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Focus: GS-I Indian Society, GS-II Governance

Why in news?

The makeup of the present criminal justice system points to a bias against Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis, who accounted for around 13 per cent of total number of convicts and 10 per cent of the total under-trials in Indian prisons, despite comprising less than 9 per cent of the total Indian population, showed data from the National Crime Records Bureau in its prison statistics report.


  • This number did reduce by a small margin, compared to data from 2001, that showed 15.2 per cent and 13.2 per cent of the total convicts and under-trials respectively were Adivasis.

The Possible reasons?

  • Depending on the category of forest, taking a twig can become a crime as well – but these laws that make accusations easy are actually obsolete with the coming of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
  • Some lawyers argue that a disproportionate amount of power was held by forest department officials, whether under provisions of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, state forest laws or the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  • Forest department officials have the powers for search and seizure, arrest, investigation, determination of fines and compounding offences, in the case of forest offences.
  • Trials in such offences can go on for a year or more, with Adivasis not getting access to proper legal aid.
  • Most forest cases do not reach courts as the matters are ‘settled’ by forest department officials.
  • The court directs a punishment — usually a fine — on the spot with no further ado, if the accused pleads ‘guilty’, with the alternative being a long incarceration during the trial.


  • While most colonial laws underwent rigorous scrutiny and significant reform under the Constitution, this was not the case with forest laws.
  • India had not ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 — concerning indigenous peoples and tribal peoples — that formed a large body of international law instruments that can protect Adivasis within the Indian judicial system.

-Source: Down to Earth

February 2024