Mrunal Manmay Dash

In a stern message to the Odisha government, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan demanded a warning from Delhi to Odisha over the now-withdrawn Tribal Land Transfer Bill.

Pradhan demanded the warning during a discussion in Rajya Sabha over the Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Order Amendment Bill, 2024 which was passed on Tuesday.

Pradhan said, “Odisha government through a cabinet decision tried to grab the lands of the Scheduled Tribes which has been protected under Article 244 (Prevention of Land Alienation) by tampering with the act. The state government had decided to sell the land of the ST community.”

“There was resentment among the tribal communities over this decision. There were protests too following which the decision was withdrawn. I thank the Odisha government for this rollback on the decision. They were spared a blunder in the nick of time,” Pradhan said.

“But once somebody has tasted blood, they will definitely return to the place where it is available. And this is about the lucrative land. So I request the House to send a stern warning from Delhi to the people who are trying to tamper the Constitutional system in Odisha. Not only Odisha, but Delhi should warn all the States to not tamper with the rights of the scheduled tribes anywhere in India,” he added.

A face-off kind of situation erupted in the Upper House as Rajya Sabha MP Sasmit Patra replied to the statement of Pradhan terming it an attempt to belittle the Odisha Cabinet which is a Constitutional institution.

He said, “The minister has reflected on the Odisha Cabinet which is a Constitutional authority similar to the Council of States, because it draws its power from the Constitution. Therefore, it is unfortunate to belittle the Odisha Cabinet.”

“If the Minister thinks that certain things have happened in Odisha, what prevents him from taking the matter with his own government? Coming to the Parliament and seeking its premise is very unfortunate,” Patra said.

He further said adding, “There was no proposal to sell the tribal land to anyone. There are many tribal people who want to mortgage their lands for the higher studies of their children, but cannot do so because of the law. This was the thinking behind the Cabinet decision. But seeing people are taking it the other way, the matter has been rescinded by the State Cabinet. I think to demand a warning from Centre to a State on a matter which has already been rescinded, is an attack on the federal structure of the Indian Constitution. This is a very sad day for democracy.”

Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order Amendment Bill, 2024 and Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Order Amendment Bill, 2024, clearing the way for the addition of several new communities to the Scheduled Tribes list of Odisha and the inclusion of synonyms and phonetic variations of existing tribes in the ST lists of both Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Both Bills received support from MPs across party lines.

Among the additions were notably seven Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) (a subset of STs) — four in Odisha and three in Andhra Pradesh — whose independent names had been specifically added as synonyms or sub-tribes of communities already on the ST lists of these States.

In Odisha, the PVTG communities added are Pauri Bhuyan and Paudi Bhuyan as synonyms of the Bhuyan tribe; the Chuktia Bhunjia as a synonym of the Bhunjia tribe; the Bondo as a sub-tribe of the Bondo Poraja tribe; and the Mankidia as a synonym for the Mankirdia tribe.