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ST fine print govt won’t show
Nod despite faults bares state game

Feb. 26: The state has decided to recommend to the Centre the granting of ST status to 10 Darjeeling hill communities though a survey has shown that most of them don’t qualify the economic and social criteria, said officials in Nabanna.

A senior state government official said: “A note will soon be put before the state cabinet to send a recommendation to the Centre to give ST status to the Rai, Yakkha, Gurung, Bhujel, Newar, Jogi, Sunwar-Mukhia, Mangar, Khas and Thami hill communities.”

Senior government officials said the decision to recommend ST status for the 10 hill communities was a political move. The state was aware that most of the communities did not meet the criteria for getting ST status.

“Only the Centre can grant ST status to a community. The state can only recommend it. The state has decided to recommend the communities despite the deficiencies as the ruling party wants to gain the support of the hill population ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and make inroads into the hills. Later, it would hold the Centre responsible if it rejects the proposal,” an official at Nabanna said.

Another official said the “recommendations for granting ST status to the Gurung and Khas communities was rejected by the Centre a few years ago”. According to senior backward classes welfare (BCW) department officials, the chief minister had received several requests during her visits to the hills to take some step so that these 10 communities get the ST status. This has been a longstanding demand of the Gorkhas.

Some months ago, the chief minister ordered a survey on the hill communities. The key criteria for ST status are the degree of backwardness and the financial status of a particular community. Based on these, the recommendation for ST status is supposed to be sent to the Centre.

The cultural research institute, which functions under the backward classes welfare (BCW) department, submitted the survey report recently.

“The report reveals that the majority of the communities are lacking in some of the parameters required to secure ST status. Despite this, the chief minister has asked the BCW department to take steps for recommending the communities for ST status,” said an official.

Senior officials in the know said that state’s recommendation would hardly help the communities as the Centre would conduct its own survey after receiving the state’s recommendation. “The Centre is very strict about granting ST status…. If a community lacks even a minor criterion, it rejects the community’s plea. It will be surprising if the Centre misses out the deficiencies already revealed in the state’s survey,” the official added.

Since the passage of the Telangana bill in the Lok Sabha, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has said it would speak to central leaders on statehood as the state’s objection has no role in the matter. It has cited the creation of Telangana for which the Andhra Assembly did not pass the bill, but both Houses of Parliament did.

However, in the case of ST status, the Centre may refuse to conduct an inquiry regarding the socio-economic status of the two hill communities whose pleas for the ST tag it has already rejected, the official said.

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

In Darjeeling, Morcha chief Bimal Gurung today posted a Facebook comment expressing his happiness that the state had moved 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 above communities for the approval of ST Status.”

Strictly speaking, the state has not sent the recommendation to the Centre yet, but is expected to. A state official said Gurung may be unaware that the proposal was yet to be approved by the state cabinet.

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