Srinagar: The criterion for a people’s government is inclusive governance. It minimises the alienation of minorities and strengthens the faith of citizens.
In J&K, the Delimitation Commission has proposed nine seats to be reserved for Scheduled Tribes of Jammu and Kashmir from the next election aimed at their equal representation and empowerment, ending a saga of discrimination against the least privileged sect of the Union Territory.
After its transition into a UT, J&K has witnessed an unprecedented pace of development. Under the Reorganisation Act 2019, the Centre has granted Political Reservation to J&K tribes particularly the Gujjars and Bakerwals in Panchayat level bodies.
A total of 1532 Panchs and 102 Sarpanchs have been elected under the ST category across the UT. Under Block Development Councils, 66 BDC Chairmen have been nominated under ST reservation.
In the district-level election of District Development Council members, 43 tribal members have been selected as DDC members.
In line with the Panchayati Raj Act, the District Development Council will be headed by a Chairman and currently, Poonch, Rajouri, and Anantnag are commanded by three Gujjar chairpersons. Further for STs, seats have been reserved in Municipal Councils and other bodies.
Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has recently launched the ‘Smart Schools’ Project in Jammu and Kashmir to benefit tribal communities.
It aims to modernise 200 schools in tribal areas by the end of 2022. Since last year the number of mobile schools for the children of Gujjar and Bakarwal communities living in the higher peaks of J&K’s Rajouri and Reasi were increased. The Indian Army also volunteered to provide tuition classes in remote villages.
The regime has launched schemes such as Tribal Tourist Villages, Tribal Self Help Groups, Tribal model villages, and TRIFED initiatives for JKUT tribes, promoting forest products, formation of 1500 mini sheep farms for sustenance, and creating 16 new milk villages to engage at least 2,000 youngsters in the dairy sector, among others.
The Governor has floated an important project for the transhumant support system incorporating accommodation and transport facilities for the migratory tribes.
On May 9, a fleet of 40 trucks procured by the Tribal Affairs department through JKSRTC was flagged off in Jammu to carry Gujjars, Bakerwals, and their livestock for summer migration from the plains to different highland pastures.
It will reduce their 20-30 days’ journey to 1-2 days. By the year’s end, the department is targeting to cover 100 per cent of families for which Rs 6.80 crore has been set aside to fund JKSRTC.
The administration is also working to honour the demand for establishing the Gujjar Division in the Indian Army consistent with Ladakh Scout in UT of Ladakh. The tribes have immense knowledge of the mountains including skill and agility. These initiatives prove that the Centre has a clear-cut policy for the future of the J&K Tribal.
Earlier in 1975, eight per cent of total seats were reserved in J&K Assembly for Scheduled Castes. In 1996, the government declared Gujjars and Bakarwals as Scheduled Tribes of India through which 10 per cent reservation was granted to STs. Their struggle though, did not end here.
They were still not granted tribal rights at par with the rest of the country, like an extension of Forest Right Act- 2006, Conservation Act 1980, SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act-1989, extension of Panchayati Raj Act to Jammu and Kashmir, the PESA law and other legislations that uplift tribes of the country. Fast forward to 2019, these marginalised tribes of J&K enjoy these privileges.
The Delimitation Commission headed by Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai has released its recommendations to the public after two years of study, ironically displeasing those who claimed to hold the best interests of the common people.
Now seven new constituencies – six for Jammu and one for Kashmir have been added, resulting in an increase in the total number of seats from 83 to 90 in the UT. The Jammu division now has 43 seats and the Kashmir Valley has 47. And today’s political map justifies these newly-formed constituencies.
The Gujjar-Bakerwals were forced to live like refugees in their own land. They were trapped seasonally with inaccessibility, marginal resources, vulnerability due to lack of employment, displacement troubles, etc. This population was deprived of their Constitutional and statutory rights by the ruling class for seven decades with the illusory camouflage of special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. But now, the new boundaries have levelled the playing field for all.