Role of the Indigenous Peoples in Climate Change in India

India’s diversity is reflected through its 705 ethnic groups officially recognized as “Scheduled Tribes.” In central India, the Scheduled Tribes are usually referred to as Adivasis, which means Indigenous Peoples. The country also has several laws and constitutional provisions, such as the Fifth Schedule for Central India and the Sixth List for certain areas of north-eastern India that recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples to land and self-government, but their implementation is far from satisfactory. India voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) on the condition that after independence, all Indians are Indigenous. Therefore, it does not consider the concept of “Indigenous Peoples”, and therefore the UNDRIP applies to India.

Indigenous people in India comprise an estimated population of 104 million (or 8.6 per cent) of the national population (according to the 2011 national census report). Although there are 705 officially recognized ethnic groups, there are many more ethnic groups that would qualify for the scheduled tribe status, which are however not officially recognized. Therefore, the total number of tribal groups in the country is most likely higher than the official figure. The largest concentrations of Indigenous Peoples are found in the seven northeastern states of India, and the so-called “central tribal belt” stretches from Rajasthan in the western part of the country to West Bengal in the eastern part.

Climate change, like everywhere else, is real and present in India manifested in varied forms – floods, droughts, landslides, earthquakes, sea level rise, loss of biodiversity etc. – which continue to destroy the natural surroundings and habitats where indigenous people have long lived. As this segment lives by and off rivers, forests, natural caves, river deltas and fertile basins, climate change adversely impacts these natural habitats. Loss of forests and biodiversity hotspots has also resulted in the spread of zoonotic diseases that do not seem to have curable medical treatments.

The Indian government has been making coordinated efforts toward supporting indigenous peoples.  Until 1999 had a ‘ministry of social justice and empowerment’ which was bifurcated into a ‘ministry of tribal affairs’ with current budget allocation pegged at USD 10 billion meant to secure the well-being of indigenous peoples including the introduction of technology for weather forecasts, training and capacity building measures for climate mitigation and adoption, covering loss and damage due to climatic events, among other measures.

This Post was submitted by Clinate Scorecard India Country Manager Pooran Chandra Pandey


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