SC Investigatives

ONORC Scheme: Ideological warfare amongst political parties in Sikkim

Chief Minister of Sikkim Prem Singh Tamang launched the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC), a flagship scheme of the Government of India at Gangtok on July 28, 2021. However, a day after Sikkim government implemented the One Nation One Ration Card in the state, opposition leaders harshly reacted to the scheme, stating it will violate Article 371F of the Indian Constitution and open doors for migrant settlements.

The Chief Minister of Sikkim Prem Singh Tamang launched the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC), a flagship scheme of the Government of India at Gangtok on July 28, 2021. The migrant workers who live in Sikkim are expected to benefit out of this program. However, the introduction and subsequent implementation of this scheme that would benefit migratory workers and labours in specific brought about a mixed reaction from the people of the State. Many civil society activists and political Parties from Sikkim raised their concerns regarding the implementation of the ONORC Scheme, claiming it to be in violation of Article 371F of the Indian constitution.

However, a day after Sikkim government implemented the One Nation One Ration Card in the state, opposition leaders harshly reacted to the scheme, stating it will violate Article 371F of the Indian Constitution and open doors for migrant settlements.

Tseten Tashi Bhutia, Ex-MLA and Convener of Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) said, “Seems our Sikkim Government is more worried about migrant workers than protection of Sikkimese from fake documents like; fake COI, fake voter card, fake Trade licence, fake RC holders, etc. Our appeal for implementation of ILP to stop influx in national security interest also seems to have gone in vain.”

Bhutia quoting Union home minister Amit Shah’s stand on Article 371F Sikkim being under special provision said, ”Laws which are  passed in the  Parliament are not necessary to be implemented in Sikkim. This was the stand of home minister Amit Shah. Sikkim has special provisions, hence there is seat reservation in the Assembly based on community and Dharma. We are under special provision, this is an attack and political parties should know this.”

Further Bhutia speaking about the recent labour registration act said, “There are 70,000 migrant labours, say government data. So, will the One Nation One Ration Card be applicable for our local labourers? The labour department is saying COI and Sikkim Subject holders among the labourers need not follow the registration. The policy is definitely not very clear.”

“The migrant workers, wherever they are, can benefit, using the ration cards, to avail of the facility. Sikkim doesn’t have facts and figures on the migrant workers for whom it will be implemented,” he added

Sikkim Democratic Front spokesperson MK Subba stressed that Sikkim Krantikari Morcha should have called for an all-party meeting considering the importance of the issue in the state, he said, “They could have called an emergency session of the Assembly. It has a cascade effect as it violates the special provisions of Article 371F which gives Sikkim regional autonomy. Food minister Arun Upreti has not been able to give a clarification. His stand on the ONORC has been as directed by the Supreme Court of India and the Central government.”

Subba mentioning the  SKM manifesto and their agenda on local protection said “Since they came to power, they are trying to destroy the local protection act which has been given by the Constitution of India. They have left our identity to be compromised.”

“When migrant labourers get such facilities, they are going to settle in Sikkim. Later, it will change the demography; and will demand rights  in mainstream politics and will hamper the demography of Sikkim with violation of Article 371F,” added Subba

Likewise, former Sikkim Congress president Bharat Basnet sated how BJP-ruled states have not implemented the One Nation One Ration Card scheme but the SKM government was in a hurry to implement it in Sikkim and referred it to be boot licking, he said, “It is clearly against their electoral stand of SKM that 371F will not be weakened and the reason to that is money and to delight the Central leaders in Delhi.”

“The BJP government has already tried that with the beef ban, which was opposed by their own Cabinet minister Kiren Rijiju. The multicultural nation, where Sikkim became part of due to a historical reason, must be respected. Migrant workers will result in influx; there is one-fourth of migrant population in Sikkim. Yet, we were not affected by the plight of the migrant workers. Our hospitality in Sikkim has always been appreciated,” he added.

Bhaichung Bhutia, working President, Hamro Sikkim Party claimed ONORC was a bargaining point of SKM party, He stated, ”The recent ONORC was a great bargaining point for him to demand the ILP. Most North East states having International borders already have the ILP in place and Assam being a BJP ruled state has not implemented the One Nation One Ration Card scheme due to heavy Bangladeshi Influx.”

