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E-Pao! Politics / Governance Opinion - Tribal reservation in Manipur: A boon or a bane

Tribal reservation in Manipur: A boon or a bane

By: John H. Pulamte *



Introduction

The Constitution of India that came into effect from 26 January 1950 prohibits any discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth.

But, while providing equality of opportunity for all citizens, the Constitution also contains special clauses to ensure reservation 'for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes'.

With a view to provide and safeguards these communities against exploitation and to promote and protect their social, educational, economic and cultural interest, special provisions were also made in the constitution.

For effective implementation of various safeguards provided to them in the Constitution and other protective legislations, a Special Officer, designated as 'Commissioner for SCs/STs' was also appointed under Article 338 of the Constitution.

Although originally supposed to last only for 10 years, the Indian reservation system has continued till date, and applies to higher education and legislative office. Currently, 22.5% (15 for SCs & 7.5 for STs) in all government jobs and seats in higher education institutions under the Central government are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Reservation is intended to increase the social diversity in campuses and workplaces by lowering the entry criteria for certain identifiable groups who are grossly under-represented in proportion to their numbers in general population.

Inspite of reservation being implemented as a tool to improve the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes or the Other Backward Classes, it becomes just a compensation that needs to be in place for the well-being of these peoples since they are not at par with the rest of the country. As long as such improvement is not achieved, reservation will be mandated to keep these underprivileged peoples to be able to compete with the rest of the country.

In August 2006, based on the recommendations of an independent panel, the UPA Government at the centre proposed to implement quota system for Scheduled Castes, Schedule Tribes, Other Backward Classes (OBC) and other minority communities in IITs and IIMs (for both students and faculty). This led to sharp reactions from the unreserved category students in the institutes concerned especially students from the Medical fraternity.

Reservation in Manipur

Before Manipur became a part of India in 1949 the king governed the plain areas whereas the Village Chief traditionally administered the hill areas, which constitutes a little more than 90% of the total geographical area of the state.

Manipur was included in the re-organisation of North east India Act, 1971 to become a full-fledged state. While a Bill was introduced in the Parliament for creation of statehood for Manipur, the tribal people urged for a separate administrative unit or creation of Hill Secretariat in the state. Consequently, the creation of statehood for Manipur was delayed for a year.

In the interest of the integrity of the state of Manipur that saw statehood in 1972 - the unwritten 'social contract' between tribals and the valley dwellers states that the general population could have access to the produce of the land while in matters of employment, tribals would share in the development of the state by 'representation' of one-third of the work force as a corollary to the principle of democracy.

This agreement was never fulfilled, and has contributed much to tribal youth to assert their own identity at the cost of impending integrity. As per the unofficial 2001 census, the population of the tribal peoples has increased to about 37%. However, reciprocal increase in reservation percentage is a far cry when even the present reserved percentage has also been under constant manipulation and is at stake from time to time.

A Bill known as 'Manipur Reservation of Vacancies in Posts & Services (for SC and ST) 1976' was passed by the state's Legislative Assembly on December 12, 1976 and assented by the Governor on February 21, 1977 but, the same is inoperative till date in the absence of Rules under the Act.

The Rules framed and published by the then Commissioner of Tribal Welfare Department in Gazette No. 474 (B) on December 10, 1990 'for immediate enforcement' was rescinded by Gazette No. 618 published by the Chief Secretary on February 2, 1991 'with immediate effect' and reinforced by another Gazette No. 639 published on February 5, 1991 rescinding once again and stating that, 'the same shall be treated as to have not been issued and existed'.

The main reason cited by the government for this cancellation is that no proper channel and mandatory state's Cabinet approval is sought and obtained by the Tribal Development (TD) department before going ahead for pu-blication in the Gazette.

Rather than the validity of the reason and circumstances for such cancellations of one government Gazette by another, what is more mystifying and that ire the tribal peoples of Manipur is – why does it take such a long 15 years to make the first attempt to frame the RULES in order to make the said ACT operational?

To make the matter worse, after the failed attempt in 1991, no new step is being taken for another 15 years to have a specific and legally binding reservation policy in Manipur. Due to relentless pressure from All Tribal Students' Union Manipur (ATSUM), 'Manipur Reservation of Vacancies in Posts & Services (for SC and ST) Amendment Bill 2006' was introduced in the state's Legislative Assembly on September 15, 2006 and was passed on September 18, 2006.

Before that, the Bill was referred to the Manipur Hill Areas Committee (HAC) constituted by all tribal MLAs (20 in number) for their observation, comment and opinions.

It may be noted that the HAC has the power to reject, rectify or nullify any such Bill that concern the tribal peoples and their areas. But, may be due to an oversight or callous approach of these elected people's representatives, the Bill was approved without any comments or modifications.

On seeing that there are some misleading sections and clauses that can be misinterpreted to the disadvantage of the tribal peoples, ATSUM immediately approached the Governor and request him not to give his assent to the Bill in its present form. The Governor on his part uses his wisdom and sent back the Bill to be deliberately discussed once again in the Assembly.

It was also learnt that the Governor also rejected the request of the state Cabinet to pass an Ordinance so as to make the Bill operational as he consider that the issue was of great importance, serious and sensitive in all respect.

