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Delhi dilutes Dispur promise

New Delhi/Guwahati, Nov. 27: Delhi has sympathy for the Adivasi protesters who were at the receiving end of mob savagery in the Assam capital but will not change its long-held view that tea workers of Adivasi descent are ineligible for Scheduled Tribe status.

Union home minister Shivraj Patil reiterated the government’s stand while making a statement today in the Lok Sabha on the mayhem in Guwahati this weekend and the issue that brought the Adivasi protesters to the scene of violence.

“The settlers in the tea estates have tended to lose their tribal characteristics in the new surroundings,” Patil said of the plantation workers brought to Assam by the British from what are now Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Around the same time, Assam’s labour and employment minister Prithibi Majhi was placating the tea tribes with a promise to convene a meeting of their leaders soon and send a fresh proposal to Delhi for their inclusion in the ST (Plains) list.

The home minister said in Parliament that various committees had examined the demand raised by “tea and ex-tea garden communities” — comprising Mundas, Oraons, Gonds and Santhals — for ST status in Assam and had come to the same conclusion. “The Lokur Committee noted that it agreed with the opinion of the Backward Classes Commission and did not recommend the tea plantation labourers to be treated as STs.”

Based on these considerations and the observations of the Lokur Committee and the Backward Classes Commission, the office of the Registrar General of India has not supported the state government’s proposal for inclusion of the tea tribes in the list of STs in Assam, Patil said.

The minister expressed anguish at the mob retaliation to arson by some Adivasi protesters on Saturday, especially the instance of three youths stripping an Adivasi woman in public.

Quoting from a report received from the state government, he said the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam had been refused permission by the district magistrate to hold the rally that led to the violence. Over 1,000 protesters marched ahead after “overpowering” police pickets on Basistha Road, which leads to the capital complex in Dispur.

“On the way, they reportedly indulged in vandalism…using the lathis, bows and arrows which they were carrying with them. More than 50 vehicles and 30 shops are said to have been damaged in the process,” the home minister said.

In Guwahati, Majhi said the Tarun Gogoi government had always backed the tea tribes’ demand and would continue to do so. “We will sit once the present crisis is brought under control. All those who represent the community like the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam, Asom Chah Mazdoor Sangha, Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association and Intuc will be invited to chart out a plan of action to impress upon the Centre to expedite the scheduling issue in the greater interests of the state.”

On how long it would take for the meeting to materialise, the minister said: “Another 15 days. We will then take a delegation to Delhi to press for early resolution of the issue. This initiative will be over and above what the government initiates.”

Education minister Ripun Bora said the state government was all for ST status to not only the tea tribes but the other five communities in the queue, too. He and Majhi said Union minister of state for home Sri Prakash Jaiswal made a factual mistake in his statement in Parliament yesterday about Dispur being opposed to the clamour for ST privileges.

The two ministers said Jaiswal clarified today that he was alluding to the views of the government in 1965. “Since then, no state government has opposed the move. In 2005, our government submitted to the Centre a report compiled by the Assam Institute of Research for Tribals and Scheduled Caste, Guwahati, recommending the inclusion of 97 tea and ex-tea tribes in the ST (Plains) list,” Bora added.

Seemingly unaware of Patil’s views that Delhi had long made up its mind, Majhi said that report was still under consideration.

“In fact, the Centre is considering the report and said so on August 8, 2007, in reply to a question posed by MP Arun Sarma. It said that since modifications to the ST list require the state government’s consent, the Registrar General of India and the National Commission for SCs/STs, and this takes time, no specific timeframe can be mentioned at present on when this demand will eventually fructify,” he added.

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