The Government of Goa had an opportunity in the 2012 Assembly elections to give its nod to reservation for Scheduled Tribes (STs) when the Census had just been completed in 2011 and the data could have been useful. However, the government missed the bus. Further, on August 22, 2013, the President of India promulgated an Ordinance titled ‘Readjustment and Reorientation of Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies (Second) Ordinance 2013’.
Based on the aforesaid Ordinance, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had started the process to give political reservation to STs of Goa. However, the State government did not follow up on the implementation of the Ordinance and it eventually lapsed. Because of this, the ECI of India failed to notify the ordinance for Goa.
As per the Census 2011, the population of Goa was 14.58 lakh, out of which 25,449 were SCs and 49,275 were STs as per the reply given in Lok Sabha in February 2014. Also in 2007, the High Court of Bombay at Goa had disposed off a petition directing the ECI to make the reservation of seats in the Goa state Assembly to the ST communities.
Furthermore, following a writ petition filed in 2007 by All Goa State Action Committee of Scheduled Tribes through its convenor and former MLA late Antonio Gauncar, the Supreme Court had directed the ECI to consider and decide on the representation made before the latter by the petitioner in 2006 within eight months.
However, the community has remained deprived of their constitutional right. Currently, SCs have two per cent reservation, while it is 27 per cent for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). What is the reality of reservation for the ST community?
Joseph Vaz, Chairman, Congress ST Cell, said that the efforts for the ST community to get reservation either in Assembly or Lok Sabha has to be made by all the political leaders, regardless of their parties and ideologies.
“This demand for reservation in the Assembly seats was taken up with the Centre by an all-party delegation earlier, which told the Central government that it's the constitutional right of STs to be allowed political reservation. There are 40 constituencies in Goa and whether the ST community is entitled for four or five seats is not the issue. The important fact here is that the ST community must be given their due. We have tried hard to get the Centre to act on this issue,” Vaz said.
The SC community already has two percent reservation. However, sometimes despite the reservation, it's difficult to find suitable candidates for the panchayat elections. Is this observation correct?
Sakharam Korgaonkar, Executive Member, Gomantak Bahujan Mahasangh said that Goa was liberated in 1961 and the SC community got reservation in 1968 from the Central government when Goa was a Union Territory.
“That time SCs had 15 percent reservation. However, not many people were educated that time as Goa was still taking baby steps to become self-sufficient. Passing the 7th standard then, was considered as a big thing and passing SSC examination was akin to becoming a graduate,”
“The 15 percent reservation given in 1968 should have continued even today because now there are many youth from the community who are not only HSC pass, but also graduates and postgraduates. The generation born in the 1990s are highly qualified, but many are unemployed. The government is not acknowledging this situation,” Korgaonkar said.
It was during 1996-97, the reservation was reduced to two per cent. But there has been very little progress in the community and needs more opportunities. In this sense, two percent reservation is very less, he said.
It's been over 20 years since the communities such as Gauda, Kunbi and Velips were granted ST status. However, the community hasn’t yet got reservation in either State Assembly or the Lok Sabha.
As per the 2011 census, the community had a total population share of 10.26 percent. The census of 2021 is not available and the next Delimitation Commission will come into force in around 2026.
If the Commission says the census of 2031 will have to be used for seat allocation, then the community will potentially get political reservation only in 2037. That is the rough prediction given the current situation. What should be done to resolve this situation?
Govind Shirodkar, Founder, GAKUVED said, “We were declared as STs on January 7, 2003. Gauda, Kunbis and Velips have been indigenous communities of Goa and have shaped the region historically through their hard work. Goa's first CM Bhausaheb Bandodkar knew that our community will be sidelined as Goa progresses and hence he told our leaders that he will try to grant us ST status.”
“Krishna Bandodkar, Dula Kuttikar, Jivba Gaonkar etc were our community leaders at that time. Even at that time, Bhausaheb knew that our future was going to be bleak and hence, he wanted to grant us the status of ST for reservation benefits. Unfortunately for us, our leaders were misled into believing that Bhausaheb was intending to make us SCs,” Shirodkar said.
