In new development, the tribal groups in Assam have made their stand clearn that they are against the Centre’s premature move to grant Schedule Tribe (ST) status to the six nontribal communities – Koch Rajbongshi, Tai Ahom, Chutia, Maran, Matak and Adivasi. The Coordination Committee of the Tribal Organisations of Assam is likely to move the Supreme Court if the government goes ahead with its plans.
The Centre’s move to grant ST status to the six communities has alarmed the other tribal communities, as 19 tribal organisations representing 56 tribal groups of the State considered various options, including forming political alliance, to urging the Centre to rush a commission to the Northeast to assess the ground realities.
At the end of a day-long seminar held at the Constitution Club of India here, at least six resolutions were adopted.
The six communities being considered for ST status include Koch Rajbongshi, Tai Ahom, Chutia, Maran, Matak and Adivasi.
Opposing the move to grant ST status to the six communities, it was decided to ask the government to justify its actions and guarantee the rights of the other tribes of the State. The resolution demanded that a team be sent to the Northeast to study all aspects of the issue, including the socioeconomic, political and cultural status of the six communities.
Following suggestions that the other tribes of the State need to fight on two fronts – legal and political, the meeting decided to file a writ petition in the Supreme Court, if the government goes ahead to give ST status to the six communities in “violation of the Constitution”.
As speakers suggested formation of a political front, the meeting endorsed the view and resolved to explore all options to form a political alliance to grab around 25-30 seats dominated by the tribals in the State.
The meeting also decided to stage a rally in Guwahati to explain their position as to why they are opposed to grant of ST status to the six communities.
Addressing the seminar, Union Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal clarified that granting of ST status to the six communities would not be at the cost of the interest of other tribes. The Centre is working on a mechanism by which the interest of all the tribal groups would be safeguarded.
Sonowal, interestingly, has taken an initiative of organising an interaction between the officials of RGI and representatives of the six communities in the first week of next month. The delegates are also scheduled to call on Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of Tribal Affairs Jual Oram.
However, Sonowal’s assurances had few takers, as speakers questioning his statement, wanted to know what measures the government would take to safeguard the political interest of the tribal groups. Once they are given ST status, a Koch Rajbongshi, for instance, would be illegible to contest from Kokrajhar Lok Sabha seat. What guarantee would the government give to preserve the rights of the other tribal groups, asked former Lok Sabha MP Dr Jayanta Rongpi.
Dr Rongpi, who presided over the seminar, recalled the time when an Ordinance was issued by the then UF government in 1996, granting ST status to the Koch Rajbongshi community. “They cornered all seats in educational institutions. We got one medical seat and a couple of seats in Cotton College, as the ST status was given to only just one community, which wreaked havoc,” he said.
“If granting of ST status to just one community can do so much damage, imagine what would happen if five other communities are also given tribal status,” he wondered.
Other speakers also stressed the need to emerge as a political force, with some speakers asking their leaders why they had not secured the support of the BJP to their demands before extending support to them in the last Lok Sabha polls.
Speaking at the seminar, Rajya Sabha MP Biswajeet Daimary stressed that the existing pattern of tribal reservation should not be disturbed, and that if need be a separate category for the six communities should be created. Further, if the six communities are suffering from economic backwardness, special packages can be given to them to address their problem, he said. The Assam Tribune, August 1, 2015