Delhi says no tribals

ninglun hanghal

ON 8 March, more than 1,000 tribal students demonstrated at the Capital’s Jantar Mantar, claiming that Scheduled Tribe reservation in services/post and educational institutions that has been in practice all over India since 1955, was their “right” and should be continued undisturbed in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. The demonstration came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s judgment in Civil Appeal No. 5092 of 2009 (Subhash Chandra & Others Vs Delhi Subordinate Services Selection Board & Others) declaring that the dicta in Pushpa (Case Appeal Civil No. 6-7 of 1998, S Pushpa & Others Vs Siva Chanmugavelu & Others) was an arbiter and did not lay down any binding ratio.

Though there was no legal notice or official intimation to “stop” Scheduled Tribe reservation, for the past two or three years several instances and experiences of tribal/Adivasi youths residing in the NCT of Delhi indicated that such move by the Delhi government was inevitable. A student demonstrator and leader of the Zomi Sangnaupang Pawlpi, Khaibiaklian, had reportedly said that candidates (from North-east India) for the post of “nurse” in the medical department under the Delhi government were told that there was no such ST reservation. That some of them were even asked to pay bribes.

Another student from Manipur, Lunching, who applied for a librarian’s post in the Delhi Service Selection Board and was among the successful ST candidate in the preliminary examination, 2009, said that the result of the final main examination did not include a ST list. Surprisingly, the result list showed that in the unreserved category there were only 23 successful candidates, whereas the advertisement in 2007 called for a total of 48 for UR and 40 ST. These are but a few of the cases wherein hundreds of tribals/Adivasis have been provoked to demand that the Centre directs the Delhi administration to follow the reservation policy as per the office memorandum issued by the Union home affairs ministry in 1955. Students also urged the Centre to issue a constitutional order under Article 342 (I) that all Schedule Tribes, as notified in the Constitution, be deemed to belong to the “schedule tribe” in relation to the NCT of Delhi as well.

According to the demonstrating tribal students, their “right to reservation” was enshrined in the Constitution. Also, the Union home affairs ministry’s office memorandum dated 14 October 1955 had prescribed that Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe reservation in Class III and IV services/post would be based on the proportion of the population on a roster of 40, which was seven per cent. It also prescribed that irrespective of the proportion, SC/ST candidates should be given a minimum reservation of five per cent. In paragraph 1, it said that in Delhi the percentage of reservation would follow the all-India basis (as in Union Public Service Commission).

A large number of tribal students from North-east India and Adivasis (as they called themselves) from other parts of the country study in different educational institutions in Delhi and seek employment in the private and public sectors after their education. Every year, more than 500 students apply for admission to Delhi University from Manipur alone. A study by the Delhi-based North-east Helpline reveals that there are approximately 300,000 North-east people seeking jobs in Delhi.

One of the major issues that India face today is unemployment, which obviously is a reason for unrest among the youth of today. According to a 1999-2000 estimate by the Director General of Employment, as many as 9.05 million people were unemployed in India at a time when the country’s population stood at one billion.
The Schedule Tribe population comprises only eight per cent in India and this small percentage are inhabitants of India’s geographical periphery where development is still conspicuous by its absence even after 60 years of independence. This small population, categorised as “culturally and politically” different from the mainstream, is further isolated because they are placed behind more advanced society and subsequently identified or rather notified as “scheduled tribes”. Unemployment has impinged on their progress and upward mobility.

Reservation is, basically, an attempt by the government to correct some of its historical wrongs — the caste system that is old as India itself. And the ills it has spawned have long overflowed the pages of history.

Indeed, the reservation debate was at a high after the “upper caste” students of top educational institutions such as the AIIMS, IIT and IIMS in 2006 held several protests across Indian metros, some of which even turned violent – like the protest by AIIMS students in Delhi in the aftermath of the Mandal Commission proposal to increase OBC seats to 27 per cent.

Anti-reservation slogans question the “creamy layer, merit and equality”. Like a student from Arunachal Pradesh said during the demonstration at Jantar Mantar on 8 March, “We are called uncivilised, uncultured and termed ‘tribals’, but when we talk of job reservations we are called civilised, modern and equal with them.” As a matter of fact , the impact of the reservation policy saw several tribal youths venture out of their “place of origin” to avail of the “benefit” elsewhere in the country, one major destination being Delhi, the national capital. Many tribal/Adivasi youths have also made it to “collar” jobs through the ST quota. But now Delhi has indirectly told these same people that the national capital, whose “historical” population does not comprise “tribals”, neither welcomes them nor their move for ST reservation. So whose “capital” is it, anyway?

