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The British Government had from time to time declared some of the tribes which, according to them, were involved in criminal activities as Criminal Tribes. The Criminal Tribes Act (CTA), 1871 provided that if a Local Government had reason to believe that any tribe, gang or class of people is addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences, it may, with the authorization of the Governor General, declare such tribe etc. as a "Criminal Tribe". The CTA was revised in 1911 and in 1924. The CTA, 1924, was repealed by the Criminal Tribes Laws (Repeal) Act, 1952 on the recommendations of the Shri Ananthasayanam Ayyangar Committee. As a result, the tribes notified earlier as Criminal Tribes, stood De-Notified, and the name ‘De-Notified Tribes’ has been in use for them since then.

Nomads are people who are constantly on the move and have no permanent home. On the other hand, Semi-Nomadic groups tend to have a fixed habitat for a part of the year and are itinerant in the rest of the year.

Most DNT/NT are categorized as SC, ST or OBC though many of the DNT/NT is not covered in any of these categories.

Kalelkar Commission, appointed in 1953, suggested that the erstwhile ‘Criminal Tribes’ should not be called Tribes nor should be named criminals or the tag of ex-criminal be attached to them. They could be called De-Notified Communities. The Commission also opined that these groups could be divided in to two section i.e. (i) Nomadic, and (ii) Settled.

The Lokur committee constituted in 1965 for the revision of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes lists, observed that the development schemes usually designed for SCs and STs have not benefited the DNTs to any significant extent because of their relatively small number, and their tendency to be continuously on the move. Hence, it opined that it would be in the best of interest of these communities, if they are taken out from SC/ST lists and treated exclusively as distinct group with development schemes specially designed to suit them.

Justice Venkatachaliah Commission in its report submitted to the Govt of India in 2002 recommended strengthening the programmes for the economic and educational development of DNTs and constituting a special commission to look into their need and grievances.

Against the above background, a National Commission for De-Notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes (NCDNT) was constituted earlier in 2005 which had made certain recommendations. In addition, the National Advisory Council (NAC) constituted a Working Group on De-Notified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes in 2011 which also proposed a detailed set of recommendations for the DNT/NT communities.

Having gone into the details of the earlier Commission’s recommendations, Government further felt the need to appoint a National Commission so as to focus on their identification, review of their progress of development and to suggest appropriate measures to be taken by the Government for their upliftment and mainstreaming. The present Commission has been constituted on 12.2.2014. The Commission assumed its functioning w.e.f. 9th January, 2015 with the joining of Shri Bhiku Ramji Idate. The tenure of the Commission is for three years from the date of assumption of charge by the Chairman.