Oram U-turn and ST status stalemate

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“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

– Robert Frost


 The six communities seeking Scheduled Tribe (ST) status in Assam staged protests in different parts of the state on Friday against the Centre’s lackadaisical attitude to fulfill their demands. Taking a U-turn Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram on Friday morning tweeted that the demand for ST status by the 6 communities – Moran, Muttock, Tai Ahom, tea garden community, Koch Rajbongshi and Sootea – is under active consideration of the Centre. His casual comment that it would take 40 years for those six communities, who have been agitating for years, triggered an outrage. No sooner had this news of the reported remark of Oram spread, protestors even burnt his effigies and blocked roads. Opposition political parties like the Congress began hitting out at the BJP for its alleged “betrayal” of the people.  In 2004, the then Assam Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to accept and press the then Union Government for the inclusion of the said six communities in ST List of India and successive Central government are seen dilly-dallying on the issue that failed to make much headway and has become a subject of political debate.

Every political party, including BJP, has extended support to the issue and has promised to take demand to a logical conclusion. They have been doing so despite the fact that the Registrar General of India had in 2003 rejected inclusion of the Koch-Rajbongshis in the list of Scheduled Tribes (plains) on the grounds that the community embraced Hinduism and lost its tribal characteristic long ago. Promises are made keeping an eye on vote bank. According to current rules, if the Registrar General of India rejects a proposal twice, it cannot be presented again.

The issue is very sensitive – both among people of those communities which are demanding this status, as well as among those opposed to it. The existing ST groups of Assam are opposing the proposal on the logic that introduction of more communities will dilute various benefits including job reservation enjoyed by them. The demand is in a deadlock following failure of the Centre-constituted modality committee on the issue to submit its report for the 5th time. It is to be noted that the six different communities are in OBC category of Assam at present. The Committee will also look into the modality to protect the interests of existing tribals and frame a mechanism to ensure fairness of reservations within these six communities and related security considerations. The committee, headed by Rina Mitra, senior official of the Union Home Ministry, was supposed to submit the report in June last year. If as promised in the year 2014 to take responsibility for its actions, the Narendra Modi government fails to grant ST status to these communities, the people of Assam will never forgive the Prime Minister, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and the party to which both belong. Time has come for both the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Assam to convert their promises on the said matter into action, so that the same issue is again not repeated in 2019 Lok Sabha election.

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