Siliguri, April 15: A senior leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad today rejected the state government’s idea of a Terai Dooars development council, seeking instead Fifth Schedule status for the areas.
The Parishad said the status would ensure more funds to the plains. A tribal advisory council, mandatory under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, would have to be formed to monitor development work.
The Parishad’s demand is not new, but the timing crucial because the government is believed to be mulling the formation of the council in the area with an eye on the tribal votes for the panchayat elections.
For the Parishad, the entry of Trinamul in the Dooars and Terai would mean a division of its core support base. The area has high tribal presence and all five Assembly seats are reserved for Scheduled Tribes.
Today, Rajesh Lakra, the general secretary of the Dooars Terai regional unit of the Parishad, told The Telegraph: “We have learnt that the state will announce the formation of a Terai Dooars development council soon to address the grievances of the tribal people in this part of Bengal. The council, however, cannot serve our purpose entirely. We demand that the Fifth Schedule status be conferred on the Dooars and Terai so that these areas can receive more funds.”
He added: “Once the region is brought under the Fifth Schedule, a tribal advisory council can be formed.”
The Fifth Schedule pertains to scheduled areas and mandates the formation of tribal councils. It says: “The Governor of each State having Scheduled Areas therein shall annually, or whenever so required by the President, make a report to the President regarding the administration of the Scheduled Areas in that State and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of directions to the State as to the administration of the said areas.”
On the formation of tribal development councils, the Fifth Schedule says: “There shall be established in each State having Scheduled Areas therein and, if the President so directs, also in any State having Scheduled Tribes but not Scheduled Areas therein, a Tribes Advisory Council consisting of not more than twenty members….”
Among its tasks “is the duty of the Tribes Advisory Council to advise on such matters pertaining to the welfare and advancement of the Scheduled Tribes in the State as may be referred to them by the Governor”.
Lakra today said: “Our demand is not new and we sincerely feel that the Fifth Schedule is the only way to expedite socio-economic development for adivasis. If the state decides to form the council on the lines of those formed in the hills (Lepcha and Buddhist development boards), without conferring the Fifth Schedule status, we will oppose the move tooth and nail.”
The Parishad’s rejection of the Terai Dooars development council has come at a time when talks were in progress with the government.
“The government has held several discussions with Parishad leaders to obtain their assent. Yesterday, a meeting was held between Rajesh Lakra and Kalchini MLA Wilson Champramari on the issue,” said a Trinamul Congress source.
Champramari, who had won from the Kalchini Assembly seat with support from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, recently joined Trinamul.
Last month, a Trinamul source had said Champramari may be made the chairman of the development council.
A Trinamul leader said today: “It is expected that the announcement of forming the council would be made just ahead of the rural polls so that Trinamul can get maximum mileage during the campaign. The consolidation of tribal votes is one of the tasks in which Trinamul is involved now.”
He said: “If the Parishad takes a stand against the council and speaks of the Fifth Schedule, it is a cause of concern for us. Nevertheless, we are hopeful that the Parishad can be taken into confidence through talks.”
A Parishad leader pointed out that “the organisation has already lost a lot of supporters after it expelled John Barla”.
He said: “Further, as Trinamul has started making forays into the Dooars… some more supporters have left the Parishad.”
Told about the Parishad’s demand, Chandan Bhowmik, the Jalpaiguri district Trinamul president, said: “The chief minister is keen to develop the Dooars. In a democracy, anybody can raise demands but the intention has to be clear. We cannot afford to have any law and order problem in the Dooars as it would only impede development.”