Sikkim tribal groups seek reserved seats in Assembly

Published : January 17, 2019 16:49 IST

The Limbu and the Tamang tribal groups of Sikkim have filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court for enforcement of their fundamental and constitutional rights. The petition has been filed by the Sikkim Limboo Tamang Tribal Joint Committee under Article 32 of the Constitution following the inaction of the Central government, the Sikkim government, the Election Commission and the Delimitation Commission, who are all respondents in this case. It has spelt out the numerous attempts made to approach the offices of the respondents but to no avail.

The committee alleged that the inaction in reserving seats for the two Schedule Tribe communities in the Sikkim legislature for the last 15 years was completely arbitrary and discriminatory and amounted to a violation of Fundamental Rights under Article 14 (right to equality) and 21(right to life) and their constitutional rights under Article 332 (reservation for S.C.s and S.T.s in proportion to total population) read with Article 371-F (f) (special provision for Sikkim) of the Constitution. Under Article 332 of the Constitution, Scheduled Tribes are entitled to contest State Assembly elections from seats reserved for them.

A committee headed by the anthropologist the late B.K. Roy Burman had confirmed the sad state of affairs of the community owing to the history of atrocities. It suggested an increase in the number of Assembly seats from 32 to 40 and the reservation of seats for communities from Sikkim not in the Union list of S.C.s and S.T.s.

On January 4, 2016, the Supreme Court bench of Justices Anil Dave and Adarsh Kumar Goel disposing of a petition filed by Hari Ram Pradhan, former Sikkim BJP State unit president, said: “Upon hearing the learned counsel for the parties and looking at the peculiar facts of the case but without expressing any opinion on merits, we direct the Ministry of Home Affairs to take a decision in the matter within four months from today.” The Centre’s failure to comply with the order has resulted  in the filing of the present petition. In 1978, under the (Sikkim) Scheduled Tribes Order, the tribes of Bhutia and Lepcha were added  as Scheduled Tribes in Sikkim. Consequently, in 1979, the Representation of the People Act, 1950, was amended by inserting Section 7(1-A) and Section 7-A in order to reserve in the Sikkim Assembly 12 seats for people of Bhutia and Lepcha origin, two for Scheduled Castes and one for people of the Sangha community. Thereafter, these communities were accordingly represented.

The Limbu and Tamang communities were included in the Union list of Scheduled Tribes under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Act 2002, (No.10 of 2003) published on January 8, 2003. Now Section 7(1-A) of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, would require to be amended to enable seat reservation in the Assembly for the Limbu and Tamang communities as well.

Census 2011 puts the numbers of Limbus and Tamangs at 53,703 and 91,399 respectively in Sikkim, and together they constitute 14.96 per cent of the State’s population of 6,10,577. The population size of these communities entitles them to five seats in the Sikkim Assembly. The petitioners have provided historical evidence on the vulnerability, oppression and other forms of torture undergone by these communities and pray that in view of inaction of both the Central and State governments the Supreme Court issue a Writ of Mandamus directing the respondents to discharge their constitutional responsibility.

According to the State socio-economic census of 2006, out of 10,672 Limbu households, only 3,981 have land for construction of dwelling houses and only 4.79 per cent have pucca houses, whereas 6,691 Limbus do not have land for construction of dwelling houses. Of the Limbu households, only 152 have orchards and only 54 are engaged in floriculture.

Of the 7,718 Tamang households, only 1,859 have land for house construction. Only 6.47 per cent have pucca houses, 38 have orchards, and 20 are engaged in floriculture.

According to the report of the Burman commission, submitted on September 30, 2008, to the Sikkim government, 10.29 per cent Bhutias fall had income up to Rs. 25,001 a month, while the corresponding percentage 3.79 for the Lepchas, 3.21 for the Tamang and 2.09 for the Limbus.

The report recommended 12 seats for the Bhutia and Lepcha communities, two for the S.C.s, 20 seats for the S.T.s, two for the Sangha community, besides four general seats, in a 40-member Assembly. Reservation for the Bhutias, the Lepchas and the Sanghas in a 32-member Assembly is enshrined in Article 371 F.The next delimitation of Assembly constituencies and parliamentary segments across India is scheduled only in 2026 after the next census in 2021.  According to observers, the increase in the number of Assembly seats to 40 would not have to wait for the next delimitation exercise as is the law for other States in the country. This, it is said, is because Sikkim is a special status State under Article 371F of the Constitution. Some experts, however, insist that reservation for the two communities can be implemented within the existing strength of the Assembly.

While the Centre has agreed, in principle, to increase the strength of the Assembly, there has been an inordinate delay in going ahead with it. In 2017, the Centre invited suggestions from the public, both on increasing the strength of the Assembly and on reservation of five seats for the two communities. But no further steps have been taken. Now, the Centre may cite the pendency of the petition in the Supreme Court as an excuse to further delay action.

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