With old laws in place, NRC demand in Sikkim raises questions

11 Nov 2018

The demand of some ethnic bodies of Sikkim for the introduction of the National Register of Citizens in the Himalayan state, as reported by PTI, has raised questions. For, provisions under the old laws of Sikkim are already there to protect the indigenous people of Sikkim and their rights since the merger of Sikkim with the Indian Union in 1975, together with provisions under article 371F of the Constitution.
According to a PTI report from Delhi, besides the introduction of NRC, various ethnic bodies of Sikkim have also demanded that an Inner Line Permit system be introduced in the state to curb the problem of influx, which according to them, is posing a threat to their identity.
The state government, however, has said that as of now, it has no plans to introduce ILP and also no decision has been taken on NRC. "Some organisations of Sikkim have been demanding introduction of ILP in the state. Till today, the government of Sikkim has no plan to introduce ILP in the state," Special Secretary (Home) Pratap Pradhan has told PTI.  "After the NRC episode in Assam, the Sikkim government has received petitions from many organisations for NRC in Sikkim. The government has not taken any decision regarding this," he has said.
Among the provisions of article 371F in the Constitution, an important one is that all laws in force in Sikkim before the merger would continue to be in force. Here comes the sagacity of the Chogyal who in 1961 formulated the Sikkim Subject Regulation, defining as Sikkim Subjects those who had been domiciled in Sikkim before the commencement of the regulation. Among them were Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepali communities. During the rule of the Chogyals other laws and rules were introduced to protect the land rights of indigenous people, like Revenue Order no 1 which had been introduced when there was a British political officer in Sikkim. The Bhutia – Lepcha community also has 12 reserved seats in the 32-member Sikkim assembly.
Subsequently other legal provisions were incorporated like Certificate of Identification and Registration Certificate to take account of the needs of descendents of Sikkim Subjects and for people in government employment. A grievance of the indigenous people is that provisions like COI and RC have been misused to facilitate irregular settlements.
"The need of the hour is to check the ever-growing and uncontrolled influx. The National Register of Citizens exercise should be carried out in Sikkim as there are already thousands of people with dubious citizenship on record," Sikkim Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association general secretary Tashi Lhamu Lepcha has told PTI.
Accusing the Sikkim government of taking a casual approach that has led to the "phenomenal changes in the state's demographic composition," Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee convenor Tseten Tashi Bhutia has claimed Sikkim has become a soft ground for illegal migrants from neighbouring countries.
"The rise of influx has certainly added an extra burden on our land and economy. It has become absolutely necessary to restore and implement Inner Line Permit (ILP) system in Sikkim to safeguard the interest of the people of the state," says Bhutia.
"If the influx continuously increases, then it may affect culture and heritage, socio-economic and demographic pattern of local tribes as well as pose a threat to their identity," says Nationalist Sikkim United Organization general secretary Tshering Wangchuk Lepcha. 
Of the four districts of Sikkim, the sensitive North District that borders on China already has provisions to restrict the entry of outsiders, in the form of permits to be obtained at the district headquarters at Mangan. North District has a major concentration of Bhutia and Lepcha population. In Dzongu in the North District, which is a reserve for Lepchas, the indigenous community is highly protected and the entry formalities for outsiders are strict.
With the assembly elections in Sikkim approaching, the main political parties opted to play safe on the demand raised by ethnic bodies. Sikkim Democratic Front spokesman K. T. Gyaltshen said on Sunday SDF was “doing some research on the issue. It needs some inputs from the government as well; so we will address the issue after a few days.” Opposition Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, too, refrained from commenting on the issue saying it would take them some more time to study it.
Sikkim Pradesh Congress has preferred to keep faith in the efficacy of the old laws of Sikkim to address some of the problems that the indigenous groups have raised while raising the NRC demand. “We believe in the old laws which Sikkim used to enjoy and there was ILP with the old laws also. It is a different thing that the ruling government is not working to strengthen the old laws. If they work on this then there are sufficient provisions in the old laws. If the government strengthens the existing system under which Sikkim people have measures like Sikkim Subject Certificate and now the Certificate of Identification, there will be no need for NRC.”
(EOIC With a PTI report from New Delhi)