In a landmark decision, the Lok Sabha has given its nod to the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order Amendment Bill, 2023, paving the way for the inclusion of the Pahari ethnic group into the union territory’s scheduled tribes (ST) list. This move comes amidst both applause and apprehension, with the government facing scrutiny over its commitment to preserving existing ST quotas.
Despite reservations voiced by several quarters, including Opposition MPs questioning the government›s approach in safeguarding the rights of existing ST communities, the Bill garnered unanimous support during the parliamentary session. Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda addressed concerns, assuring the House that the privileges earmarked for current STs in Jammu and Kashmir would remain unaffected by the amendment.
The passage of the Bill marks a significant development following persistent protests by the ST Gujjar-Bakarwal community, who feared dilution of benefits intended for tribal populations with the inclusion of the Paharis, traditionally considered part of the forward caste community.
While the government lauds the decision as a stride towards balanced development post the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, the Gujjar-Bakarwal community vehemently opposes it, decrying it as a setback to their interests.
Apart from the Pahari ethnic group, the Bill also integrates the Gadda Brahman, Paddari Tribe, and Koli communities into Jammu ..and Kashmir›s ST list, further broadening the scope of tribal representation in the region. Simultaneously, the Lok Sabha deliberated and approved a separate Bill adding the Valmiki community to the union territory›s Scheduled Castes list, underscoring efforts towards inclusivity and social justice.