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Muslims now to get reservation in West Bengal panchayats

By Zaidul Haque, Twocircles.net,

Kolkata: After providing reservation in jobs and education to the Muslim community under OBC category, the CPI-M led West Bengal Government will now provide quota to the community in the three-tier Panchayat system also. For the purpose, the government on December 21 introduced and passed a bill in the assembly to amend the West Bengal Panchayat Act 1973.

Mr Anisur Rahman, State Panchayat and Rural Development Minister, introduced the West Bengal Panchayat Act 1973 (Amendment) Bill on Tuesday. The bill was passed without discussion as the entire opposition (Trinamul Congress, Congress & SUCI) boycotted the Assembly, alleging the bill is just for political dividends as the assembly elections are round the corner. On 25th November the state cabinet had approved the bill.

Anisur Rahman, State Panchayat and Rural Development Minister, West Bengal

The major beneficiary of the amendment will be women whose quota in Panchayat will be increased from 33% to 50% while OBCs will get reservation as per their population. About 86% of the state Muslim population has been brought under the OBC category recently when the state government decided to provide Muslims quota in jobs and education.

It is noted that CPI-M had helped the Congress led UPA-II at the centre in passing the Women Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha in March this year. West Bengal is the first state to introduce women reservation in three-tier Panchayat System in the country since 1992. As of now the three-tier Panchayat System in West Bengal has one-third reservation for women. The new law will give more political rights and representation women. The move is seen by opposition parties as an attempt for political consolidation for upcoming Assembly election due in May 2011.

For long, seats are reserved for SC/ST in the three-tier Panchayat System – Gram Panchayet, Panchayet Samity and Zilla Parishad. Where SC/ST people are living in majority, one-third of the seats are reserved for them.

The Government has decided to take special measures to give OBC candidates more priority in the three-tier Panchayet System. Department of State Panchayet & Rural Development said, according to percentage of their population in the state, OBCs will get reservation. It is noteworthy that the West Bengal Govt has already declared that 86 percent of Muslims will be covered under OBC category.

Political analyzers said, CPI-M led West Bengal Government has an eye on the backward classes who were the main strength for the party in the last 30 years. However, in the last Lok Sabha election the CPI-M felt the ground beneath shrinking as major chunk of Backward class people as well as Muslims were found shifting their loyalty. Opposition leader Mamata Banerjee led Trinamul Congress captured the huge vote among the minority & backward classes. The majority of Muslim voters had been with CPI-M in the last 30 years.

Mamata convinced the minority people that in 34 years of ruling Left Front Govt did nothing for them. She utilized the Sachar report on poor situation of the Muslims in West Bengal. As a result, she made huge gain in the election. Her eye is on the chair of Chief Minister in the upcoming Assembly election. After the Nandigram incident, Siddiqullah Chowdhury also brought out the poor situation of Muslims in the limelight.

To recover the Muslim vote, West Bengal Chief Minister has taken the decision to bring most of the Muslims under Other Backward Classes or OBC. The government already declared overall 17 per cent reservation for OBC in which 10 percent are for more backward classes. Government claimed that under the More Backward Class OBC at least 86 percent of Muslims will be covered.

In West Bengal, 22 per cent of people are SC/ST and Muslims are 27 percent according to census 2001. So, after the implementation of the amended Pachayet law Muslim representation in the Three Tier Panchayet System will be increased.

The Muslims of West Bengal have welcomed this decision but Mamata Banerjee’s TMC called it a political gimmick. In West Bengal out of 19 Districts 12 Districts are Muslim dominated with 40 -78 percentage of population. So, political empowerment of Muslims in West Bengal may be seen in coming assembly election.