ST status to Assam groups only from a national perspective

New Delhi: The Government will take a decision on giving scheduled tribe (ST) status to the tea tribes and five other ethnic groups of Assam only from a national perspective.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil said during a meeting with an all-party delegation from Assam, which submitted a memorandum in support of the demand for ST status to these groups here on Monday.

"The Home Minister responded positively to our demand and said that since this problem exists in some other states as well, a decision will have to be taken from a national perspective. He told us that a constitutional amendment will have to be made for this," Ripun Bora, Assam's Minister for Education and a member of the delegation, told a press conference here.

The delegation's visit follows the November 24 incident in Guwahati in which one person was killed and around 250 injured when local residents clashed with Adivasi demonstrators from tea gardens who had gathered to stage a demonstration in support of their demand for ST status.

Bora said that the Assam Assembly has adopted a resolution supporting the demand for ST status to the tea tribes and five other ethnic groups - Tai Ahoms, Koch Rajbongshis, Chutias, Motoks and Morans.

"This is a demand that has the support of all political parties of Assam," Bora said, adding that nobody can deny the tea tribes the status.

"The tea tribes did not migrate to Assam on their own. They were brought forcibly to Assam by the Britishers with the onset of tea cultivation in the state. These same people enjoy ST status in the states of their origin like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkand and Bihar."

The delegation also met Minister for Tribal Affairs P.R. Kyndiah and submitted a copy of the memorandum to him.

"We suggested that an expert committee be set up to look into the issue and the minister's (Kyndiah's) response has been very positive. He also said that the immediate need is to defuse the situation and restore normalcy in the state," Bora said.

Assam's Minister for Planning, Development and Labour Prithvi Majhi, who was also present at the press conference, said the expert committee would study the proposal for constitutional amendment and also see where the existing Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in which the tea tribes fall can be diverted to the ST status.

As of now, there is 27 percent reservation for OBCs, 10 percent for ST (Plains), 5 percent for ST (Hills) and 7.5 percent for Scheduled Castes (SCs) in the northeastern state.

Twelve ethnic groups in the state enjoy ST status as of now.

Majhi allayed fears expressed by these 12 groups they will lose their privileges if the ST status is extended to other groups.

"Their apprehensions are genuine and it will be the expert committee's duty to ensure that the privileges that they (the 12 groups enjoying ST status) enjoy are not curtailed," he said.

Led by Tanka Bahadur Rai of the Congress, the all-party delegation comprised Bharat Narah, apart from Bora and Majhi, from the Congress, Chandra Mohan Patowary and Phani Bhushan Choudhury (Asom Gana Parishad), Drupad Borgohain (CPI), Ananta Deka (CPI-M), Chandan Brahma (the Bodo People's Progressive Front) and Prasanta Phukan (BJP). IANS

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