Proposal for granting Schedule Tribe status to 10 Darjeeling hill communities withdrawn
In February 2014, the chief minister of West Bengal Ms Mamata Banerjee had asked the cabinet to recommend to the Centre to grant Schedule Tribe (ST) status to 10 Darjeeling hill communities. Subsequently, a couple of days before the model code of conduct was to be imposed, the chief minister sent a letter recommending the ST status for Rai, Yakkha, Gurung, Bhujel, Newar, Jogi, Sunwar-Mukhia, Mangar, Khas and Thami communities without any vetting by the state cabinet to avoid sending the proposal. The cumulative population of these 10 hill communities is around 55 per cent o that of Darjeeling.
In the hill areas, inclusion in the ST list is the most sought-after demand by the non-tribal communities in the hills. Political observers commented that the decision of Mamata government was merely a political stunt taken to woo the hill voters. A survey has shown that most of the communities are not eligible as they do not fulfil the economic and social criteria needed for the inclusion.
The Public Information Officer (PIO) of the office of the Registrar General of India, while replying to an application filed under the RTI Act has stated that a proposal of the West Bengal State government was received through the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in regarding inclusion of 10 communities as ST. Later, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has withdrawn these proposals and no such proposal is pending with the office of the registrar general of India. No reasons have been mentioned for the withdawl of the proposal by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs though the reply informs that the main criteria for determining the ST status are social and economic backwardness along with tribal characteristics.
The process of granting of tribal status starts with the Cultural Research Institute (of a state) conducting a research which is sent to the backward class welfare department of the state. If the state government recommends the case, it is forwarded to the Union tribal affairs ministry which in turn sends it to the registrar-general’s office. The registrar-general’s office which is under the Ministry of Home Afairs sends back its opinion to the tribal affairs ministry following which the cabinet takes its decision.