NANDKUMAR M KAMAT
ON Saturday evening at Raj Bhavan, I was privileged to meet the President of India as an interlocutor for Goa’s Dhangar-Gouly community. What strikes you first after meeting Ram Nath Kovind, the President of India, is his smiling face and impeccable sense of dress. He doesn’t have to wear a smile because it comes naturally to him as he lightly wears the constitutional burden of country’s highest office.
After patiently listening to me and Chandrakant alias Babu Kavlekar, the leader of Goa’s ancient agropastoral Dhangar-Gouly community and also the leader of the opposition in Goa assembly, he made a categorical statement –“I will do everything possible within the constitution.” Kavlekar had an appointment with the President for the delegation led by him at Raj Bhavan and the President went through the petition submitted. Kavlekar brought to his attention the fact that there is complete political unanimity in Goa, inside and outside the assembly, for the 55 years old demand of Goa’s 10000-strong Dhangar-Gouly community to be given status of tribals and get included under the article 342 of the constitution.
The community acknowledges the personal interest shown by Chief Minister Parrikar since 2001 to address their demands. Parrikar even went a step ahead and made it clear that pending ST status all the necessary support on par with rest of tribals in Goa (Gavada, Kunbi, Velips) would be extended to Dhangar-Goulys. Social welfare department accordingly has drawn several schemes but very few in the community have titles to the land where they build their hamlets. Parrikar was the first chief minister of any state in independent India to table a white paper on the pending issue of ST status in the legislative assembly on September 17, 2013. No government has done anything similar in assembly on welfare of their tribal population.
While briefing President Kovind on the demand of the community, I drew his attention to United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007 adopted in 107th plenary meeting of UN general assembly on September 13, 2007. India has not implemented most of the 46 articles of this convention. “Rashtrapatiji, you have chance to make history like Obama by supporting this issue and getting the community ST status”, I urged the President and showed him the copy of the white paper where government of Goa had mentioned in September 2013 that “the people of Goa demand unequivocally that without any further delay and wasting time on technicalities and clarifications, consistent with international instruments requiring protection of pastoral communities, Government of India should take immediate steps to recognise the long pending and genuine case of Dhangar-Gouly of Goa to be accorded the status of tribals and be included in the Schedule under 342 by moving the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order Bill, 2013 or 2014 as appropriate and include the Dhangar-Gouly of state of Goa as STs, on par with Gavada , Kunbi and Velips- the communities already included in the list. The said bill may be passed during the tenure of the present Lok Sabha.”
The President appeared very sympathetic when I told him that conditions of Dhangar-Goulys in Goa under 451 years of Portuguese rule were different than similar pastoral communities in rest of India under the 90 years of British rule. Pointing out that the fast marching juggernaut of globalisation may uproot the poor, vulnerable community scattered in 110 hamlets in the state, we urged him to impress upon the central government to move the necessary amendments to the bill pending in the Lok Sabha. President’s attention was drawn to the fact that after tabling of the white paper on the issue in Goa assembly the matter was not pursued vigorously to include the Dhangar-Gouly under Schedule 342 which could have been done as per Bill No 325 The Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Orders (Amendment) Bill, 2016 introduced on December 14, 2016 in the Lok Sabha by Union Minister for Tribal Welfare, Jual Oram.
The President has powers to direct the government under the constitution when such issues are brought to his notice so we urged him that since this bill may be taken up in any session before the Lok Sabha elections 2019, certain amendments could be officially done to solve the issue at one stroke. We pointed out the specific amendments which were needed. The first amendment is required in the title of the bill and statement of the objects and reasons by inserting ‘Goa’ between the words Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, wherever these occur. Then in section 3, in the Schedule to the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950-after the words “33. Puran” insert (f) in Part XIX-Goa- enter the entry 8 following entry shall be inserted namely:- “9. Dhangar/Goa Goulys”.
Kavlekar told him that an all party delegation had already met the concerned Union minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi to press the issue. The President again appeared sympathetic but made it clear that everything possible under the constitution would be done. Now this is a hint for government of Goa, the chief minister and his cabinet and the three BJP MPs. They need to vigorously pursue the matter at central level by advocating the above simple amendments to the bill which may come up for clause by clause reading and discussion and passing anytime in next 10 months.
It is still a mystery how Dhangar-Goulys were excluded and three other communities were given ST status when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister in March 2002. Till February 2002 their chances were bright. Surprisingly, yardsticks like Lokur committee’s five point criteria to prove their tribal identity, demanded of Dhangars of Goa, were allegedly not applied by Office of Registrar General of India (ORGI) to these three ST communities. The Dhangar-Gouly community was felt hurt and left out in March 2002. In 2013 white paper, Goa government declared –“a strong case has been made particularly since 2003 based on a detailed ethnological report sent to ORGI to justify their inclusion in the Scheduled Tribes list under article 342. Very minor technical issues have been raised by ORGI which have led to delay of the decision on the reports and clarifications submitted from time to time.” President Kovind being sympathetic to this issue now offers some hope to Dhangar-Goulys of Goa.