Darjeeling, Nov. 30: The constitutional (amendment) bill for the inclusion of the Darjeeling hills in the Sixth Schedule was today introduced in Parliament by home minister Shivraj Patil.
Dawa Narbula, the Congress MP from Darjeeling, while confirming it, said over the phone from Delhi: “There will be a debate before the bill is passed.”
The draft of the bill, a copy of which is with The Telegraph, mentions that the decision to include the DGHC areas in the Sixth Schedule was made under “exceptional circumstances” like in the case of the Bodoland Territorial Council. In Bodoland, Scheduled Tribes comprise only 38 per cent of the total population. All the Bodos, however, are tribals.
Opposition parties in the Darjeeling hills have alleged that the special status will divide the Gorkhas along tribal lines since unlike the Bodos, the entire community does not enjoy tribal status.
A sample check carried out in October 2005 by the registrar general of India revealed that 31.4 per cent of the population residing in the DGHC areas are Scheduled Tribes. As the draft says that there will be enough safeguards for the non-tribals, it has been assumed that all Gorkhas will not be given tribal status for the present.
However, introduction of a bill does not necessarily mean that it will be passed. An example is the factories amendment bill that was brought in 2005 and is yet to be passed. In this case, however, indications are that the government will try and get it passed before the winter session ends on December 7, a source in Parliament said.
Till the proposed Gorkha Hill Council (GHC) is elected after the implementation of the special status, an interim council will function in its place, the tenure of which will be six months. The GHC has been given legislative and financial powers subject to certain state acts.
Deepak Gurung, the president of GNLF Darjeeling Branch Committee, said: “The introduction of the bill is a positive step. We are confident that the bill will be passed soon.”
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which has been opposing the special status, maintained that the Union and state governments should not work against the people’s sentiment. “If there is unrest in the hills, then the governments along with (GNLF chief) Subash Ghisingh will be held responsible,” said Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha.
Bimal Gurung, the president of the Morcha, said a writ petition against the memorandum of settlement (MoS) granting special status to the hills has already been filed in Delhi High Court on November 26.
The MoS was a tripartite agreement signed on December 6, 2005 between the Centre, state and Ghisingh. Along with Ghisingh, Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is also considered one of the main architects of the MoS. That is why the Morcha had opposed his visit to the hills recently.
“We have questioned the MoS since it was signed by a government-appointed caretaker (Ghisingh) at a time when he had no public mandate. The fact that the status is meant for a predominantly tribal area has also been pointed out. The court has already summoned the Centre, state and Ghisingh,” said Gurung.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has taken over the students’ council of Darjeeling Government College. The Morcha candidates were elected unopposed. The GNLF’s student wing lost the council after 10 years.