Had that Bill received the Governor's assent or the state government passed an Ordinance, the very law that tries to promote and help the tribal people of the state is sure to bring more problem to the tribal peoples than solving it.

It may be noted that, the Manipur Reservation of Vacancies in Posts & Services (for SC and ST) Amendment Bill 2006, does not mention anything on the penalty to be given to those who do not abide by the said law. Besides, the percentage to be reserved for SC/STs was more or less fixed with no room for determining it as per the state's population.

The Bill also almost completely close rooms for promotion of tribal Class II officers to Class I officer in departments such as, PWD, IFCD, Power, PHED, V&AH, Agriculture, etc. Hence, chance of technical Section Officers (class III) getting promotion to class I in these departments is almost nil.

Over and above, one section discretely mentioned that, “there will be no 'reservation' (for tribals) in appointments made on 'contract' basis” which is the common norms in the present days.

The present position

With no effective watchdog to oversee the rights and privileges of the tribal peoples, they are continuously marginalized and exploited in matters of recruitment for services, admission in Government institutions and seats in Government sponsored courses such as medical, engineering and other technical courses.

For instance, had the one-third reservation for SC/STs in all Government jobs is followed in letter and spirit, there will definitely be at least 10,000 more tribal employees in the state at present.

Education (S), the department that haves maximum employees after Home department and the one that gives maximum room of employment to tribals, has just 3037 STs out of the total 12140 employees, a shortage of more than 700 posts. The State's Legislative Assembly secretariat, which is the centre of a democratic system, has only 24 tribals out of the total 305 regular employees – a clear shortage of some 70 posts.

As per the Brochure issued by the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, “Direct recruitment to Group C and Group D posts normally attracting candidates from a locality or region, reservation percentage has to be in proportion to the population of SC & ST in the respective States/Territories”.

But, this guideline was mischievously circumvented to benefit one particular section of the population of the state. That is why Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), located in Imphal that has more than 2000 group 'C' and 'D' employee under its payroll has a little more than 100 tribals. It may be also noted that, there are only 7 tribal faculty members out of the total 220 teaching faculty members in this prestigious institution.

Manipur University was recently converted into a Central University. By all means, the University was bound to follow the State's reservation norm till its conversion into a Central University.

However, at present there are only two tribals out of the total 120 full-time teaching faculty members in the whole departments. In non-gazette teaching staffs, there are also just 48 tribals out of the total 305 employees, which is a shortage of some 46 posts.

Reservation policy that was supposed to benefit the SC/Ss has been cleverly exploited in Manipur first by dividing the groups into different cadres and then ignoring with intent the 100-point roster system. For example, group 'D' posts are segregated into Drivers, Chowkidars, Gardener, Ward Boy, Mason, Helper, Peon, etc and are recruited one by one so that most of the posts goes to the major communities.

Unlike other states of the country, the state of Manipur has also been cleverly using the term 'general' in place of 'unreserved' so that only the majority community of the state occupies the 'open' seats.

On reservation matter, tribals of Manipur are disappointed for two big reasons - One, their representation in government jobs and government sponsored institution is meager and is not in proportion with their population. Two, the general community (the Meiteis to be specific) who constitute a little more than half of the state total population are getting more than 80% of all the government jobs and seats. The fact that RIMS that was suppose to have more than one-third tribals (particularly in the non-teaching section) is constituted of more than 90 percent Meiteis, tells it all.

Besides, minor modifications and additions are made with departmental rules by selfishly adopting procedures that is in the best selfish interest of some peoples. The one for selection of nominees for MBBS/BDS course in 2003 is a clear example of such exploitation. Thanks to the united voice shown by the peoples who hardly comes together for a common cause in the past, the tribals overcome that hard fought issue in the street, in the corridors of powers and finally in the Supreme Court.

When one looked back, that needless crisis could have been averted had not some unscrupulous officers twisted some rules and regulations with selfish motives and interest. In the mean time, it came to light that careless and doubtable tribal legislators and high-ranking officers were also knowingly or unknowingly encouraging such a sinister move initiated by some individual officers.

Instances may be cited here that, tribals are intentionally denied a minimum of 18 Post Graduate seats (a minimum 2 out of 7 annually) in Medical department as the Rules of Reservation prepared by the department in 1995, that is to be enforced 'as soon as it is published in the state government Gazette' was deliberately delayed till 2005.

Conclusion

Some pertinent questions that arises here are – Does merit really count in Manipur? Or, is merit the sole criteria for all appointments (including contract, substitutes, part-time, casual, etc) in all government departments and institutions?

The answer is a big NO.

Most of the current employees of the state government got through the process of recruitment not by merit but purely from connections and influences and sometimes through bribes.

It is now not clear whether the aforementioned Manipur Reservation Bill will be re-introduce in the next Assembly session or not. It may have a safe-passage if it is re-introduce.

But, it is unlikely that the woes of the tribal with matters of reservation that has been borne by them for the last 30 years will be redressed. When they are aware and conscious of their rights and share, their opposites are also doing the same like, 'every action has the same reaction'.

Chances of the state government going for a special recruitment drive only for the tribal is also a distant dream.


John H. Pulamte wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on March 16th, 2007.


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