In a desperate bid to create pressure on the Centre to grant tribal status to the Trans-Giri region (Giripar) in Sirmaur district, a population of 2.53 lakh - residing in 456 villages and spread over 131 panchayts and one nagar panchayat - may resort to boycotting the 2019 general elections, if their six-decade old demand is not accepted prior to the imposition of the model code of conduct.
The affected villagers through their representatives of Kendriya Hattee Samiti have sent an SOS to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought his immediate intervention to accord tribal status to them, as the issue is hanging fire in the Union Home Ministry for the past more than four-and-a-half-years.
They have almost lost patience, as they had a lot of expectations from the Centre after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh made an election promise during a rally in 2014 at Nahan.
The BJP in HP is in a quandary over the plight of innocent and backward villagers of Giripar, who have exhausted all channels and are desperate and disillusioned with the procedural hurdles and delays being created by the bureaucrats of various departments especially the Registrar General of India, which fall under the Union Home Ministry headed by Rajnath Singh. The villagers are demanding the issuance of notification to declare 'Giripar' areas as tribal on the analogy of 'Jaunsar Babar' of Uttarakhand, which got a tribal status in 1967.
As per official records, there are stark similarities between the two areas, which include primitive traits, geographical isolation, economical and social backwardness, shy of contacting with community at large, etc.
As a last-ditch effort, Kendriya Hattee Samiti has written to the PM and requested him to fulfil the promise made by the BJP in 2007, 2012, 2014 and 2017 elections. President of the Hattee Samiti Dr Amin Chand and general secretary Kundan Singh Shastri disclosed that they have brought to the notice of the PM that almost four-and-a-half years have lapsed, but the Home Ministry has not issued the notification to accord a tribal status to the people of Giripar in Sirmaur district. They said the state ST and SC Commission and the government have already recommended to the Centre that Giripar areas should be accorded a tribal status. They said: "Our people have become restive now and if the Centre fails to fulfil the Home Minister's promise to give tribal status, then we may be forced to take an extreme step in the near future."
As per political analysts, the electorate of Giripar areas fall in four Assembly segments (Shillai, Renuka, Paonta and Rajgarh), and their resentment may jeopardise the BJP's prospects of retaining the Shimla Lok Sabha seat in 2019 elections. The BJP polled maximum votes in 131 panchayats and one nagar panchayat in the 2014 poll. On the contrary, Hattee Samiti is hoping against hope that the issue may be referred to the group of ministers that can take a final decision to fulfil BJP's poll promise.
It will be a do or die situation for sitting BJP MP Virender Kashyap, who is making efforts, though the results are not positive so far. Hence, he seems helpless.
The constitution says that the process of declaring new areas as tribal is a continuous process. Hence, it is primarily the willpower of the ruling party, which may help in settling this issue.
- The state government had asked Tribal Research Institute, HPU, to study Hattee community and prepare a proposal to define villagers’ entitlement as tribals. The director of the institute in 2016 submitted a proposal to the state government.
- According to the report, Giripar areas fulfilled the criteria as per norms set by the Lokur committee. Subsequently, the proposal was forwarded to the Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
- The National Commission on SC and ST headed by BP Shastri had submitted a report in 1979-80, which recommended ST status for the Hattees.
- A delegation of the Hattee Samiti met PM Modi a year ago and apprised him of the longstanding demand of the community. He assured to redress their grievances, but in vain. Similarly, a delegation met former PM Manmohan Singh in 2011, who also promised every possible help to provide justice but nothing was done.
- A delegation comprising MP Virendra Kashyap, BJP general secretary Chander Mohan and Kendriya Hattee Samiti president Dr Amin Chand Kamal met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh last year, but the outcome is still awaited.
(Writer is senior journalist. Views are personal)