A Group of Ministers formed by Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal in January 2019 has set October 30 as the deadline for the submission of its final report on the Scheduled Tribe (ST) status of the six communities in the northeastern state. The six Assam communities that are ST status are Chutiya, Koch-Rajbongshi, Matak, Moran, Tai-Ahom and ‘Tea Tribe’, some of which are reserved as the Other Backward Classes (OBC).
The Group of Ministers had been tasked by the central government to counsel on the rights and privileges of the new STs after the introduction of the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill in Parliament. Assam is mainly divided into two categories, STs (Plains) and STs (Hills) and 16 Scheduled Caste (SC) communities. There are 14 Plains STs and 15 Hills STs as of February 2019. The six communities seeking reservation mostly belong to the Plains.
The ST status to the six non-tribal communities is a raging issue in Assam since the tribal communities do not see them as indigenous, especially the Koch-Rajbongshi and Tai-Ahom who were the rulers of eastern and north-eastern India once. Not only that, the tribal communities also claim that Ahoms came from Thailand 800 years ago and are not the aborigines, thereby it disregards the United Nations specification of only aborigines to be categorised as indigenous.
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The Coordination Committee of the Tribal Organisations of Assam opposes the expansion of ST list on the lines that their inclusion will impact the tribes presently on the list as well as their rights. It has asked the government to take a different approach to fulfil the demands of the six groups seeking to be reserved as ST in the state.
The new status will grant property and other constitutional rights to the six communities which the indigenous in Assam are opposed to due to the fear of greater marginalization of the ‘real tribes’ post their inclusion in the ST category.
The state finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who heads the Group of Ministers, had earlier this month met both the sections contesting on this issue, including the groups who are opposing the ST status to these six communities.
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