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Seat Reservation to Limbu and Tamang  In Sikkim Legislative Assembly Under Article 371F(f)

-by Bijay Bantawa

 The  seat reservation issue in Sikkim legislative assembly is being debated in public domain and in assembly since Limbu and Tamang were given the tribal status in 2003 . If we look back to the history of Sikkim, all the seats arrangement of the state made so far reflect the spirit of the 8th May Agreement of 1973 and thereafter the resolution passed in the Indian parliament under which 371F is enshrined in the constitution with the merging of Sikkim in India in 1975. The safeguard of the interest of the Sikkimese people therefore, protected under the constitution (Thirty Sixth Amendment) Act, 1975 and Article 371F. In accordance with the special provision and the notification of people’s representative Act, 12 assembly seats are reserved for Bhutia and Lepcha communities; one seat is reserved for Sangha or Lama, two seats for schedule caste belonging to Nepali community and the rest comes under the general category. So far, nine assembly elections (except the election of 1975) in this process have been held in Sikkim and the Government is elected under this provision.

The strong point in favour of Sikkim is that the right of people of Sikkim is guaranteed under special provision. If we look in to it, we can draw the real picture. Why special provision and Act 371f in term of  seat reservation is so important, it is clearly mentioned in the Article.

The parliament by  enacting the amendment of the constitution (Thirty Sixth Amendment) Act, 1975 inserted special Provisions with Respect to the State of Sikkim under Article 371F. Regarding the seat reservation and delimitation of constituencies, the provision of increasing the seats for giving and protecting the rights and interests of the different sections of the population of Sikkim, the parliament may make provision which is guaranteed in the constitution. The foregoing sentences of Article 371F.Special Provisions with Respect to the State of Sikkim in which various provisions including the increase of seats in Sikkim legislative Assembly and delimitation of constituencies and protection of old laws have been mentioned in the Constitution.

Similarly, as per the Art. 371F(f) Parliament may, for the purpose of protecting the rights and interests of the different sections of the population of Sikkim make provision for the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly of the State of Sikkim which may be filled by candidates belonging to such sections and for the delimitation of the assembly constituencies from which candidates belonging to such sections alone may stand for election to the Legislative Assembly of the State of Sikkim. Therefore, it is not mandatory to complete the formalities to wait till 2026 for delimitation of constituencies in order to get the assembly seats reserved. After all, Sikkim is merged in to Indian Union after 28 years than other State of India and the delimitation process is also not covered to those lapsed years, therefore the case is strong enough for reviewing the process of delimitation distinctively and specially as per the special provision.

In a recently concluded budget session, Chief Minister Pawan Chamling while replying the various queries by the opposition members informed the house that according to the constitution, no community will get reservation directly in the assembly. Therefore, tribal status must be accorded under  Article 332(1) only then reservation can be availed under Representative of people Act. In the case of Sikkim, the ST will get seat reservation under Article 371F(f).” He further stated that state Government has strongly pleaded the Union Government to provide 40 seats under special provision of Sikkim under Article 371F(f). He also stated that his Government’s top priority is to provide the reservation to Tamang and Limbu, at the same time  to protect the interest of Lepcha, Bhutia, Nepali and also of business community. He said that according to the report of Barman Commission, the number of seats for Sikkim assembly has to be increased from 32 to 40 and the reservation to all the communities can be accommodated.

He also made reference that in 1976, Union Government had send a letter to then Government of Sikkim inviting the list of the communities needed for the seat reservation, but due to inefficiency or  other, the then State Government did not send the list of  the left out communities except Bhutia and Lepcha. However, we have seriously and strongly taken the issue to the Union Government and convinced the leaders including Prime Minister and other Union Minister, he said.ion for Bhutia and Lepcha communities, it is found that it is based on the spirit for protection of interest of the ethnic community of Sikkim. The provision is made in the process of bringing Sikkimese people into national fold. India the largest democratic country, therefore while maintaining the secular principle by India, there is also  unique place for Sikkim with regard to the Sangha seat giving reservation to the Lama (Buddhist monk) in the state assembly. It is unique because no other state has such provision that India being a democratic, republic and secular county, Sikkim has a seat reservation on religion basis; the challenge of which in highest court of Indian in 1979 could not to do it away.