“This task would have been done and dusted that time itself, if not for some people who did not wish well for my community. I have documentary evidence of it. After that, Shashikala tai (Kakodkar) followed up with the Central government and wrote to them several times that the ST status is our community's right. Unfortunately, the census did not happen for a long time after 1971,” he said.
Next census took place directly in 2001. STs got two per cent reservation as OBC in the education sector, after Goa got statehood status, Shirodkar said.
“We had demanded 20 per cent reservation. Our population share was 30 percent that time and former MLA Vasu Paik Gaonkar had supported our demand. However, the demand was not fulfilled,” he said.
According to him, the Bhandari Samaj was included as OBC by a special commission set up in the State after the Mandal Commission rejected them.
“But we did not get a single reserved seat in the education sector even from the Mandal Commission. So we decided to intensify our movement to attain ST status. Finally, in 2003 it became a reality. But, still we were not given any benefits as STs. The Goa Government took four months to notify us that we have been granted the status of ST and that shows how insensitive they were towards our community,” he said.
So, four Gauda unions came together to form UTAA. But misfortune followed them there as well with the death of two of ST community members during Balli riots.
“I say this with a lot of regret that we got the status of ST during the NDA regime but what about the implementation? We have been at the receiving end of injustice for far too long,” he said.
When the conversions happened, they were done regardless of upper castes and lower castes.
“But the upper castes chose only Gauda people to re-convert. They created another caste within us called 'new Hindus'. That caused a huge split within our community. Till today, we are suffering from its impact. It's been 20 years since we got the status as ST, but political reservation still eludes us,” he said.
“We founded Mission Political Reservation and went to Delhi. It's only then we found out that our government had never made a demand reserved seats for ST,” the GUKAVED founder said.
Advocate Gajendra Usgaonkar, who has been calling for maintaining a roster for OBCs, said that there is a basic fundamental difference between political reservation and other kinds of reservation.
“The political reservation started from the Poona Pact. The Poona Pact was an agreement between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B R Ambedkar signed in the Yerwada Central Jail, Poona (now Pune) on September 24, 1932 on behalf of the depressed class for the reservation of the electoral seats in the Legislature of the British Government,” Adv Usgaonkar informed.
Then subsequently, it was included into the Constitution of India after the country attained its freedom. But it was supposed to be in place only for 10 years. However, the successive governments kept extending it.
“Some say that there is no need for political reservation, if enough progress has been achieved by the community. Some want to ascertain what the people from backward communities wish to achieve through political reservation. Questions over the need for political reservation also are raised when people see the performance of politicians elected from reserved posts,” Adv Usgaonkar said.
There is also reservation for women.
“Parliament should decide whether to give political reservation or not. But the main point is that it was temporary. Other types of reservation were of permanent nature. If the communities get the political reservation, what do you think they will achieve?
“If there is political reservation, it should be for a person who can strongly present the issues of the community. But we do not see that happening in general. In the end, even those who get elected through reservation, are under someone else's control,” Adv Usgaonkar said.
According to BJP Spokesperson Premanand Mahambare, the intention of the reservation is to bring a deprived community at par with those who have made progress.
“Reservation regarding education and jobs are already implemented. For STs it is 12 percent in Goa. The dual advantage of reservation for the reserved category is that, if the person scores well in exams, then he or she can get admission in the General category on merit,” he said.
Apart from that, the STs get the 12 percent reservation, which is mandatory. If there are 17 General seats and eight reserved seats for the STs, the number of seats for reserved category persons becomes 25 (17+8).
“The political reservation can still happen if the census of 2021 is conducted now. It is not necessary that we will have to wait till the 2031 census,” Mahambre said.
“There are four MLAs belonging to the ST community, one of whom is the Assembly Speaker, one is a minister while the other two are heading Corporations. They can easily bring this issue up with the Government,” he said.
