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Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant announced last week that the next state elections, set for 2027, will see the implementation of reservations for Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the Assembly.
Sawant informed the Assembly that his government had written to the Union Home Ministry and Law Ministry on February 7 to start the process of forming a delimitation commission to identify and determine Assembly segments which would be reserved for the STs in response to a “calling attention” motion made by the opposition MLAs. The chief minister said he would discuss the matter with Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi.
What is the issue, and what is the new?
Last week, members of the tribal community marched towards the Assembly demanding ST-reserved seats when they were stopped by the police, following which a government delegation met. In Goa, the Scheduled Tribes have voting rights in panchayat, municipality, and Zilla parishad elections but not in assembly elections.
In May of last year, a group of sixteen ST organizations called Mission Political Reservation for STs of Goa unanimously passed a resolution threatening to boycott elections if their demand was unmet. This resolution coincided with Sawant’s assurance and the renewed focus on the issue ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The Assembly considered the matter in July 2023 and approved a private member’s resolution advocating for ST reservations in the House. The resolution stated, “These communities (STs) deserve to be brought into the mainstream, need support to ensure that the community is empowered and educated, and therefore need a larger political representation to achieve the same.”
Chief of the Goa Forward Party (GFP), Vijay Sardesai, declared on Saturday that he would keep up his vociferous advocacy for the long-standing and “justified” demand of the ST community. The weak justifications and hollow promises made by the federal and state governments reveal the ruling party’s chronic indifference to the rights and welfare of native Goans. He declared in the House, “I will not give up until the community’s rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, are acknowledged and respected.
What role do the STs play in Goa politics?
According to the 2011 Census, the state has 40 Assembly constituencies, one of which (Pernem) is set aside for Scheduled Castes (SCs), who comprise 1.74% of the state’s population.
Tribals numbered 566 in the 2001 Census, but after the Gawdas, Kunbis, and Velips were granted ST status in 2003, their numbers rose to approximately 1.49 lakh in 2011. They are believed to be heavily represented in Quepem, Sanguem, Priol, and Nuvem, the four Assembly constituencies. None of the 40 seats, though, are ST-reserved.
The BJP’s Shripad Yesso Naik represents the North Goa Lok Sabha constituency, which includes Priol. Francisco Sardinha of the Congress represents the South Goa Lok Sabha seat, which provides for Quepem, Sanguem, and Nuvem.