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Bengal ST status plan to woo hills

Feb. 26: The Bengal government will request the Centre to grant Scheduled Tribe status to 10 Darjeeling hill communities although a survey has shown that most of them don’t fulfil the economic and social criteria, Nabanna officials said today.

“A note will soon be placed before the cabinet on recommending to the Centre ST status for the Rai, Yakkha, Gurung, Bhujel, Newar, Jogi, Sunwar-Mukhia, Mangar, Khas and Thami communities in the hills,” a senior state government official said.

A Nabanna official said the state government’s move was taken with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections.

“Only the Centre can grant ST status to a community. The state can only recommend it. The state has decided to make the recommendation although the communities don’t meet some of the criteria because the ruling party wants to gain the support of the hill population ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. If the proposal is rejected, the state can always blame the Centre,” the official said.

A minister in the Bengal cabinet said it was a “win-win” situation for Mamata. “If the Centre grants ST status to these communities, it will be our victory and if it rejects it, we will hold Delhi responsible. It is a win-win situation for us,” the minister said.

Another official said the “recommendation for granting ST status to the Gurung and Khas communities was rejected by the Centre a few years ago”.

According to backward classes welfare (BCW) department officials, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had received several requests during her visits to the hills to ensure that the 10 communities got the ST status, a long-standing demand of the Gorkhas.

The chief minister had then ordered a survey by the Cultural Research Institute under the backward classes welfare department.

The survey, which took into account Centre-stipulated criteria such as the degree of backwardness, the financial status of the communities and their places of origin, revealed that most of the communities did not meet some of the parameters, an official said.

Senior officials said the Centre would conduct its own survey after receiving the state’s recommendations. “The Centre is strict about granting ST status. If a community fails to meet even a minor criterion, the Centre rejects the plea. It will be surprising if the Centre fails to spot the deficiencies already found in the state’s survey,” an official said.

After the passage of the Telangana bill in the Lok Sabha, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha said it would request the Centre for statehood and drew attention to the fact that the Assembly’s consent was not required for a state’s bifurcation.

Morcha chief Bimal Gurung today posted on Facebook that he was happy the state had taken action on the ST issue.

“The GJM has always demanded ST status for the 10 Gorkha communities…. I am happy that the state cabinet has recommended the communities for the approval of ST status. I would now appeal to the central government to expedite this issue and grant them the ST status as soon as possible,” Gurung wrote.

The state government, however, is yet to send the recommendations, but is expected to do so. A state government official said Gurung might be unaware that the proposal was yet to be approved by the cabinet.

In Delhi, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said: “Today, we met R.P.N. Singh, the minister of state for home, and requested him to honour all the commitments made by the Centre in the (Gorkhaland Territorial Administration) agreement, which includes granting ST status to 10 hill communities.”