Panel plays safe on tribal tag
A committee formed by the Union ministry of tribal affairs three years ago to examine and recommend tribal status to 11 hill communities has failed to make any practicable recommendations and has obliquely referred the matter back to the Office of Registrar General of India (ORGI), which had earlier turned down the demand.
The tribal status demand is a burning issue in the hills and the Centre had formed the committee in 2016 when Bengal was going to Assembly polls.
In the past three years, the committee was reconstituted thrice and the final report was compiled by a team headed by M.R. Tshering, joint secretary, ministry of tribal affairs. The other two members of the final committee were Soumendra Mohan Patnaik, vice-chancellor, Utkal University, and Gopal Sadhwani, director in the ministry.
Bishal Rai, a resident of Teesta in Kalimpong, has obtained the report through a RTI query.
Some members of the 11 communities (Bhujel, Gurung, Mangar, Newar, Jogi, Khas, Rai, Sunuwar, Thami, Yakka (Dewan) and Dhimal) had also pleaded on grounds of “principle of equality” and stated that two Gorkha communities, Tamang and Limboo, have already been granted the special status in 2002 while the rest have been overlooked.
One of the observations of the committee is that “in the absence of one of the reports of ORGI, the committee is not in a position to process the merits of the claim of the unequal treatment”.
The committee has stated it received a 2014 report on the rejection of claims of instant (11) communities only. “Report of ORGI of pertaining to acceptance of claim of Tamang and Limboo communities which led to their inclusion in 2002 was not available before the committee.”
The committee has also passed the buck to the ORGI. “The determination has to be done as per the modalities of the government. ORGI is the competent authority to determine if a community is as per its yardstick for listing as Schedule Tribe,” the report states.
It adds: “This committee is not competent to comment on the criteria/yardstick of ORGI for inclusion/ exclusion of communities.”
The committee states that the view of the government “needs to be taken note of so that any stand taken is not contradictory to extant government documents”. The ORGI has twice rejected the recommendation made by the Bengal and Sikkim governments on this issue.
The report adds that the argument on the “equality” issue needs to be “addressed with due diligence” and area specification would also have to be “considered with care”, given that Gorkhas reside in other parts of the country, too.
An observer said: “The committee has left it to the Centre to decide as the ORGI reports to the Union home ministry.”
Bishal Rai, however, stated: “The report is a clear indication that the issue is not political as political parties try to paint during election time. It is more of a technical issue and those pursing the issue, including Darjeeling MP Raju Bista, should concentrate on the technical part of the demand.”