SC-ST panel in disarray with bickering leaders

Office of the Karnataka State Commission For Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Nrupatunga Road, Bangalore. Photo: K. Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K Murali kumar

The Karnataka State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is a classic example of how a special body set up for the welfare of Dalits can end up being little more than a symbolic presence.

The commission seems to be in disarray as internal differences are cropping up and people at the helm have priorities beside the work of the commission.

The sprawling premises of the commission on Nrupathunga Road, for which the government pays a rent of Rs. 1.5 lakh per month, often wears a deserted look barring a handful of clerical staff. Commission chairperson Nehru C. Olekar has held no more than one meeting since he took over in January, 2007, as revealed by a Right to Information application by Rajanna, a former Panchayat member in Kebbepalya in Yeshwantpur Hobli.

Being a sitting MLA from Haveri, Mr. Olekar is seen by some Dalit groups as being too busy with work in his constituency to concentrate on his job as the head of the commission.

What is further vitiating the atmosphere is the open animosity between Mr. Olekar and the lone member of the commission, M. Kumbayya. In fact, Mr. Olekar simply dismisses all allegations about his neglecting his responsibilities in the commission as stemming from “instigation” by the member.

In his letter to the Chief Minister on October 1, 2009, Mr. Olekar has accused Mr. Kumbayya of indulging in corrupt practices, intimidating people and “bringing a bad name to the commission”. He has asked the government to remove him from the post.

Mr. Kumbayya, on the other hand, flatly denies all these allegations and claims that he has “on his own initiative” taken up several cases of atrocities and inspection work and brought credibility to the commission, which is otherwise dysfunctional.

The government is yet to appoint a second member for the commission, and Mr. Olekar and Mr. Kumbayya are the only two nominated people to the commission. With them looking in opposite directions, the plight of the commission can only be imagined.

Mr. Olekar insists that he has been able to handle his work as MLA and as head of the commission with dexterity. “I am here every Thursday or Friday to hear cases in our special court,” he says.

According to the statistics provided by him, he has held 48 sittings in the State so far to hear cases related to SC/ST issues. Of these, 36 were scheduled in Bangalore. Of the 36, 23 were held and the others adjourned for various reasons. Rudimentary mathematics indicates that one sitting every week since he took over nearly three years ago should add up to much more than 36 sittings!

Interestingly, among all the commissions set up by the government, the SC and ST commission has the unique distinction of having sitting MLAs officiating as heads. The first commission chairperson, Anjanamurthy, was MLA from Nelamangala and served from January 2003 to March, 2004. The post had remained vacant from then, until Mr. Olekar was appointed in 2007.

"The government has neglected SC-ST Commission entirely and it shows firstly in appointing a politician to the post, while it should be a non-partisan person like a retired magistrate. This kind of neglect amounts to an atrocity in itself,” says Basavaraj Kowthal, convenor of the Human Rights Federation for Dalit Liberation, one of the organisations demanding a re-haul of the commission and its functioning.

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 2:01:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/SC-ST-panel-in-disarray-with-bickering-leaders/article16852511.ece

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