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Reservation Bill for Paharis, Panel report on ST status gathering dust

Nishikant Khajuria

JAMMU, Mar 20:  Even after more than two years, the much talked about bill seeking reservation for the Pahari speaking people in Jammu and Kashmir as well as the crucial expert panel report recommending Scheduled Tribe status to the community, are still awaiting to be examined by the concerned authorities with little progress on both the matters notwithstanding State Cabinet clearance to both the documents.
Official sources told the Excelsior that the draft bill, passed by then Omar Abdullah-led coalition Government in its last Assembly session but not approved by the Governor and returned for reconsideration of the same, is gathering dust in the office of Jammu Kashmir State Backward Classes Commission since March 2015.
Similarly, sources added, the crucial expert committee report on socio -economic survey of the Pahari speaking people in J&K, which may decide fate of the community’s demand of Scheduled Tribe Status, is still lying with Registrar General of India for its opinion since August 2016.
While elaborating, sources said that  for the last around two years, there has been zero progress on  the fate of reservation bill, which could not be taken up for discussion by  State Backward Classes Commission as  the body was  itself lying headless since last month and therefore virtually defunct since long.
Even as former Commissioner Secretary Jeet Lal Gupta was appointed as Chairman of the Commission last month, its other members are yet to be nominated by the Government and thus no progress has yet taken place on fate of the Pahari Reservation Bill, sources explained.
The Bill proposing five percent reservation to Pahari-speaking people by amending the J&K Reservation Rules, was passed by  the State Legislature in August 2014   and then sent to the Governor for his concurrence in first week of  October 2014.  However, the bill  was put on hold for more than three months and then returned to the Legislative House for reconsidering the same in the light of its legal and other deficiencies.
In his dissent note, attached with the Bill, the Governor had observed that seeking reservation to persons living anywhere in the State on the sole ground of their speaking a particular language without any criteria of backwardness being assessed and satisfied, was Constitutionally questionable.
Following the Governor’s refusal for a nod, the bill was forwarded by the Legislative Assembly to the Law Department and then to the Department of Social Welfare, which clarified the queries and then sent it further to the State Commission for Backward Classes for its observation.
The unprecedented delay on fate of this bill is depriving the Pahari community from getting  benefit of five percent reservation in jobs etc, like other reserved categories in Jammu and Kashmir.
On the other hand, fate of the report of the Committee of Experts, constituted to study ‘Socio-Economic Status and Common Ethnic Characteristics of Pahari Speaking People in Jammu and Kashmir’, which was approved by the State Cabinet last year and submitted it to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs for grant of ST status to the Paharis, is also hanging in balance for the last more than seven months.
Sources said that the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had forwarded this  report to the Registrar General of India, Ministry of Home Affairs,  on September 2, 2016, for its opinion on recommendations of the panel, which has strongly advocated to treat the Pahari speaking people at par with other  marginalized communities of the country, but no further action has yet been taken on the matter.
The Committee of Experts, after detailed study has recommended that owing to the cultural distinctiveness, vulnerable socio-economic condition and isolation of Pahari speaking people, there is a desperate need to mainstream this community by bringing them within the ambit of positive discrimination as governed by the Constitutional principle of affirmative action and as applied to other marginalized communities of the country.


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