Gogoi for rural job quota

New Delhi, Dec. 26: Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today took forth the campaign for the panchayat polls, assuring implementation of 30 per cent reservation in government jobs for the rural areas and a separate state Rural Administrative Service (RAS).

Panchayat elections in Assam are scheduled over three phases on January 30 and February 6 and 12 next year.

Gogoi said though there was nothing new in the announcement of 30 per cent reservation in rural jobs, the legislative process to bring it about would begin soon.

He said a separate Rural Administrative Service would also be established to help increase rural jobs and increase capacities in ministries and departments, especially those related to rural areas.

The chief minister said state service officers would be encouraged to serve in the RAS for at least 10 years before getting into urban areas.

He, however, gave only a sketchy picture of the new schemes and said details needed to be worked out, though an allocation was likely to be made during the budget session of the Assembly in March.

He was speaking to reporters at Assam Bhawan here today.

"After all, 80 per cent of Assam's population is in the villages," he said, hinting that as many votes also lie in the same rural heartland.

Asked if the steps are likely immediately after the Budget session and likely to be implemented from April 1, the chief minister said, "No, not April 1. We will do it by the year-end."

The chief minister said the departments of agriculture, education and rural development would particularly benefit from the job reservation scheme. Officials of the RAS may be at the block officer level but modalities of the scheme have not been worked out.

The chief minister said his government aimed to focus on cottage industries and the micro small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector to push up the human development indices in rural areas.

Asked about corruption in the government, he cited the new regime in China, which had also conceded that it was prevalent everywhere. "We are taking all steps," he said.

On another election issue of granting Scheduled Tribe status to six ethnic groups, Gogoi transferred the onus of responsibility to convince the Registrar General of India on the "expert committees". "We have constituted expert committees with members from those communities and they were asked to meet the RGI," he said.

The issue has been raging, as many groups like the Koch Rajbongshis have been threatening to boycott the panchayat polls. Besides them, the tea tribes, Morans, Muttocks, Chutias and Ahoms are also demanding ST status. Granting them ST status is a touchy issue, as it would not only change the election equations within the tribes but also for several other powerful politicians in the state.

Faced by questions on the foreigners' issue, Gogoi said the Opposition AGP and BJP had not fenced the Indo-Bangla border, installed floodlights or taken any major step even during the NDA regime.

Blaming the BJP, he said while L.K. Advani had not done enough as home minister, then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had even suggested work permits for foreigners.

On the other hand, the state government has ensured that of the 1.85 crore voters, 1.6 crore were been photographed in the process of giving them identity cards.

New police training

Hit by protests against police inaction in a molestation case in Sivasagar district, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi today said an expert committee would be constituted to look into police training, especially with regard to women's security.

A law student of Gauhati University has alleged that police did not act in a case of sexual assault filed by her against six persons in Sivasagar. Although the case was registered in August and one person was arrested, the student is mounting fresh pressure to act against the accused.

Gogoi said that while protests are justified to an extent, the agitation seemed to be inspired by the current protests in the national capital. However, he said it was a matter of great concern and steps would indeed be taken.

The expert committee will include social activists and government officials. It will look into issues of gender equality and police training. Gogoi floated his idea on a day when a committee led by Justice J.S. Verma began looking into questions of gender justice and legislative reform to stem crimes against women.

Police training left a lot to be desired and the forces needed to be sensitised, the chief minister said.

"There are police excesses in some places, but in other places police will have to take action. It is not easy to maintain that balance," Gogoi said.

On Tuesday, the All Assamese Students' Association, New Delhi, staged a sit-in in front of Assam Bhawan here. They submitted a memorandum demanding justice in the Sivasagar case after they were unable to meet the chief minister.

Gogoi is here to attend the National Development Council (NDC) meeting on Thursday.

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