“BJP has given the highest constitutional post in the country to a woman belonging to the ST community. We are positive in this regard,” the BJP Spokesperson added.
Sakharam Korgaonkar said that the last census was done in 2011 when Digambar Kamat government was in power. But it was not done properly.
“I think reservation for OBCs was 19 percent and STs had 12 percent. But our (SC) census was not done. CDPR, Pune then handed over the responsibility to OBC Commission. However, census of only STs and OBCs was completed, but not of SCs,” Korgaonkar said.
Korgaonkar also said the concept of reservation in fact came into the minds of bygone era leaders because they knew that 10 percent people have exploited 90 percent of the population and have deprived them of education, basic facilities for thousands of years.
“The reservation given by the Central government to SCs is 15 percent and 7.5 percent for STs. Just like constituencies, there is also a share for the scheduled categories in the Central budget. Not even five percent of the money is spent on our community. One can file a RTI application and find out,” the Executive Member of Gomantak Bahujan Mahasangh said.
“Is infrastructure development taking place? Is money being spent on us? No. First spend the money that is sanctioned under tribal sub-plan on us. Once that happens, I am sure after 10 years we won’t need any reservation,” he asserted.
“We are asking for our constitutional right only because we are deprived of it. Tomorrow if political parties deny tickets to our community members, shall we have any representation in the Assembly? Hence, the political reservation is necessary as through our forum we can contest elections and have representation,” Korgaonkar said.
“In Goa, there is a backlog of 1600 jobs. So with what authority the political leaders claim that they have given us everything? The Forest Rights Act is also not being implemented properly. Whether it is Congress rule or BJP’s, things have not changed for us. As per the tribal sub-plan, the total budgeted expenditure is Rs 10,000 crore. If that is so, then according to 12 percent reservation, we should be getting Rs 1200 crore,” he added.
The actual budget is Rs 20,000 crore. So, technically it should be Rs 2400 crore.
Agreeing with this data, Shirodkar said that the government is setting aside only Rs 200 to 300 crore, out of which even 50 percent is not spent on his community.
“None of the departments have any schemes for us. Access to education is our only way to progress and improve our situation, but the Education Department has spent only four percent on us,” Korgaonkar said.
Disagreeing with Shirodkar on his comments regarding the government not spending on the welfare of STs, Premanand Mahambare said that while there is separate allocation under tribal sub-plan, the government is spending from its overall budget on various development projects without any definite provision.
“The population here is not concentrated but mixed. For example, there is a scheme to build Sanskruti Bhavan for the ST community, but as per the government records, their population is not enough. Due to this, the scheme does not fit there,” Mahambre said.
“However when it comes to other schemes, whether it's related to agriculture or animal husbandry, the community gets subsidies up to 90 percent. There are many schemes, but hardly anyone comes forward to avail them. I also do not agree with him on his views about lack of expenditure on the education sector for the community. The money spent is quite high,” Mahambre said.
Adv Usgaonkar said, “We won the first fight for the tribal sub-plan in the High Court (HC). I, along with Fr Joaquim Fernandes and Goa Adivasi Sangathana's Rajendra Kunkolienkar, had filed the case and through that we moved towards implementing the tribal sub-plan. I was the first one to draft the tribal sub-plan, which was later presented to Manohar Parrikar by Fr Joaquim Fernandes.”
“We had a meeting at the house of Fr Joaquim to decide on how to implement the tribal sub-plan. There were many leaders from the Gauda community present during the meeting. We had asked them to prepare a list of the issues faced by their people in the respective localities, but they did not cooperate with us,” he said.
The legal activist said that most of the schemes are passed from Delhi and they necessarily won't fit into the situations prevalent here.
“The suggestions have to come from the community workers so that they can be fit into the tribal sub-plan. Here, everyone wants to be a leader but nobody wants to work at the ground level. A Director that time had filed an affidavit, based on which I had drafted the tribal sub-plan. In his affidavit, he had highlighted where such communities are present in concentrated population and taking this into consideration, the sub-plan was created,” Adv Usgaonkar said.
