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Justice Chopra Committee rejects Gujjars' demand for ST status

Last updated on: December 18, 2007 18:35 IST
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A high-level official committee has rejected the demand by Gujjars in Rajasthan for Scheduled Tribe status but suggested a special package to members of the community living in under-developed and remote areas of the state.

Significantly, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state decided to forward the report to the Centre without any comment or recommendation of its own, Digamber Singh, chief spokesman and Health Minister, told media persons in Jaipur on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting presided by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

The summary of the 294-page report submitted by the committee headed by Justice Jasraj Chopra said it would be desirable to provide the benefits to Gujjars in a special package rather than incorporating them in already existing schemes.

The report suggested scrapping of the criteria used so far to include any class of people in the list of Scheduled Tribe as these have become 'obsolete and outdated.'
It asked the state government to take immediate steps to set up a board to attend to the problems faced by the people living a life of abject poverty in inaccessible and remote areas like ravines, forests and hills where development has not yet reached as these are the places where most of the backward among the Gujjars reside and for whom their community leaders had raised their voice.

The Gujjars had waged a violent campaign across Rajasthan for ST status in May and June this year during which 26 people were killed in police firing and clashes with Meena community members who already enjoy ST status but oppose the same for Gujjars.

The Chopra committee report said development of remote and inaccessible areas where Gujjars live should not wait for the outcome of a classificatory exercise.

For this purpose, the government should benevolently allocate sizeable funds for a reasonable period of time by re-prioritising its developmental activities, according to the report.

Emphasis will have to be paid on building roads to link the communities living in underdeveloped and remote areas with the mainstream, motivating the children of these families to get educated and improving health and hygiene of their members through provisions of drinking water, immunisation against major illness and better care of children and of the aged, it concluded.

The state cabinet announced the setting up of a four-member committee to prepare a special package for Gujjars based on the committee's report. The committee will be headed by BJP Treasurer Ramdas Agarwal and have three ministers G S Tiwari (Education), Digamber Singh (Health) and Madan Dilawar (Social Justice and Empowerment).

The committee is of the view that the existing criteria to classify a particular community as ST should be replaced by quantifiable criteria that are relevant in the present context and could stand judicial scrutiny and enable future commissions or committees appointed by the government to examine the issue with exactitude and reliability.

The Chopra committee said 'it remains a naked truth that the benefit of reservation has not obviously percolated to the needy among SC and ST masses as intended but at the same time it is stolen either by the elites and the developed among SC and ST masses or by others who masquerade as SC and ST.

'Several people -- leaders, scholars and even the judiciary -- have expressed their concern over continuing plight of the people who are included in the SC and ST categories. To quote just one example, in its judgment in the case of Nagraj vs Union of India, delivered on October 19, 2006, the apex court had observed: Periodic extension of reservation itself recapitulates a fact that major chunk of SC and ST brethren are still waiting to be uplifted by way of reservation, the report pointed out.

The fact that the Gujjar community that is already in the category of OBC, and therefore officially recognised as backward and thus enjoying the benefits attended with such recognition, including reservation, has made a demand for reclassification gives the strong message that gaining OBC status has not helped much the members of this community.'

It is this desperation that led the leaders of Gujjar community to compare their lot with others included in the ST category and belonging to the same region, it added.

The demand for the tribal status for the entire community covered by the umbrella term of Gujjar is an example of over accentuation to bring home the point that development has not reached all sections of the society despite several years of positive discrimination as part of the policy of reservations, it said.

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