March 4: The issue of reservations for certain disputed scheduled tribe communities in Maharashtra has become a bone of contention firmly stuck in the throat of the alliance government.
The Manohar Joshi administration walked into a self-made trap and Narayanrao Rane is finding it impossible to extricate the Government from it.
From the 1994 stampede which killed 114 protestors from the Gowari community to the attack on SDO L R Gupta by angry Halba-Koshti activists a few days ago, the issue has seen various dramatic moments.
The stampede occurred during the Congress regime and the Shiv Sena and BJP extracted election mileage out of it in the 1995 Assembly campaign. When they came to power, Manohar Joshi came out with a package.
For 47 disputed communities, he created an entity called the `Special Backward Classes'(SBC) and announced a two per cent reservation quota for them. Before this, members of these communities, including Gowari, Mana and Halba-Koshti, had been availing of reservation facilitieson an individual basis in the scheduled tribe quota.
For years together, powerful tribal leaders like Baburao Madavi had been crusading against reservations being extended to ``pseudo tribal'' communities.
The Gowari morcha to the Vidhan Bhawan in Nagpur in November 1994 was demanding scrapping of a GR issued in 1985. In their view, this GR made it difficult for the community members to get caste certificates.
They were given the two per cent deal as SBCs and their leaders were suitably rewarded by the alliance Government. Gowari leader Sudhakar Gajbe is now the Chairman of DCVL and Mana leader Dr Ramesh Gajbe was recently included in the Rane Ministry.
Scattered and unorganised, the Gowaris have faded into the background. They resurface once a year at Nagpur, around the monument built by Nitin Gadkari's PWD, to commemorate the death of the 114 protestors. That's it. No real benefits out of this deal.
But one other community that was included in the 47 SBCs -- Halba-Koshti -- is neither scatterednor unorganised. Members of this weaver community are concentrated in Nagpur and Bhandara districts of Vidarbha and are politically alert and vocal. They've carried the fight ahead.
They've had to fight because by creating the SBCs and doling out the two per cent quota, Manohar Joshi sealed their fate by default. The powerful tribal leaders had a solid argument against reservations to the disputed communities: If they have a reserved category of their own, how could they ask for facilities under the ST category?
Nobody seems to know what actually happened to reservations for the so-called SBCs.
The other obvious folly in Manohar Joshi's announcement was that the two per cent quota was over and above the existing reservations which had already reached the proportion of 50 per cent. Supreme Court rulings will not allow any reservation in excess of 50 per cent. So any youth seeking admission or a job in this two per cent quota will probably find his plea struck down in court.
On the other hand, thecreation of this special category gave the tribal leaders and legislators the room to exert even greater pressure upon the Government to make caste certificate rules stricter. So, members of disputed communities seeking reservation in the ST category have had to produce proof of up to three generations. Also, their certificates have to be validated by a special committee working under the Department of Social Welfare at Pune.
Sensing the opportunity, tribal MLAs have also pressurised the Government into re-checking the caste certificates of those already employed under the ST quota. Several Government employees belonging to disputed communities have been issued notices to get their certificates validated under the new (stricter) procedures.
An incident which further infuriated scheduled tribe leaders was the enrollment of a large number of Halba-Koshti voters under the ST category during the 1997 elections of the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC).
NMC seats are reserved in proportion to the population.A large number of Koshtis enrolling themselves as STs, resulted in 14 seats being reserved for ST candidates. To start with, these seats went to NMC wards dominated by Halba-Koshtis. But the next time, reservations will be rotated. So, while the Halba-Koshti dominated wards will still elect candidates from their community, 14 new wards will also be reserved for them.
Under the strict vigilance of tribal MLAs, the officials (of the level of Deputy Collector) authorised to issue caste certificates have become doubly cautious.
Suffice to say that members of communities like Gowari, Mana and Halba-Koshti are finding it next to impossible to get caste certificates under the ST category.
The recent attack on SDO L R Gupta at Nagpur and similar incidents elsewhere point toward the growing frustration, particularly among the Halba-Koshtis. The handloom trade is practically finished and the final nail in the coffin was struck when the Government discontinued the Janata cloth scheme.
No Government would evendream of accommodating them in the numerically and politically dominant OBC category.
So, while the so-called SBCs are on warpath against the alliance Government, employees of the Revenue Department are now up in arms for being made to deal with the contentious issue of giving caste certificates and becoming the target of such attacks. There is also no letting up of pressure from the powerful lobby of ST legislators.
For Rane, there can be no going back on his predecessor's decisive step of creating the SBCs.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.