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OBC status thorn
- Gorkhas keen on ST label wary of Delhi move

Darjeeling, July 7: The Rais and the Dewans from the Gorkha community of Bengal have been included in the central list of other backward classes but the beneficiaries are keen to decline the status. Both the communities, which are currently on the state OBC list, fear that the Centre’s move would jeopardise their demand for Schedule Tribe status.

The entire Gorkha community in the Darjeeling hills too fears that the central move is a step to deprive them of ST status, like the Uttarakhand Gorkhas. One of the reasons why the Gorkhas (except the Scheduled Castes) want ST status is because the number of Scheduled Tribes is less across the country than OBCs. This would mean there would be less competition and more benefits to avail of under the ST quota in terms of job and education, though the reservation percentage may be less. For example, the Bengal government has a six per cent reservation for STs and seven per cent for OBCs. But while STs constitute 9 to 10 per cent of the population, OBCs make up 30 per cent.

The gazette notification issued by the ministry of social justice and empowerment on June 16 states that Rais and Dewans of Bengal along with the entire Gorkha community (excluding Brahmins and Kshatriya) in Uttarakhand have been included in the central list for OBC. Those included in the central list will be entitled to 27 per cent seat reservation in central government jobs and educational institution among other benefits. Those on the state OBC list are entitled to seven per cent reservation.

A member of the Rai community, who had espoused the community’s cause for ST status, said: “This is very surprising. We were offered the status four years back but we had declined it fearing that this would jeopardise our demand for ST status. Once we get the notification and after discussing with our community members we might write back to the Centre to de-list us.”

In fact, all Gorkha communities are vying for the ST status, a demand which has been endorsed by all political parties, including the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and its rival, the GNLF.

Another reason for ST status clamour is that no economic criteria have to be met to avail of benefits under this category unlike under an OBC quota. “If the parents are occupying senior positions in government offices, their offspring cannot get an OBC certificate. Also, OBC parents who earn more than Rs 4.5 lakh an annum (other than salaried class and income from agriculture) will not be entitled to the certificate,” said a district official. The official said “senior positions” included a long list of officers under various heads.

In the hills, the Gurungs, Khas-Hitkaris and the Rais are already vying for ST status.

“The notification will definitely bring to life the community related demands in the hills which were lying low till date,” said an observer. Many are of the opinion that such a status could ultimately undermine the demand for inclusion of all Gorkhas in the ST list.

The Morcha has been demanding that the entire “Gorkha community, excluding the Scheduled Castes” be granted the ST status. However, with the “Gorkhas” being in the OBC central list status in Uttarakhand, there could be confusion all around. “If the Gorkhas from Uttarakhand are on the OBC list it is fine but for the Darjeeling hills we want Scheduled Tribe status,” said Roshan Giri, general secretary of the Morcha.

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