Guwahati, Aug. 23: A wary Dispur today said it was never consulted by the Centre on the five criteria required for enlisting a community as Scheduled Tribe while committing itself to securing ST status for the state’s six communities.
The response of Union tribal affairs minister V. Kishore Chandra Deo to a query in Rajya Sabha yesterday that the six communities did not fulfil the criteria could not have come at a more inopportune time for the Tarun Gogoi government, already plagued by the statehood demands that have led to unrest in the twin hill districts and lower Assam.
Sources in Dispur and the ruling Congress reacted with “surprise” over the Centre’s stand, saying it would only lead to “more turmoil” and could cost the government and the party dear in the 2014 general elections if the situation was not rectified at the earliest.
After a law and order review meeting at Gogoi’s residence this evening, the sources said an advisory would be issued to all districts to maintain order, as there were fears of statewide unrest following the development.
Assam minister of state for welfare of plains tribes & backward classes Rajiv Lochan Pegu today told The Telegraph they were never informed by the ministry non-fulfilment the criteria, though it had sought extra copies of the ethnographic report on the Ahom and Sutia communities in March and separate ethnographic reports on the tribes that comprise the tea/Adivasi communities.
“Had they (Union tribal affairs ministry) told us, we would have definitely acted. We have already discussed the issue with the chief minister who will also take it up at his level. A departmental team will also leave for New Delhi next week to know what is amiss. The government is committed to securing ST status for the six communities. The chief minister has already appealed to the various communities to maintain peace,” Pegu said.
Sources privy to the meeting Gogoi held with Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha representatives this afternoon over their long-pending demands, revealed that the chief minister had told the participants that “it is the state government’s demand. We will take up the matter once again.”
Bhagirath Karan, chairman of Assam PCC’s tea cell, said the Centre had to accept this nearly 60-year-old demand of the communities.
“The state government has done everything required to secure the ST status. How can the Centre expect that the criteria, which were fixed 50-60 years back, will remain unchanged? The Constitution is very flexible. If required, it needs to be amended to meet our justified demands,” Karan said.