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regular-article-logo Thursday, 20 June 2024

ST tag for Gorkha communities not backed by Registrar General of India: Arjun Munda

Union tribal minister’s statement likely to create ripples in hill politics as the BJP has repeatedly promised grant the status

Vivek Chhetri Darjeeling Published 08.08.22, 12:45 AM
Arjun Munda, (right) Shanta Chhetri

Arjun Munda, (right) Shanta Chhetri Sourced by the correspondent

Union tribal minister Arjun Munda has stated in a communication sent to a Trinamul Congress MP that the Bengal government’s proposal to grant tribal status to 11 Gorkha communities has not been supported by the Registrar General of India (RGI).

Munda’s statement is likely to create ripples in the hill politics as the BJP has repeatedly promised the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the 11 communities and has been in power at the Centre for the past eight years.

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“The proposal of the State Government has not been supported by RGI. The Ministry has addressed communications to the Government of West Bengal and Anthropological Survey of India seeking additional information, if any, so as to re-examine the matter if required,” Munda has written to Rajya Sabha member Shanta Chhetri.

The letter has raised several questions on whether the BJP is committed to the cause. The BJP leadership had first promised to fulfil the demand while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Since then, the BJP reiterated the promise in almost every election and also included the same in the party’s manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The 11 communities are Bhujel, Gurung, Mangar, Newar, Jogi, Khas, Rai, Sunuwar, Thami, Yakka (Dewan) and Dhimal.

Although many in the hills see the letter as a circuitous “no” to the demand, BJP leaders are rolling out a different narrative and referring to the role of the Trinamul government on the issue.

Kurseong BJP MLA, B.P.Bajgain, who had met RGI officials on February 28, 2022, and submitted a 1,100-page document justifying the ST status, on Sunday said he, too, had been apprised by the RGI of the need for additional information from the Bengal government.

“If the state government needs help in compiling a fresh report, I am ready to help,” said Bajgain.

Darjeeling BJP MP Raju Bista sought to blame the state government for the non-fulfilment of the ST status promise.

“As far as I Know, they (Bengal government) have only sent a one page letter mentioning no objection of WB cabinet, other than that they have not provided a single document in support. In doing so, the TMC government has deliberately delayed the process by refusing to submit additional information.…” Bista told The Telegraph.

MP Chhetri, however, said the state government had first sent the proposal to the Union government in 2014, followed by a reminder in 2016 but the Centre and BJP leaders had remained mum on the matter until now.

“They could have immediately asked for additional information, instead of waiting for years and going round and round on the issue, if past developments are to be considered,” said Chhetri.

The MP was referring to the Centre’s decision to form a committee in 2016, which was reconstituted three times. The committee submitted its report in 2019 but largely passed the buck to the office of the RGI.

“The determination has to be made 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 said.

RTI replies in the past eight years said there were opinions in various circles that granting the ST status to the 11 Gorkha communities would encourage influx of citizens of Nepal into the region.

“On January 3, 2019, the then tribal minister, Jual Oram, had said the Centre could place the ST bill in Parliament overnight if it wished so. The minister had not talked about any difficulties then,” said a resident of the hills, who did not want to be identified.

The resident said the BJP’s duplicity was playing out in full before the public.

“On January 8, the same year, Oram had stated in a video that the ST 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 resident pointed out. “Apart from Bengal, the RGI could have asked for more information from Sikkim.”

In the video, where the then Darjeeling BJP MP, S.S. Ahluwalia, was also seen, the minister had said: “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 Pradesh, Delhi and Uttarkhand,” said the hill resident.

An RTI reply of 2021 had said the BJP-ruled Assam had not submitted any report to the Centre in favour of granting the ST tag to the 11 Gorkha communities.

According to rules, the state government concerned has to send the proposal to the RGI that a particular community be declared as a Scheduled Tribe, along with a report of the ethnography survey.

After a favourable response from the RGI, the matter is then sent to the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and after being vetted by the law ministry, a bill is prepared by the tribal ministry for cabinet approval. Following the approval, the bill is placed in Parliament.

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