Gist of EPW November Week 1, 2018

The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) is an important source of study material for IAS, especially for the current affairs segment. In this section, we give you the gist of the EPW magazine every week. The important topics covered in the weekly are analysed and explained in a simple language, all from a UPSC perspective. 

Topic covered in this article are:

  1. Demand for Scheduled Tribe Status by Koch-Rajbongshis

  2. Convention on Biological Diversity

Demand for Scheduled Tribe Status by Koch-Rajbongshis

Context

  • In the pre-independence period, the detribalisation process seemed to be a means for tribes to get rid of social exclusion. But, in post-independence India, there have been continuous demands by various communities for retribalisation.
  • In the politics of Assam, the Koch-Rajbongshi community along with five other communities, namely Tai-Ahom, Moran, Matak, Chutia, and Adivasi (Tea-Tribe) is demanding the Scheduled Tribe status.

Who are the Koch-Rajbongshis?

  • Presently, the Koch-Rajbongshi are inhabiting mainly in Assam, West Bengal, Meghalaya, and Bihar, and some parts of Nepal and Bangladesh.
  • In West Bengal and Bihar, they are known as “Rajbongshi,” in Assam as “Koch,” “Rajbongshi,” and “Koch-Rajbongshi,” and in Meghalaya mainly as “Koch.” Though the community is known by diverse names in different states, their origin is the same, that is, “Koch.” They come from the Mongoloid race who migrated from the Tibetan region.

What is the issue?

  • Identity and recognition both are interdependent. Identity needs recognition for its presence. Without recognition, identity has no meaning. On the other hand, if there is no identity then what to recognise. The Koch-Rajbongshi community is facing a similar problem in Assam.
  • Originally, the Koch-Rajbongshies are a tribe, but due to lack of recognition they are not identified as a tribe. The lack of recognition is due to a paucity of proper evidence of their original tribal identity.
  • It has been argued by a section that “Koch” and “Rajbongshi” are different from each other while another section of people argues that these two constitute a single community.
  • Among these, a few argue that only the “Koches” are tribe but not the “Rajbongshis,” hence increasing the degree of confusion to a greater extent.

 ‘Scheduled Tribe’ Status

  • The term “Scheduled Tribe” (ST) was coined to identify certain communities who are backward and need special treatment.
  • It is a mechanism to provide justice to the least advantaged people in the society who were historically deprived of their rights. Nowhere in our Constitution is the term ST defined. According to Articles 341 and 342, the President of India in consultation with the governors of the states can declare a community as ST.
  • According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, those communities having characteristics similar to these five features, namely, primitive traits, distinctive culture, shyness of contact with other communities at large, geographical isolation, and backwardness can be considered as ST.
  • These five criteria are not there in our Constitution. It is related to the definition contained in the 1931 Census and the report of the first Backward Class Commission, 1955, Lokur Committee, 1965, and the joint committee of Parliament on the Scheduled Caste and ST Orders (Amendment) Bill, 1967.

Analysis of the issue

  • If we revisit the history of Koch-Rajbongshi and their assimilation with Hindus we may recognise their tribal identity.
  • Based on the present, just for being an assimilated part of the Hindu community, if we regard them as non-tribe then it will be injustice to them
  • To decide whether the Koch-Rajbongshi people are a tribe or not with a criteria which was used more than 80 years ago may not be appropriate at the present time.
  • Even if we go with the above-mentioned five criteria, we may find some similarities with the features of Koch-Rajbongshis.
  • First, their spiritual god is different from that of Hindus and has resemblance to nature-worship. They worship Hindu gods along with their tribal deities. These tribal deities are worshiped without any Brahminical rituals and resemble those of the other tribes like Bodos, Khasis, etc.
  • Their shyness of contact with other communities is due to their distinct language. It is seen especially in the lower part of Assam where they speak the Rajbongshi language.The issue of language creates problems in the course of communication with others.
  • Regarding primitive traits, if we look at their daily lifestyle, household items and their way of food gathering, then we may see that they still possess some primitive traits.

Why they want ST status?