 

Legal experts and political observers hold the opinion that  the seat reservation and delimitation of constituencies can still be accomplished under special Provisions with Respect to the State of Sikkim under Article 371F.

On the other hand, Nepali community as a whole has been left in respect of the reservation in the state assembly of Sikkim, as they have been put under general category. The various political parties in the State is unanimously hold the view that there is no safeguard of the interest of the Nepali community under the existing provision. As a result, any voter, whether they belong to ethnic community of Sikkim or citizen of India settled or migrated to Sikkim can contest the election from these seats. For instance, in 1985 assembly election, Mr. Balchand Sarda belonging to business community contested and won the assembly election from Gangtok constituency. The incident was an eye opener for the ethnic people of Sikkim in the political front, which made them conscious of their political right. As a result, the people desired that every political party of Sikkim must ensure that they field only such candidate who is genuine person of Sikkimese origin irrespective of general seats and communities and their commitment must envisage in the election manifesto. However, there is still an apprehension among them. Until and unless there is no constitutional guarantee provided for them in these 17 seats too, the political future for them remain under cloud.  With a view to give proper representation and reservation to ethnic communities and tribal communities, Barman Commission was set up by Chamling Government. The commission suggested to increase the seats from 32 to 40 for legislative assembly of Sikkim and also co-opt or accommodate to such sections of the population who have been left out in the process. Chamling Government led delegation of all MLAs to New Delhi in the past and even place the resolution of assembly for the reservation and delimitation to the Union Government, however, the result is yet to come out.

The then king of the former Himalayan kingdom, Sikkim had provided the seat reservation to Chong or Limbu and Nepali community like Bhutia and Lepcha communities in the national assembly and therefore the seat reservation of Bhutia and Lepcha community and Chong communities were provided under the special provision of Article 371 F of Indian Constitution. However, there is dissatisfaction and resentment in the mind of the Sikkimese people that the successive Government at centre failed to understand the provision and the spirit under which circumstance the former kingdom was merged. According to their presumption, with the passage of time, the spirit and the special provision is eroded or forgotten by the successive rulers at Delhi. For instance, during the period of the change of power at the Centre, when Charan Singh the former Prime Minister came in power for short period, the provision of the seats to Limbu community was abolished and it was never restored despite the representation made by the various political parties.

Following the denial of rights to them, Limbu and Tamang communities from their various organizations and political front push forward the demand for the inclusion to them in the schedule tribe continuously and ultimately they were included in the list in 2003

The reservation of seats for Limbu and Tamang of Sikkim in the assembly accentuated soon after their granting of status in the schedule tribe list. The moot point here is that how they can be adjusted from remaining 17 general seats out of existing 32 seats in total in Sikkim assembly as 15 seats are already reserved for others? Why the justice was delayed for so many years for granting them the tribal status? The old maxim justice delayed is justice denied applies here. Even if they were given the justice today, though delayed, what about rights of other similar communities? Kirat Rai Khambu and Limbu as history says are from same stock and many of their habits, customs and traditions intermingle, although it is distant reality in course of time today. Similarly Gurung, Sunuwar, Manger and others belong to same category i.e. tribal in nature having their own identity. They are left from the list and therefore their rights are also left for time being hoping that they will be brought into it in the future by the Union Government, however, it is distant reality for them as of now.

In the past, Chief Minister Pawan Chamling led delegation of all the MLAs from ruling SDF party to New Delhi and put forward the demands to the centre government for the increase of existing assembly seats from 32 to 40 vis-à-vis reservation of seats to Limbu and Tamang community in the assembly. Hopefully, the increase of seat can solve the problem at the present political context giving ample scope to the adjustment of seats to new tribal of the state, although other would be or left out communities also must take care of. Chief Minister Chamling too has expressed optimism over the issue after meeting various Prime Minister, former Prime Ministers and other Central leaders and he is confident that Union Government will give justice to the people of Sikkim under special provision of Sikkim (Under Art.371F). It will be therefore a wise gesture on part of the central leadership to solve this problem while maintaining the peace and tranquillity of the state and old aged communal harmony of the state. Sikkim a strategic Himalayan state of India needs today, a complete political stability and development in all fronts.

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