ST status demands in India : A brief overview (Part 1)

Sanjoy Akoijam
Contd from previous issue
26 years ago, on 2nd July 1996 to be exact, the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill to provide for inclusion of Koch-Rajbongshi in the ST list was introduced in Lok Sabha. On 2nd August 1996, during the discussion on the motion for consideration of the Bill, the House authorised the Speaker to refer the Bill to a select committee of the Lok Sabha with instructions to report back to the House.
Then the House referred the Bill to a 15-member select committee with Amar Roy Pradhan as chairperson. Meanwhile, as Parliament was not in session, the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Ordinance 9 of 1996 was promulgated to give effect to the scheduling of the Koch-Rajbongshi community in the ST list of Assam. The ordinance was re-promulgated three times, but not placed for voting.
 In this regard, the Assam Legislative Assembly too had adopted a unanimous resolution urging the Government of India to include all these six communities in the ST (Plains) list. However the decades-long issue is still hanging in the floor of the House, bringing in more complexity and discontent.
The field investigation by the select committee in 1996 revealed that the Koch-Rajbongshis of Assam were backward in respect of social, economic and educational fields. The Backward Class Commission headed by Kaka Kalelkar, in 1953, recommended the Koch-Rajbongshis of Assam for an OBC, and also the Report on the Socio-economic Survey of Koch-Rajbongshi Kshatriya Community of Goalpara District, 1969 clearly indicated that with the mounting pressure on agricultural land and lack of industrialisation, the Koch-Rajbongshis were not economically well-off than their preceding  generations.
The Select Committee also conducted a study tour and held discussions with the representatives of various associations, organisations and individuals. Golap Borbora, the former Chief Minister of Assam, stated that there were several “tribals” in Assam who needed to be included and the quota percentage of reservation might be increased to accommodate them.
He advocated the cause of the Koch-Rajbongshi community and desired to include them immediately in the ST list. Borbora also referred to the committee that Chutias were once included in the ST list but later on they were excluded (a case similar to the Meiteis ?)
On the other hand, a number of individuals and organisations opposed the process. The Dibrugarh Nagar Deori Unnayan Samittee stated before the committee that the Koch-Rajbongshi was an advantageous community having a contradictory historical existence and does not fulfil the criteria of the Government of India for being accorded the status of a tribe. In their representation before the committee, the Sonowal Kachari Jatiya Parishad (SKJP), United Tribal Nationalist Liberation Front, Darrang, etc, also opposed the idea of inclusion.
The SKJP analysed the developments in the reservation scenario in Assam during the President’s ordinance in 1996 which included the Koch-Rajbongshis in the ST list for a very short time. The SKJP stated that most of the reserved seats for STs either in services or in admissions to educational institutions went to the Koch-Rajbongshis during that period, ‘marginalising’ the existing tribals.