  • If the community along with the other five communities (Tai-Ahom, Moran, Matak, Chutia and Adivasi-Tea Tribe) acquire the ST status, they will be entitled to their original identity as “tribes”
  • Their rights over their native land will be protected from outsiders.
  • Their right to contest elections from their own constituency will be preserved.
  • There will be reservation in educational institutions, employment, etc.
  • Granting ST status will provide adequate safeguards to their socio-economic and political rights and ensure their original identity.
  • To regain their lost identity and preserving their rights, the Koch-Rajbongshi community along with the other five communities is demanding ST status in Assam.

 

What are challenges in getting ST status?

  • One of the biggest hurdles in the process of granting ST status to the six communities is posed by the existing tribes of the state.
  • The existing tribes fear that granting ST status to these communities will deprive them of their rights and pose a threat to their identity.
  • Another problem that was also indicated by the Select Committee of Lok Sabha, 1997 is that if they are included in the list of STs, then the present reserved quota (10% for plains and 5% for hills) will be overcrowded as the population of these six communities is more than half of the total population of Assam.

Conclusion

  • If the government moves forward with the mindset of changing the existing modalities to grant ST status to the six communities, then the aspiration of the six communities for getting ST status will be fulfilled.
  • On the other hand, it will not harm the existing STs. But, even after this, the question remains that if the reservation for these communities is kept separate from the reservation for the existing tribes, how will the issue of reservation of seats for the legislative assembly be dealt with? No doubt, these are complex issues which necessitate an alternative way to grant ST status to these communities.

Convention on Biological Diversity

Focus of the Article

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity has brought about a paradigm shift in rights over genetic resources by recognising sovereignty of nations to utilise their own resources.

What is the Convention on Biological Diversity?

  • Biodiversity knows no political boundaries and its conservation is, therefore, a collective responsibility of all nations. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a step towards conserving biological diversity or biodiversity with the involvement of the entire world.
  • The historic Convention on Biological Diversity (Biodiversity Convention – a multilateral treaty) was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and entered into in 1993.
  • The convention called upon all nations to take appropriate measures for conservation of biodiversity and sustainable utilization of its benefits.

The Convention has three main goals:

  • Conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity);
  • Sustainable use of its components; and
  • Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.

It is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development.

  • The Convention is legally binding; countries that join it (‘Parties’) are obliged to implement its provisions.
  • 195 UN states and the European Union are parties to the convention.
  • All UN member states—with the exception of the United States—have ratified the treaty.

Cartagena Protocol

  • CBD covers the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology through its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
  • It addresses technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and biosafety issues.
  • The Biosafety Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.

Nagoya Protocol

  • The Nagoya Protocol is a 2010 supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • The Nagoya Protocol is about “Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization”, one of the three objectives of the CBD.
  • It is the second Protocol to the CBD; the first is the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Analysis of the issue

  • The CBD framework can assist developing countries like India to boost biodiversity research in their own countries, thereby ensuring equity and fairness among countries.
  • The CBD has brought about a paradigm shift in rights over genetic resources by recognizing the sovereignty of nations to utilize their own resources.
  • Even though states have sovereignty over their resources, the negotiated text of the CBD puts in place, among other things, two major international commitments on the countries that have ratified the CBD.
  • One such commitment is creating a facilitative access regulation framework for genetic resources that the member states can use on mutually agreed terms and conditions for benefit-sharing (Article 15 of the CBD).
  • The other commitment is providing access to and transfer of technology (including biotechnology) to developing countries under fair and most favorable terms (Article 16 of the CBD).
  • The benefits can be claimed in return for providing access to genetic resources and knowledge. Non-monetary benefits include access to and transfer of technology, collaboration, cooperation and contribution in education and training, and institutional capacity building.
  • A large majority of public institutions, particularly traditional central and state universities, can benefit from Articles 15 and 16 of the CBD. Developing countries can, in return, make relaxations to their access regulations with respect to genetic resources.
  • By invoking the sovereignty principle, research on Indian biodiversity resources is regulated mainly by Sections 3 and 4 of the BDA.
  • These sections regulate research carried out by foreign persons and entities, non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Indian companies with non-Indian participation in shares or management.
  • With respect to non-commercial research in India by Indians, the BDA does not impose any regulation on the research of Indian biological resources.

Conclusion

  • The principles of equity and fairness enshrined in the CBD are some of the key aspects that create a balance of power between technologically advanced countries and biologically rich countries.
  • It is still important for countries with rich biodiversity to exercise control over their genetic resources and associated knowledge even when there is no commercial interest in the research proposed or undertaken.