As per the order passed by the then chief justice of HC, Jayant Patel, the government was directed to establish the Tribal Advisory Council for monitoring the fund allocated for tribal sub-plan.
“This committee is responsible to manage the funds and is supposed to pass the resolution if the funds are to be utilised. But the government has not even done that. Fr Joaquim later passed away. I had appealed to many members of the Gauda tribe to accompany me for filing a contempt of court case against the government as it didn't establish the Advisory Council. But nobody came forward,” he said.
“Some of the very good schemes are being blocked by our own minister. A society called Tribal Multipurpose Society was founded, through which the community members could avail 40 percent subsidy to buy a vehicle. The concerned minister took away that scheme from the Society and gave it to EDC. Now people are finding it difficult to apply for the scheme,” he said.
But there is political reservation for STs on paper, there are four MLAs belonging to ST community in the Assembly. So, there should not be any complaints regarding lack of political representation. If the schemes are to be changed, then the elected representatives have to raise their voice in the Assembly isn’t it?
Korgaonkar said that his only point is that the STs are paying all the taxes and hence, they deserve to get government benefits.
Shirodkar refuted the claims by Mahambre that STs got subsidies up to 90 percent.
“If you file a RTI application tomorrow regarding money spent on STs by various government departments, you will see that some have spent only 10 percent of the funds, while some have not spent even five percent. Every three months, the Collector reviews the total funds spent on the community,” he said.
According to him, he has attended some of these meetings.
“When the government does not spend the money rightfully meant for us, do you think we will get any chance to progress? Funds allocated to us are diverted for other projects. Where did Balrath buses costing Rs 22 crore each, come from? It was from the funds allocated to STs. But the irony is that these buses have reached all the villages except ours,” Shirodkar said.
“Take the reports of PWD and you will see where the money is taken from. Talking about political reservation, we were granted the status of ST 20 years back. So what is the reason behind such a long delay in the implementation?” he asked.
In 2003 along with ST communities were notified in Goa along with many States such as UP, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Kashmir etc. In 2012, the Supreme Court in case of UP stated that it is their constitutional right to get political reservation and hence the government should not wait for delimitation for its implementation.
“In 2007, Anton Gaonkar filed a writ petition in HC regarding political reservation, which came up for hearing in 2013. The Court clearly directed the ECI to look into the matter and come up with a solution within eight months,” he said.
In 2014, delimitation was done in UP and J&K in 2020. The reservation was also given in the north-eastern States like Arunachal, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.
“That happened because their respective State Governments presented the proposals to the Centre but our State Government did not. When we informed this to Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Dr Kirit Solanki, he was taken aback to know about the injustice being done to us for over 20 years. He then called a meeting of the departments concerned and ordered the department heads to send the proposal at the earliest,” Shirodkar said.
According to him, the Department of Tribal Welfare has drafted a proposal based on 2011 census data and the file has been sent to CM.
So, what is the way out to resolve this vexed issue?
Adv Usgaonkar said that the whole process has to be carried out by the Home Ministry.
“The proposal by the State government is a joke. They have no role to play in this entire thing. It is a constitutional decision and as per the set mechanism, the process should be started by the Union Ministry for Home Affairs. Unless the Home Ministry does something, all the steps taken by Tribal Ministry and others have no meaning,” the legal activist said.
Shirodkar however disagreed with Adv Usgaonkar’s remark that steps taken by the Tribal Ministry has no meaning.
“This is a State matter and the government is supposed to know the situation. Are the laymen supposed to tell the government on how to proceed with the matter and whose advice it should take? Every Central leader we met had a similar reaction and told us that the Goa government hadn't sent the proposal mentioning the total number of seats to be declared as reserved,” he said.
BJP spokesperson Mahambre said that in some cases, the Central government has to take a decision suo moto.
“If the provision for reservation is stated in the Indian Constitution, then the action has to be taken at Central level,” he added.