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Reservation for underprivileged and Paharis

The two bills will ensure justice and transparency besides protecting the rights of those deprived of their due
Muneer-ul-Islam
Srinagar | Posted : Feb 14 2018 1:29AM | Updated: Feb 13 2018 10:24PM
Reservation for underprivileged and Paharis
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The two important bills pertaining to Amendment in the J& K Reservation Act 2004 for providing reservation to weak and under privileged classes and Pahari speaking people ( PSPs) have been passed by the State Assembly and Legislative council, paving the way for their enactment as an Act (if and when) these receive Governor's assent. 

First one is a revolutionary one as it provides reservation on the basis of economic condition of the family. Jammu and Kashmir will be the first State in the country to provide reservation to poorest of the poor and downtrodden sections of society based on their economic condition. Till now reservations throughout the country have been based on disadvantages faced by certain sections of society based on social discrimination ( caste), gender and on account of any disability.

Infact people belonging to unreserved categories or so called upper castes of our country facing severe economic hardships have for decades been demanding reservation in educational institutions and Government jobs on the basis of economic disadvantages faced by an individuals family. 

The amendment to the Reservation Act aims to provide benefits of reservation to the people from such other weak and under privileged classes not covered under any of the (reserved) classes which inter alia includes SC, ST, Social Caste, residents of area near ALC, RBA etc.

Government has taken care of accommodating these groups within the capping fixed by the Supreme Court, so as not to extend the benefits of reservation at the cost of General category candidates. The Bill aims to provide a level playing field to the underprivileged sections of the society in education and government jobs. 

Around 36% population of the State numbering 45 lac is presently not covered under any reservation, and Government expects that about 10% of this lot shall be benefited by virtue of the reservation which has been fixed at five per cent. 

Although this reservation is meant for the poorest of the poor through out the State but downtrodden sections from Cities and towns are expected to benefit from it most. Inspite of all the best educational institutions available in the cities and towns poverty keeps them away from the fruits of education and job opportunities, what the Minister for Education Altaf Bukhari aptly put "chirag taley andhera". It is for no reason that he welcomed passing of this Bill. Among others the biggest beneficiaries of this reservation will be the Urban poor. Uncertainty of the past three decades has adversely affected the people of the State particularly the city dwellers.

Second important bill pertains to reservation for Pahari people. The objective for bringing Pahari speaking people under the gambit of reservation is that they are socially, economically and educationally backward, and are not in a position to compete with the people who are better off in the socio-economic indices and have access to services like education and health. 

But more importantly they are living under the same disadvantages conditions as their counterparts from Gujjar and Bakerwal communites who already stand included in the Schedule Tribe community.

This Bill had already been passed by the State legislature in 2014 but was returned by the Governor with some observations. By raising pointed and relevant observations Governor has truly performed his role of guide and hand holder to his cabinet. It has made the Government to draft a better bill after doing some necessary groundwork. Basic questions for which answers were sought by Governor included identification of Pahari speaking areas, criteria to be adopted for identification of such area(s), basis on which the persons could be declared as Pahari Speaking People (PSPs) and backwardness, inadequacy of representation and overall administrative efficiency of such area(s). 

In light of the observations of the Governor the new Government referred the matter to J&K State Commission for Backward Classes for examination and submission of report to the Government before the Bill is presented in the Assembly.

The report throws some interesting facts like population of Pahari speaking people as per 2011 census is 9.60 lac. Around 74% of the paharis of the State reside in the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri, while 16% reside in compact geographical areas of Uri, Boniyar, Keran and Karnah Tehsils, so nearly 90% of all the PSPs live in a well defined specific areas of the State. Thus all the people in these areas who are not Gujjar-Bakerwal and Kashmiri are presumed to be Paharis, and includes people from both Hindu and Muslim communities.

Commission has rightly pointed out that after partition people from this community got cut off from the plain areas of Punjab leading to economic distress, which has been multiplied due to the continuous tension in the border areas where 90% of their population resides. Their literacy is just 51.20%, while around 30% of their population in Poonch and Rajouri lives below the poverty line. 

Commission for the purposes of identifying the Pahari speaking people has besides their language relied on their distinct cultural traits, lifestyle, eating habits and social ceremonies prevalent among them. 

For the purpose of identifying the PSPs the Commission has recommended the Pahari Legislators, Sarpanches, members of Advisory Board for PSPs, as designated authorities. Besides this the person has to provide other documentary proof as may be prescribed by the Government to claim benefits of reservation. 

(The author can be reached at muneerulislam3@gmail.com)