The writer is a freelance contributor
The Statesman , March 14, 2011

Khuga Dam : boon or bane

ninglun hanghal

THE groundwork for the Khuga multipurpose project was initiated way back in the early 1980s, Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi presided over its inauguration in a 10-minute ceremony in November 2010 and completion took all of 29 years, an unenviable record of sorts. Located near Mata village some 10 km from the district headquarters town of Lamka in Churachandpur, Manipur, it is popularly called Khuga Dam and locals refer to it as “Mata dam”. Four months after the inauguration, breached canals and breaks were reported during trail runs that destroyed residential and cultivable land.

When it all started, Churachandpur’s populace was either unaware or indifferent, though some “informed” people whose land came under purview of the dam were already knocking on the doors of the authorities concerned for compensation. Came the 1990s and construction became apparent because of the huge infrastructure. The site became a “hot spot”, acquiring recreational value as a picnic spot and a favourite for lovebirds. Till then, there were no security forces guarding the dam.

Since 2000, Khuga Dam provided one of the most beautiful background scenes for the camera. Such was the enthusiasm to see the dam being constructed that the Churachandpur District Students’ Union reportedly urged Sonia Gandhi to include the site as one of the state’s tourist spots in anticipation of the lifting of the Protected Area Permit system.

Simultaneously, it began to be heavily guarded by Border Security Force personnel.
The other side of the dam also saw several repercussions. Supposed to have been completed in 1987-88, construction was halted for several years when the district came to a standstill in 1997 because of an outbreak of violence between the Zomis and Kukis and it went through an almost defunct and forgotten stage. Till the inauguration, many villagers were still to be compensated, not to forget local contractors’ pending bills amounting to Rs 31 crore. There were violent protests in demand for compensation in December 2005 and three persons were killed and several injured in firing by security forces.

According to the audit report of the Manipur Irrigation and Flood Control Department, the original estimated cost of construction was Rs 17.18 crore. Till March 2008, expenditure was Rs 300.77 crore. As the project continued to be delayed costs too escalated to Rs 335.11 crore and the revised date of completion was extended to 2009. The audit report stated that the cost of the project was revised several times and stood at 14 times the original estimate by the end of March 2008. Meanwhile apart from the initial component, irrigation and drinking water supply and electricity generation were added along the way. The project potential estimate was to irrigate 15,000 hectares, provide 10 million gallons of drinking water and generate 7.50 MW.

Comparatively smaller than other proposed mega structures in Manipur and elsewhere, Khuga Dam was visualised as an alternative solution to the problems faced by the people of Churachandpur in particular and Manipur in general. With agriculture being the mainstay of the region, the priority on irrigation, drinking water and electricity was justified. With more than Rs 300 crore invested, the proposed “output” of Khuga Dam is unlikely to be experienced by the people of Churachandpur.

It may also be mentioned that the audit report of March 1999, on the performance review of the dam, says, “Since 1984, the IFCD, Manipur, carried out construction work on 25.37 km of canal over an area of 40.27 hectares of forest land in Dampi reserve forest without obtaining the required clearance for diversion of forest land". Barring the unaccounted environmental destruction (that still continues) the overall concept of the multipurpose Khuga Dam project in itself was unpractical and paradoxical.

As far as irrigation is concerned, Churachandpur is a hill district where jhum cultivation is practised. Few of the plains areas in the adjoining districts have permanent cultivation that requires improved irrigation. While the idea of irrigation for jhum cultivation in the hilly region is yet to be conceptualised and is, thus, unrealistic to many, people felt, and not without resentment, that the actual benefit would go elsewhere and not to the hill people of this district. As feared, people are faced with a drinking water scarcity and yet is doubtful whether the water reserved in Khuga Dam would qualify as “clean” for drinking. Several villagers living in the vicinity of the dam, as also visitors, have reported that the “stagnant water” actually “smells”. Power supply was always a luxury for the people of Churachandpur, and of late the situation is at its worst.

Though the locals were either ignorant or unaware during the implementation of the project, it became the talking point in the later stages. People waited, hoped and imagined. Now, with the much-hyped project standing tall and ready to function, villagers and supposed beneficiaries feel otherwise. Those in Churachandpur and, specifically, Lamka live in fear of the dam, for they believe Khuga Dam will fall one day and Lamka will be doomed.

The writer is a freelance

The Statesman , March 7, 2011