Minister Oram's clip springs hill ST status posers for Centre

Bills of various other communities, apart from that of the Gorkhas, have been cleared by the cabinet

By Vivek Chhetri in Darjeeling
  • Published 10.01.19, 2:31 AM
  • Updated 10.01.19, 9:25 AM
  • 2 mins read
Union tribal minister Jual Oram The Telegraph picture

A purported video of Union tribal minister Jual Oram, which tried to clarify New Delhi’s inability to clear a bill to grant schedule tribe status to 11 hill communities, prised open a set of uncomfortable questions for the BJP-led Centre that has been dragging its feet on the issue.

In the video, posted by Roshan Giri on social media, Oram said the bill could not be cleared because the ministry had received reports from West Bengal and Sikkim but not from other states with significant Gorkha population.

“The reason is that when the demand came from Sikkim and West Bengal, it came to the notice of Bharat Sarkar that these communities (Gorkhas) do not stay only in that area (Bengal and Sikkim) but also in some areas of Assam, Himachal, Delhi, Uttarkhand,” Oram says in the video.

The claim — coinciding with the visit of a central team to Sikkim to assess the situation — gave the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders an opportunity to question the Centre’s intent.

“If the reports from Bengal and Sikkim are with the Centre, the what is the purpose of sending a three-member delegation to Sikkim and Darjeeling?” questioned Binay Tamang, president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

Pawan Kumar Chamling, Sikkim chief minister whose party is in an alliance with the BJP, has already termed the visit a “hogwash”.

Questions were also raised on the seriousness of the committee, as it was first constituted in 2016 and since then two chairpersons have been changed.

“After two years, the tribal minister suddenly makes a statement that reports had been collected only from two states. The statement also comes after the winter session has concluded,” said a member of the hill community.

Today’s video is not the first one from Oram. In another purported video, on January 3, he had said that the Centre could place the bill in the parliament overnight if it so wished. The tribal minister had not talked about any difficulties facing the government in his January 3 address.

This same assurance was given to a delegation, which was led by Darjeeling MP S.S. Ahluwalia, that met Oram recently.

“The Darjeeling MP was seen present in today’s video… If the centre could table it in the Parliament overnight, why wasn’t it done?” asked another hill leader.

In the video, the minister, in a counter question, asked what would happen to the community members in other areas if a bill to grant ST status to Gorkhas only staying in Bengal and Sikkim was introduced.

“This is why the committee was formed. This committee has given the report of Sikkim, West Bengal but there were difficulties in getting the report of other areas (states),” said Oram adding that the change in the chairperson had led to these difficulties.

After detailing the problems, Oram said, the Centre was “interested in introducing the bill and also interested in passing the bill” during the budget session.

Bills of various other communities, apart from that of the Gorkhas, have been cleared by the cabinet.

Tamang said: “What was the need of another committee and another field visit to Sikkim when Vishu Maini, the former chairman, had already visited in 2016?” questioned Tamang who demanded that the present committee should place its report within two weeks.

In another written statement posted by Giri, Bimal Gurung stated that on October 9, 2018, Oram had given his word that the bill would be placed in this winter session.

“After watching today’s video, we still have hope on BJP,” Gurung’s statement reads.