December 12, 2019
Abir Ranjan Biswas speaks on The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019
Sir, the Government has decided to consider The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019. This will amend Part VI of the Order which specifies the Scheduled Tribes in Karnataka.
It amends the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 to include certain tribal communities from Karnataka in the official list of Scheduled Tribes recognised by the Government of India.
We in West Bengal have been demanding similar status for several Gorkha communities for quite some time. The West Bengal Government has been demanding the inclusion of 11 Gorkha communities since 2014 but has been rejected each time by the Registrar General of India (RGI).
The amendment made in June, 1999 and June, 2002 requires the concurrence of the State Government and the Registrar General of India as well as the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (ST). Only those proposals which have been recommended and justified by the concerned State Government and concurred with by the Registrar General of India (RGI) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) are to be considered for amendment of legislation. The Union Home Ministry is the RGI’s parent organisation.
In this case, while the former part of the process has been completed (State Government’s recommendation), the latter part is hanging in fire. And this despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance that he would look into the issue while campaigning in north Bengal ahead of the 2016 Assembly elections.
The 11 Gorkha communities are Bhujel, Gurung, Mangar, Newar, Jogi, Khas, Rai, Sunuwar, Thami, Yakha (Dewan) and Dhimal. If included under the Union Government’s list of ST communities, it would cover more than 80 per cent of the hill population.
The demand for including hill communities in the ST list has been a long-standing one, as only around 34 per cent of these communities have been enlisted as tribals. The recognition entitles them to reservations in government jobs, education and special concessions.
After being recognised as a Scheduled Tribe, members of the community can derive benefits meant for STs under the existing schemes of the government, including school and college scholarships, education loans, concessional loans from National Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation, hostels for ST boys and girls, etc. They are also be entitled to the benefits of reservation in services and admission to educational institutions as per Government policy.
It may be reminded, in this context, of the immense contribution that Gorkhas have made to the nation. The Gorkhas have been some of the bravest soldiers to serve India, both in India and as part of various United Nations peacekeeping forces. The Gorkha Rifles has received five Maha Vir Chakras, 17 Vir Chakras, 17 Shaurya Chakras, four Kirti Chakras and 47 Sena Medals. Internationally, one is reminded of Operation Khukri in Sierra Leone, the PVC won by Captain Gurbachan Salaria of 3/1 Gurkhas in 1961 in erstwhile Katanga and the operations in Somalia in June, 1993.
It may also be reminded to the Government that the NRC conducted in Assam had unfairly left out one lakh Gorkhas.
Despite the Centre’s neglect, the Bengal Government has been quite active in ensuring they and other tribal communities in the State are not left behind.
The State Government has set up 20 development and culture boards for 20 communities, including many in north Bengal. In 2016, it had constituted a task force for the Gorkhas. It offers old-age pension and social security schemes for tribal communities.
Tribal coverage under the Khadya Sathi Scheme – discounted foodgrains at Rs 2 per kg – covers over 8 lakh people in the Darjeeling Hills, over 35 lakh people in Jangalmahal, tribal people working in tea gardens and the people of Totopara in Alipurduar district.
In terms of recognising their languages, the West Bengal Government has formally accepted Kurukh, Kamtapuri, Rajbongshi and Kurmali as official State languages. The State Government publishes booklets in Santhali, among others, to disseminate information on various tribal development schemes. A Santhali-Bengali-English trilingual dictionary has also been brought out with 24200 words for development of the language. It is provided to all Eklavya model schools and tribal schools.
In 2014, the State Government had commenced a pilot project to arrest cases of thalassemia and iron deficiency among tribal people. Testing was done 74,804 children who were suffering from sickle cell anaemia disease.
Another point is crucial in the context of the West Bengal Government’s constant efforts towards the development of tribal people in the State. The State Assembly recently passed the West Bengal State Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Bill, 2019. But a legislation as important as this has been withheld assent by the Governor, which clearly shows his partisan allegiance and cannot be allowed to continue. Comparably, the last Governor had gladly given his assent to the legislation last year to make Kamtapuri, Rajbongshi and Kurmali official State languages, in line with his constitutional mandate
There have been three Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order Amendment Bills, which have been brought to Parliament. It is high time that another Amendment Bill is brought to include the excluded and deprived communities of north Bengal.
Thank you, Sir.