Tuesday, October 13, 2015

So many kinds of Sikkimese!


From Sikkim Subject Certificates to Certificates of Identification, the transition has been one full of complications. The document attesting a person as a bona fide citizen of Sikkim is much more than just that; it is about a person’s identity in relation to the state and his own understanding of belonging. Even as these two aspects are yet to be reconciled fully, the issue is further compounded by the emergence of different sub-identities over the years.
While the Sikkim Subject Certificate and the CoI are considered as one and the same thing, a closer look reveals substantial differences.

It is important here to first explain the basic difference between the two. The SSC was a document that recognised a person as a subject of the Kingdom of Sikkim while the CoI attests the identity of citizens of Sikkim, a state of the Union of India.
Following Sikkim’s merger with the Indian Union, SSC became CoI. However it was more than just a nominal change. The rights and privileges of SSC holders still fall under the Sikkim Subject Regulations 1961 while the CoI is based on the Sikkim Citizenship Order 1975.
Example: Women from outside Sikkim married to Sikkim Subjects enjoy IT exemption [extended to Sikkim Subjects] by virtue of having acquired Subject status through their husbands while those married to COI holders do not because COI does not pass on the same way as an SSC does.
Certificate of Identity holders can be slotted into three categories: those who acquired it because their fathers or grandfathers or brothers are recorded in the Sikkim Subjects Register and hence they have come to acquire COIs with both the Serial Number and Volume Number quoted from the register; those who have been given COI on the basis of ‘land parcha’, a document showing ownership of land in Sikkim and hence attesting their claim to being “Sikkimese” even if they [or their families] are not recorded in the Sikkim Subjects Register; and then the “left-out” who should have been included in the Register while Sikkim was still a kingdom but got left out for various reasons and were eventually issued COIs by the Union Government in 1989-90. And then there is a fourth category – children of those employed with the Sikkim government on or prior to 1969.
While a person who has a COI with both the Serial No and Volume No enjoys all rights and privileges guaranteed to a Sikkim Subject, the case is not so for the other categories who do not have Serial Nos or Volume Nos. Certificate of Identity holders who do not have volume and serial numbers [from the Sikkim Subject Register] are not exempt from paying Income Tax. The amendment to the Direct Tax laws extending IT exemption to the Sikkimese recognizes “Sikkimese” as those with Sikkim Subject Certificates or COI holders whose certificates are based on SSC’s, hence have a reference to the volume and serial number recorded in the Sikkim Subjects Register.
In the case of COI based on government employment prior to 1969, the COI has been restricted for use in securing government employment and is limited to the children of non-Sikkimese government employees who were in the government payroll on or before 1969. This means that the later generations of such COI holders will no longer be recognised as Sikkimese in as much as partaking in the rights and privileges enjoyed by their parents goes. The state has denied COI to the grandchildren of such government servants, perpetuating a unique situation where a third generation Sikkimese is being refused access to opportunities enjoyed by his/her previous two generations! The 70-80 families affected by this approach have challenged the interpretation of rules being applied to them. 
Interestingly, to this day, the SSC remains the basis for COI.  As per the Sikkim Citizenship Order 1975, COIs are to be given according to the rules laid down in the Sikkim Subject Regulations Act 1961. This means a person may get a COI on the basis of the SSC of his father, brother or paternal grandfather. Given the kind of literal interpretation and ill-defined terms that exist, this could very well be interpreted by some straitjacketed babu as meaning that great-grandchildren of the last generation of Sikkim Subjects do not qualify to get a COI. The wording of the shortsightedly drafted rules is such that a COI does not pass from generation to generation but is instead sourced from a Sikkim Subject Certificate going up two generations.
There is also considerable confusion regarding those who have acquired COIs based on ‘land parchas’. Many Sikkim Subjects in the past did not apply for SSC even though they qualified for it. In order to include those left out from the Sikkim Subject Register the Sikkim Government started a process in 1989 to include such left out Sikkimese in the register. The process was complete by the year 1991. The left out were required to furnish proof of their being Sikkim Subjects. One such proof was the land parcha. Now whether those who were given COIs on the basis of land parcha during this process of inclusion got Serial No and Volume No for the Sikkim Subject Register is not clear. Sources in the Income Tax department say that those whose names were recognized as Sikkimese in 1991 were included in a new register [or amended register] and hence have volume and serial numbers. However, the Land Revenue department states that there is no new register and those included in 1991 do not have Vol No and Sl No.
The anomalies in this entire system of recognising who is a Sikkimese and who is not raises more questions rather than answer the original question. Rummaging through documents, procedures, interpretations and finally categorizing different types of the “Sikkimese” identity in the writing of this report revealed the complex nature of the issue at hand. Left unaddressed these complexities and anomalies will only increase with time. In conclusion here is one such anomaly - if a person acquires a COI based on his/her brother from the same father's SSC, his/her children do not qualify for a CoI…

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