Tribals suffer

Published: Tuesday 15 November 2005

barely a month before panchayat elections in Jharkhand were to be held, after a 28-year gap, a judgment of the Ranchi High Court (hc)on September 02, 2005 led to their being called off. The court responding to a long-standing demand by non-tribals, stated that 100 per cent reservation of seats for tribals for the post of head of local bodies, in the state's scheduled areas, was "excessive" and "unreasonable". Organisations supporting tribal interests, such as the Bharat Jan Andolan and the cpi (m) Jharkhand state committee, have filed Special Leave petitions (slps) challenging the order in the Supreme Court. The Union ministry of panchayati raj (mopr) will also submit an slp .

The Ranchi High Court's judgment concerned 112 out of the 212 blocks of the state for which pesa (the panchayati raj extension to scheduled areas act, 1996) provides that "all seats of all levels shall be reserved for the Scheduled Tribes". It declares this pesa proviso, and sections of the Jharkhand Panchayati Raj Act, 2001 -- modelled on pesa -- "unconstitutional and ultra-vires". "It will have wide ranging implications", says Aditi Mehta, joint secretary, mopr alluding to the fact that other pesa -applicable states have held panchayat elections with full reservation for scheduled tribes.

The state government is not challenging the order. Rues Rafi Ahmed of New-Delhi based Indian Institute of Social Sciences, which has also filed an slp. "This would lead to further postponement and erosion of the democratic process in the state."

Protests for and against elections are common here. "Lakhs of adivasis migrate every year in search of job and food. Many sell their lands because of extreme poverty," says Chandra Dutta from the New Delhi-based non-governmenmental organisation, pria's , R anchi branch. As a result, non-tribals have acquired land in the state and are demanding greater representation.

Now, things have come to a head. Hopes are pinned on the apex court when it hears the matter in November.

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