So, it was proposed to amend the Article 338 and put in place a Multi-Member Commission for the SC and STs. But even before the amendment was passed, the government changed the system via administrative decision and established the first Commission for SCs & STs in 1978 under Shri Bhola Paswan Shastri as Chairman and other four Members.

It was later renamed as National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  It was set up as a National Level Advisory Body to advise the Government on broad policy issues and levels of development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. However, till that time, it had no explicit constitutional backing.

Later, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was given constitutional backing via the Constitution (Sixty fifth Amendment) Act, 1990. The previous Bhola Paswan Shashtri commission was replaced by the NCSTST chaired by Shri Ram Dhan.

  • In 1995, second NCSCST was established under H. Hanumanthappa as Chairman.
  • Third NCSCST was set up in 1998 under Dileep Singh Bhuria as the Chairman.
  • Fourth NCSCST was set up under Dr. Bizay Sonkar Shastri in 2002.

However, 89th amendment of the constitution in 2003 bifurcated the NCSCST and made provisions for NCSC under Article 338 and NCST under new Article 338A.

Structure of NCSC and NCST

The commission consists of a chairman, vice-chairman and five other members. The chairman, vice-chairman and members of the commission are appointed by the President. The conditions of service and tenure of the members of commission shall be such as the presidents may by rule determine.

Duties of NCSC and NCST

  • To investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards for SC’s and ST’s under the constitution and any other law or any order of the government and to evaluate the working of such safeguards.
  • To inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of SC’s and ST’s.
  • To participate and advice on planning process of socio-economic developments of SC’s and ST’s and to evaluate the progress of their development under the union and any state.
  • To present to the president reports upon the working of those safeguards annually and at such other times as the commission deems fit.
  • To make recommendations as to the measures that should be taken by the centre and states for the effective implementation of those safeguards and other measures implementation of those safeguards and other measures for the protection, welfare and socio-economic development of the SC’s and ST’s.
  • To discharge such other functions for protection, welfare and development and advancement of SC’s and ST’s as the president may, subject to the provisions of any law made by parliament by rule specify.

Power of NCSC and NCST

The NCSC and NCST have the power to regulate their own procedures. While investigating any matter they have all the powers of a civil court in following matters :

  • Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him on oath.
  • Requiring the discovery and production of any document.
  • Receiving evidence on affidavit.
  • Requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or offices.
  • Issuing commissions for the examination of witness and documents.
  • Any other matter which the president may, by rule, determine.

Consultation by Union and State Governments

The union and state governments need to consult the commissions on all major matters affecting SC’s and ST’s.

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