In a significant judgment, for the first time since Independence, the Bombay High Court has held that the Gowari community cannot be denied benefits of a Scheduled Tribe status and granted them independent status.
The division bench of Justice RK Deshpande and Justice AD Upadhye of the Nagpur bench delivered an 84-page judgment on a batch of petitions seeking ST status to be accorded to the Gowari community.
The Gowari community currently comes under the Special Backward Class (SBC) category as per the state government and under the Other Backward Class (OBC) category as per the Central government. The community is listed under the SBC category in relation to State of Maharashtra under two Government Resolutions dated June 13, 1995 and June 15, 1995. Whereas, the community is listed under the OBC category in the gazette notification dated June 16, 2011 issued by the Government of India.
The Gowari community has been asking for ST status for a long time. In 1994, a protest at the Legislative Assembly in Nagpur was taking place when a stampede occurred and 114 people lost their lives.
Narayan Phadnis and Ram Parsodkar appeared on behalf of the petitioners. It was argued that there is no separate caste or tribe called Gond Gowari, instead Gowaris only are issued certificates as Gond Gowaris.
They further submitted that this practice of issuing Gond Gowari certificates to Gowaris was prevailing till April 24, 1985. Thereafter, a Government Resolution (GR) was issued prescribing the guidelines, making a distinction between Gond Gowari and Gowari.
It was pointed out that the said GR along with the other two GRs were set aside by the high court in relation to Mana community in the case of Mana Adim Jamat Mandal v. State of Maharashtra and Others, reported in 2003(3) Mh.L.J. 513, which was confirmed by the apex court in the state’s appeal.
Additional Government Pleader Khan referred to Volume III of the book “Tribes and Castes of Central Provinces of India” by Russell and Hira Lal in respect of the tribes Gond Gowari and Gond. He pointed out how both tribes are different and that Gowaris cannot be treated as Gond Gowaris so as to make them available the benefits and concessions meant for the Tribals.
Khan relied upon the decision of high court rendered on April 4, 1996, in the case of Adiwasi Gowari Samaj Sanghtana v. Union of India.
Referring to the high court’s decision in Mana Adim Jamat Mandal v. State of Maharashtra regarding the Mana community, the court said-
“In our view, this Court has held and it is confirmed by the Apex Court in the aforesaid decisions that even if it is assumed that there was a separate entity, which is called as Mana in Vidarbha Region, which has no affinity with Gond tribe, that community would also fall within the scope of the Scheduled Tribes Order by virtue of the Amendment Act, 1976, and the State Government was not entitled to issue orders or circulars or resolutions contrary thereto. We hold that since under Entry 18, Manas are specifically included in the list of Scheduled Tribes in relation to the State of Maharashtra, Manas throughout the State must be deemed to be Scheduled Tribe by reason of provisions of the Scheduled Tribes Order and it is not open to the State Government to say otherwise, as it has purported to do in various Government Resolutions. It is not open to the State Government or, indeed to this Court to embark upon an enquiry to determine whether a section of Manas was excluded from the benefit of the Scheduled Tribes Order.”
The court examined all the Census reports since 1891 in order to track the history of Gowari community and observed:
After going through all the Census Reports, Gazetteers right from 1891 and the recitals in the book of the “Castes and Tribes of the Central Provinces of India” by Russell and Hira Lal, we gather the following relevant authenticated information on the tribes in the present case-
(1) The existence of Gond and Gowari as two separate, distinct and independent tribes in the area of Maratha country in the C.P. and Berar and subsequent thereto in the States of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra since 1891 is not in dispute.
(2) The tribe Gond is classified as the Forest and Hill tribe, whereas the tribe Gowari of herdsman is classified as the tribe of cattle-breeders and graziers. Thus, the Gonds and Gowaris fall in altogether different classes and neither the Gonds have their affinity with Gowaris nor the Gowaris have affinity with Gonds.
(3) Though the separate population figures of Gond Gowari were shown in the Census of 1891 and 1901 in the Maratha country, in none of the subsequent Census of 1911, 1921, 1931 and so on till 1956, it finds place along with figures of its population. Russell and Hira Lal states that in the year 1911, Gond Gowari have amalgamated with Gowari and this is accepted as their origin.
The court noted that the affinity test applied to some of the petitioners cannot be the only criteria to reject their caste claim, in fact it is only to corroborate documentary evidence.
Thus, following the judgment of the apex court in State of Maharashtra v. Mana Adim Jamat Mandal, the court granted independent status to the Gowari community and allowed the petition.