“The fact is, our CM has virtually given New Delhi the green signal for further dilution of Article 371F in Sikkim if not now, then surely in the longer run.  I am sure that hardly any Sikkimese with proper Sikkimese documentation  will take the benefit of claiming rations in other states. So why is the SKM Govt misleading the people of Sikkim?” asked Bhutia

“The SKM Government knows that they are already guilty of diluting Revenue Order No.1 and Article 371F.  This is not the first time our CM has made the trip to Delhi and given several other demands in writing. Unfortunately, he has never made these letters available in the public domain, nor is the public aware of any official response to the letters submitted by him.” Added the statement

Similarly, Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum a  youth organization claimed “Chief Minister of Sikkim  PS Golay, immediately after returning from a NE level meeting with the Amit Shah, launched a very controversial scheme of the central Govt- One Nation One Ration Card (ONOR). Even some BJP ruled states like Assam have not implemented this scheme in their states. “The scheme is not in the interest of bona fide Sikkimese. No Sikkimese would have wanted this scheme to be implemented in Sikkim. The scheme has been implemented, surely to please the alliance partner and the master of SKM party in Delhi.” Sikkim Progressive Youth fourum

“Probably, the fear of losing power haunts him as it has been felt that ever since the SDF MLAs shifting their allegiance to the BJP, the ruling SKM often finds itself on the backfoot. It is an open secret that Golay could become the CM only in the mercy of the ruling BJP, as he had spent a year in jail after he was convicted in a corruption charge. Ever since then, the ruling SKM has been compromising on the unique identity of Sikkim one after another. First, it gave two crucial BL seats to the BJP in the bye-elections. He has been giving blind support to everything and anything the central BJP does. ONORC is one of them.”

“Without going into the merit of the scheme ONORC on pan-India basis, one thing is for certain, the ONORC has no benefit to the bona fide Sikkimese. It is very unlikely for the Sikkimese BPL to work as migrant labour outside Sikkim, so the basic advantage the ONORC offers has no benefit to the beneficiaries of ONORC of Sikkim. However, what the implementation of the scheme in Sikkim will do is it paves the way for the migrant workers working in Sikkim to start settling along with their families in the long run. The workers of other state who come alone here for works may start to bring their family along as the subsidized ration will be easily available to them. As the overall condition of Sikkim is better than compared to densely populated areas of other states where the workers belong, Sikkim will become an attractive place for them to migrate and settle. Soon we may find the people from outside residing as tenants in villages as agricultural labourers or constructional labourers in villages.” added the statement 

Meanwhile, Speaking with Sikkim Chronicle Arun Upreti, Minister to Department of UD and HD, Government of Sikkim mentioned that the ONORC scheme will decrease the rise in influx of the state “Earlier the migrant workers had to register voters card and Addhar card so that they could fulfill basic everyday needs, but now the ONORC scheme will provide all the basic ration needs at a subsidized rate to them” Minister Uprtei

Further Minister Upreti informed that the ONORC scheme will not hamper the Article 371f of Sikkim, he said “SKM government has always worked for the people of Sikkim and on behalf of the government i assure the people of Sikkim that this ONORC scheme will not hamper Article 371f of Sikkim”

Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang on August 13 after his official tour from Delhi stated that  opposition parties, during his absence from the State, were making a non-issue like ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ (ONORC) into a political issue. He said, “Those who are opposing ONORC and stating that it harms Article 371F should first surrender their Indian passport. They use Indian Identity for forigen tours but oppose central schemes such as ONORC which is a service for the poor people of the nation.

“I am the Chief Minister of Sikkim and I also love Sikkim. We had taken a solemn promise that we will not allow any dilution or harm to the old laws of Sikkim. We are also Sikkimese and will not undertake any work that can harm Sikkim. People should not worry regarding ONORC implementation in Sikkim.” He added

Further CM Tamang referred ONORC scheme like PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana, and it does not confer any other right to the beneficiary. He said  “Our people working outside the State can get their ration share of Sikkim and similarly, migrant workers coming to Sikkim will also get their ration based on the ration cards of their native States. They cannot register new ration cards in Sikkim,”

Tamang further accused the former SDF government of illegally making ration cards through which voters card were registered. “With implementation of ONORC, there is no need for outsiders to make ration cards here. They can get BPL rice based on their ration cards of their home States and as such, there is no purpose for them to make new ration cards here. ONORC will help to check influx in Sikkim and also curb corruption in distribution of PDS rice,” CM Tamang

Passang Sherpa, coordinator, I am 371f Champaign differed with the statement of CM Tamang on influx and rather stated on how ONORC will play a pivotal role in increasing influx in the state of Sikkim in future. He detailed on the government data highlighting of Sikkim having about thirty thousand migrant workers and after the ONORC scheme implementation, those migrants will bring their family in the state which will lead to rise in influx. He further added that those migrant labours shall take up to the streets and protest for the equal rights in future and who will be responsible for that?”, he questioned.

Furthermore, Sherpa appealed the state government and education department to include the old laws and Article 371F in the syllabus of the schools in Sikkim. “ Article 371F and old laws should be included and taught in schools of Sikkim state so that the upcoming generation can have a better knowledge about the old laws of the state, the education department should immediately add Article 371f and old laws of Sikkim from the coming academic session” added Sherpa “We will soon be writing to the centre government in regard to this matter,” he added

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