After paddy, ST quota issue emerges as another irritant in KCR-Centre ties

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Five years after the Telangana Legislative Assembly passed a Bill for enhancing the quantum of reservation for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and sent it to the Centre for its approval, the issue is again in focus.

The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are engaged in a war of words, blaming each other for the delay in hiking the quota for STs.

The issue hit the headlines after Union minister of state for tribal affairs Bishweshwar Tudu told the Lok Sabha on March 21 that his ministry has not received any proposal from the Telangana government seeking an increase in reservations for STs to 12 per cent. He was responding to a question by Congress MP from Telangana, N. Uttam Kumar Reddy.

The TRS was quick to demand removal of the minister from the post for his ‘blatant lies’ in Parliament. It also gave a notice for moving a privilege motion against him for ‘misleading’ the Lok Sabha.

The TRS maintained that the state government not only made a proposal but the State Assembly passed a Bill for increasing the reservations to STs from 6.8 per cent to 10 per cent and sent it to the ministry of tribal affairs.

The TRS government, which is already engaged in a bitter row with the Centre over procurement of paddy, stepped up its attack on the BJP.

It was in 2017 that the Telangana Assembly unanimously passed a bill to hike the reservation quota for backward Muslims and the STs to 12 and 10 per cent respectively.

Barring the BJP, which vehemently opposed the proposal to increase the quota for Muslims, the entire opposition supported the Backward Class, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Reservation Bill, 2017.

The Bill seeks to raise the quota for the socially and economically backward among the Muslims under the Backward Classes (E) category from the existing four per cent to 12 per cent.

The Bill was sent to the Centre for the President’s assent with a request to include it in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution as was done in the case of Tamil Nadu.

The Bill had increased the total reservations in Telangana to 62 per cent.

As the Supreme Court has put a cap of 50 per cent on all reservations both at the Centre and in the states, Telangana wanted a relaxation through a constitutional amendment.

“Tamil Nadu is implementing 69 per cent reservations for over two decades. Five to six states are providing more than 50 per cent reservation. How can you deny this to Telangana?,” Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao had asked.

He had also announced that if the Centre refuses to accept Telangana’s request, the state would approach the Supreme Court.

KCR argued that there is no constitutional bar on providing more than 50 per cent reservation.

He said with 90 per cent of Telangana’s population comprising the Backward Classes, SCs, STs and minorities, the state definitely needed more than 50 per cent reservation.

The TRS had promised during the 2014 elections that the quota for the Backward Classes (E) and the Scheduled Tribes will be increased in proportion to their population in the state.

KCR had made it clear in the Assembly that he will not beg the Centre but will fight to get the new quotas included in the 9th Schedule.

However, the issue has since been hanging fire. The TRS, which retained power in the 2018 elections, blamed the Centre for keeping the issue pending despite repeated requests by the state government.

With the Assembly elections due in the state next year, the issue of ST reservation is back in focus.

As the state government recently announced the filling up of 80,000 jobs, the TRS is telling the tribals that they will be deprived of an opportunity because of the Centre.

However, this was not the first time that a central minister told Parliament that the Centre has not received any proposal from the state.

In December last year, Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment A. Narayanaswamy had told the Lok Sabha that the Centre has not received any proposal from the state government, seeking an increase in reservation for SCs and STs as per their population percentage in Telangana.

This time with the TRS mounting pressure on the BJP, the latter added a new angle to the whole debate.

Union tourism minister G Kishan Reddy stated that the Centre would not intervene and oppose if the Telangana government brought an order to increase reservations for STs.

Reddy, who is a MP from Telangana, put the ball in the state’s court saying the states have the right to increase reservations.

This further intensified the exchange of words between the two parties.

Telangana’s tribal welfare minister Satyavathi Rathod accused the saffron party of resorting to opportunistic politics on the issue.

“If the reservations issue is within the purview of the state, then let the Centre announce it officially,” she said on Kishan Reddy’s statement.

She said if Kishan Reddy was committed to the welfare of STs, then he should use his good offices to make the Centre declare this officially.

“Both the Congress and the BJP use the tribals for their vote bank politics. The tribals will teach a fitting lesson to the BJP which is not only resorting to opportunistic politics but also adopting a divide and rule policy,” she said.

Satyavathi Rathod pointed out that after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the population of STs in Telangana rose to 9.08 per cent but the reservation remained the same.

Finance minister T. Harish Rao alleged that the BJP government at the Centre insulted the tribals by denying the fact that the state government did not send any proposals for increasing the ST reservations. “The State Assembly passed a unanimous resolution to increase the ST reservations and sent it to the Centre. The Chief Minister had written twice to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while tribal welfare minister Satyavathi Rathod and the officials wrote numerous letters to the Centre in this regard,” he said.

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