Saturday, June 02, 2007

GUJJARS’ FURY (PART II): MERITS OF THEIR DEMAND

THERE has been little media attention on the merits of Gujjars’ demand to get into the ST list. Most commentators have pointed to the origin of Gujjars’ demand, and assumed that if Jats had not been included in the OBC list, Gujjars would not have sought entry into the ST list, even though under the ST list too, they would have faced stiff competition from the more powerful Meenas in the State.
First, the facts. The Scheduled Tribes are specified in accordance with the provisions of Art.342. The first list in relation to a State/UT is by a notified Order of the President, after consultation with the State Government concerned. Any subsequent modification can only be effected through an Act of Parliament, as it requires an amendment of the Constitution. The first list was thus promulgated on Sep.6, 1950 and is known as the Constitution (ST) Order 1950.
The criteria fixed for inclusion of a community in the list of STs are:
1. Indications of primitive traits,
2. Distinctive culture,
3. Geographical isolation,
4. Shyness of contact with the community at large, and
5. Backwardness.
The communities fulfilling the above criteria are considered for being notified as STs, in accordance with the modalities approved by Government in June 1999. (in the case of OBCs, the criteria is mainly about social, educational and economic backwardness, whereas in the case of SCs, it is untouchability. The National and State BC commissions should normally operate independently in their fields, namely the Central and State lists, though I am not sure of this). These modalities have laid down a procedure to be followed with regard to inclusion or exclusion of any community in the list. Before a Bill is introduced in Parliament for this purpose, any representation on these matters must first be sent to the State Government for comments. If the State Government recommends that the request be acceded to, the proposal with the recommendation of the State Government will be sent to the Registrar General of India. If the RGI agrees with the comments of the State Government, the proposal is then sent by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to the National Commission for SC and STs. (it has now been split into one for SCs and another for STs).

In case the State Government, the RGI, and the NCST all agree, the Ministry then approaches the Cabinet for approval. After the Cabinet approves the Bill, it is sent to Parliament.
In case the State Government agrees but the RGI does not agree, the proposal is sent back to the State Government along with the RGI’s comments. It is then open to the state Govt. to try to convince the RGI with new facts and figures. Where the State Government and the RGI both agree, but if the NCST does not, then the Ministry of TA has to reject the proposal.
While considering a particular claim for inclusion, it is necessary that it must by and large satisfy the five-point criteria mentioned above. There is no weightage assigned to each of these criteria. Now, let us take some of the recent instances considered for inclusion. (There has been no inclusion to the ST list for the past three years, even though some 1016 proposals are under various stages of consideration, according to an answer given to an unstarred question no.941 on 6-3-07 in Lok Sabha).
In 2001, the demand to include Gowada, Kunbi, Velip, and Dhangar communities of Goa in the list of STs was considered. The Centre had failed to extend the Constitution (ST)Order 1950 to the U.T. of Goa, Daman and Diu, immediately after the liberation of Goa in 1961. Although in 1968 the Goa, Daman and Diu (ST) Order 1968 was promulgated, it declared only tribes from Daman and Diu as STs, while those from Goa were excluded.
The Government of Goa recommended the inclusion of these four communities in the ST list of the State. The RGI and the NCBC (The NCSC or NCST were not in existence then) concurred with the State Government with regard to Gowada, Velip and Kunbi communities. The RGI did not favour Dhangar’s inclusion. A Parliamentary committee which examined the issue, however, favoured Dhangar’s inclusion. The MTA told this Committee in 2001, that it was preparing a Cabinet note for the inclusion of the other three communities. The MTA also told the committee that it was merely a post office in finalisation of such claims, an admission which the Parliament committee had then deplored. Accordingly, the three tribes were added to the ST list. One does not know whether the non-inclusion of the fourth community was an election issue at all in the recently concluded Goa assembly elections.
In another instance, the West Bengal Government recommended the inclusion of ‘Deswali Majhi’ community in the ST list. The West Bengal government claimed in 1999 that this community might have some association with the Santals in the long past, but at present it is a separate community. The RGI in 1981 did not favour its inclusion on the ground that they had given up Santal language, and they were not considered by Santals as belonging to their community. The community fulfilled only two of the five-point criteria for inclusion – 1 & 5. However, a Parliamentary committee found in 2001 enough historical evidence suggesting that it was a tribe, and asked MTA to seek RGI to expedite reconsideration of the State Government’s recommendation in this regard. As in the Goa case, the current ST list for West Bengal does not include this community, and one does not know the views of RGI and NCST in this regard.
The statement furnished in the Lok Sabha in response to a question in March this year reveals that Assam tops the list of proposals being considered for inclusion in the ST list (113). There are 18 proposals from Rajasthan. But if the reports are any indication, the State Government is yet to forward its recommendation on Gujjar’s demand to the Centre; therefore, Gujjar is certainly not one of these 18 proposals.
Gujjars have been recognized as STs in Himachal Pradesh and J&K, but not in other States, underlying the geographical differences. Despite their recent fury, there has been no attempt on the part of their leaders to articulate their demand for inclusion in the ST list, or how they qualify the criteria. Merely because Meenas, a community similarly placed, has been in the ST list, does not ipso facto sustain their claim. It is said that only Bhil Meenas in South Rajasthan, especially in Udaipur belt, are the real STs, and that other Meenas have been wrongly included. If it is so, then it has to be shown with proof, to convince the authorities concerned, without taking recourse to agitations, which would politicize the issue, and make it beyond resolution.
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