The tribal communities in the two Telugu States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are on a warpath, protesting against an order by the Supreme Court quashing 100 per cent reservation for Scheduled Tribe candidates for teachers’ posts in schools located in the notified scheduled areas.
Bowing to the mounting pressure from the protestors, the Telangana government has now decided to file a review petition in the apex court.
Andhra Pradesh is also likely to follow the suit, with the tribal organisations and opposition parties seeking restoration of the status quo on the quota system.
On April 22, a five-judge constitutional bench, led by Justice Arun Mishra, had struck down a government order issued in 2000 by the combined Andhra Pradesh, providing 100 per cent reservation for members of the STs for teaching jobs in the scheduled areas notified under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
The SC ruled that the reservations should not exceed the 50 per cent limit, setting off widespread resentment among tribal communities who contend that it would severely undermine their rights.
Why 100% quota?
There is a strong socio-economic context to the government’s decision made in the past to reserve all the posts of teachers in the notified areas for local tribals. There was chronic absenteeism among teachers who did not belong to those remote areas where the schools were located. As a way out of this problem, the then government had decided to fill the teachers’ post with local candidates and issued a GO in 2000, providing for 100 per cent quota.
However, the SC Bench noted that the government could have come up with other incentives to ensure the attendance of teachers instead of overstretching the quota in the name of affirmative action.
Another aspect that the court took into account was that Andhra Pradesh has a local area system of recruitment to public services. As per the Presidential order, under Article 371D, a resident of a district/zone cannot apply to another district/zone for appointment. Thus, the 100 per cent quota deprived residents of the Scheduled Areas of any opportunity to apply for teaching posts elsewhere.
The court found that earmarking teacher posts in areas notified under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution adversely affected the interests of other candidates not only from Scheduled Castes and other backward communities but also other ST communities not native to those areas.
While scrapping the GO, the apex court held that its ruling should be made applicable prospectively and assured that the existing appointments made in excess of 50 per cent reservation would continue.
KCR to stand by STs
According to official sources, Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is strongly in favour of continuing the reservation and has already instructed the officials to prepare arguments and file a review petition.
“The SC verdict was in total contravention to the special rights provided in the Constitution. We will stand by the STs to safeguard the reservations accorded to them,” sources said.
The tribal-dominated areas in Telangana include Adilabad, Asifabad, Nirmal, Utnoor, Mancherial, Karimnagar, Khammam, Kothagudem, and parts of Nizamabad district. In Andhra Pradesh, the notified areas are in East Godavari, West Godavari, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, and Visakhapatnam districts.
The tribal advocacy groups contend that social justice cannot be delivered, if tribals in the scheduled areas and the other marginalised sections living elsewhere, are seen as being on the same page.
“The SC ruling runs counter to the principal objective of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. It was framed to give protection to the tribals living in the scheduled areas from alienation of their lands and natural resources to non-tribals,” tribal activist and senior lawyer P Trinadha Rao said.
The tribal communities in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were already suffering as their lands and jobs were being snatched away by influential non-tribals through blatant violation of the Land Transfer Regulation Act, said M Babu Rao, a tribal leader of the CPI (M) and a former MP representing the Bhadhrachalam constituency in Telangana.
The Human Rights Forum (HRF) said that the SC judgment diluted the special status accorded to Scheduled Tribes living in Fifth Schedule areas.
“The rationale for absolute reservation was that non-tribals with no empathy towards tribals could not be expected to work dedicatedly for their welfare,” the HRF said in a statement.
“After a prolonged struggle, we had achieved 100 per cent reservation for local tribals in the education sector. We will not allow it to be snatched away,” asserted T Ramakrishna, a spokesman of AP Girijana Sangam.
In January 2000, the Governor of the combined Andhra Pradesh had issued an order, directed that all teaching posts in schools located in scheduled areas will be filled by local ST candidates alone, of whom 33 per cent must be women.
The government order said the reservation was “to promote educational development of tribals, to solve the phenomenal absenteeism of teachers in the schools situated in scheduled areas with a view to protect the interests of local tribals”.
A similar order, passed in 1986, was quashed by the Andhra Pradesh Administrative Tribunal in 1989. The state government later withdrew an appeal filed in the SC challenging the tribunal’s decision, but passed a similar order again in 2000, which was later upheld by a High Court bench in 2001.
“We are not against non-tribals. We are only asking for our constitutional right as per the Fifth Schedule. The reservation over the past several years has proven beneficial for education and employment among STs in Scheduled areas,” said A Narasaiah, secretary of AP Girijana Sangham.
Shutdown in tribal areas
Adivasis in the tribal dominated areas across the two states observed a complete shutdown early this week as part of their protest against the judgment and demanded the governments to go for a review petition challenging the court order.
The bandh was observed following a call given by Adivasi Employees and Teachers’ Associations, Adivasi Hakkula Sangham (Adivasi Rights Group), Girijana Sankshema Sangham (Tribal Welfare Group) and Tudum Debba. The outlawed CPI (Maoist) extended support to the bandh call.
Shops and business establishments in as many as 11 blocks in the tribal areas of the north coastal Andhra city of Visakhapatnam downed their shutters. Similar protests were held by tribal communities in West Godavari district seeking reservation as per the 2000 GO.
Polavaram MLA Tellam Raju promised to bring the issue to the notice of AP chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and tribal welfare minister Pushpa Sri Vani and ensure that justice would be done to the tribals.
In Telangana too, a complete bandh was observed in Utnoor, Indravelli, Narnoor, Gandiguda, Jainur, Sirpur areas of tribal-dominated Adilabad district.