Constitutional concessions and protections to specific groups in India
- Part 2 -

Dr N Somorendro *

Special provision to Sikkim is under Article 371 F and for Arunachal Pradesh under Article 371 H. Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides separate administration of STs including Tribes Advisory Council with Governor having responsibility to report to President in the tribal areas in India other than North East States.

The Sixth Schedule provides separate administration and establishment of District Councils and Regional Councils in the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The Governors in these States have the responsibility to run the administration including permission to apply the Acts of Parliament and State Assemblies in the Sixth Schedule areas.

Under Sixth Schedule the additional powers have been given to the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam since 2003 to make laws in various matters and with special powers to Governor and President. Bodoland Territorial Council is like a mini State within the State of Assam having powers on agriculture, cultural affairs, education upto college level, forests, intoxicating liquors, land and revenue, PWD, transport, tourism etc.

Under the Articles 14, 15 and 16 in Part III, the State is given the power to put the reasonable restriction on the fundamental rights of the citizens in the interests and for the advancement of the birth based social categories like Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCS).

For SCs and STs the reservations are provided in admissions to educational institutions, government jobs, seats in Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, panchayates and municipalities under the Constitution. In the case of Scheduled Tribes the additional privileges and concessions include protection of land under Article 19(5) and no income tax payments irrespective of high or low income.

Therefore it is not surprising that demands for ST status are increasing in North East and other parts of India. In case of OBCs the reservation is confined to admissions to educational institutions and government jobs. For OBCs it is on income basis as to the creamy layers among the OBCs are excluded.

It is the Constitution and laws which protect and provide concessions to different social categories including STs. The protections and concessions are not by the traditional tribal chiefs or ethnic based groups in the hill/tribal areas of India including North East. Question has been raised on the rationale of such special protections and concessions due to rising income disparities within ST populations and poor financial status of the States with majority/sizeable ST populations.

The rising inequalities in income among the individuals and regional disparities in the development process are factors causing prejudices and conflicts among the social groups. In fact new demands for concessions and protections under the Constitution have been increased.

These include new reservations, Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, Inner Line Permit System (ILPS) and ethnic/group based political and administrative arrangements. In a sense these are short cut methods with the immediate promises to resolve complex socio-economic and political issues.

In another sense it only reflects the failure of India’s socio-economic and political systems in the 70th years of functioning of the Constitution and democracy. 10 % reservation in government jobs and education is granted to economically backward sections in the general category [ by 103th Constitution Amendment Act, 2019]

The British enacted the Eastern Bengal Frontier Regulations, 1873 popularly known by ILPS has been in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram. After mass movements for ILPs in Manipur two bills were passed by the State Assembly but could not get Governor’s/ Presidential assents. Any demand or change has to be within the Constitution. If the demand requires amendment, then demand should include Constitutional amendment also.

In the wake of protests against Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2019, ILPs was implemented in Manipur on 11th December, 2019 by the Union Government by extending and amending Eastern Bengal Frontier Regulations, 1873. Meghalaya does not have ILPS while Nagaland and Manipur do not have Sixth Schedule.

Under Article 341 President can declare after consultation with Governor by public notification specify castes, races, or tribes to be Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Parliament may by law declare to include or exclude from the list of SCs.

Under 342 of Constitution President can declare after consultation with Governor by public notification specify tribes or tribal communities to be STs and Parliament may by law declare to include or exclude from the list of STs.

Reservation is a temporary provision in the Constitution which is extended by Parliament for every ten years. The reservation to women is extended only in the panchayates and municipalities including in Manipur. However there is no reservation in the local bodies for any category including women in the hill/tribal areas including in the Autonomous District Councils of Manipur.

After 70th year of working of Constitution and democracy, Constitution of India still recognizes and promotes two distinct systems in the North East. One is for the hill areas /Scheduled Tribes (ST) with protection of land rights and preservation of undemocratic traditional political institutions and economic practices. The other is for the plains/valleys/non-Scheduled Tribes without protection of land and other concessions.

For political reasons nature, history, geography, land and culture have been ethicized and interpreted from the ethno-centric approach. One tribe/ethnic group often blames the other for their backwardness or disadvantaged positions. Such approach in many ways goes against the shared history and composite culture of multi-ethnic states of Assam and Manipur and universal human values.

The principles of good governance, democracy and sustainable development are not followed in North East India particularly in the tribal/hill areas. Poverty, unemployment, lack of quality education and lack of basic needs of modern life, poor conditions of roads and connectivity are not the top agendas of the politics and governance.

Group based rights and politics have been the centre stage which threaten or violate individual rights and dignity of the citizens including women. Frequent financial crisis, justifications of government inaction/failure on the basis of no funds theory and disturbing educational system characterize the States like Manipur. It is high time that political parties, leaders, civil society and citizens focus to address and overcome the issues of common sufferings and problems including environment.

It will require giving up the present habit of blame games, reviving old practice of self-sufficiency, relevant and quality education and shamefulness of immoral/illegal acts. On the whole in India there are indications that few classes/individuals in the society are increasingly monopolizing wealth, common resources, the development benefits and political power. These are often in the name of democracy and in the interest of nation, community, ethnic or tribe.

Inequalities among the individuals and within the communities/tribes and regional disparities: hills-valley, rural-urban etc have increased in the last few decades.

For instance in Manipur the maximum number of modern institutions and facilities are located in about 7-8 km radius of the capital Imphal and district headquarters are worrying concerns. The issues of good governance, sustainable development and democratic rights to equality and freedom of the individuals including women need to be the focused as the primary concerns.

The impact of single citizenship and centralized federal system as well as changing demography and socio-economic life of the indigenous ethnic groups in North East India and Manipur will require serious studies.

General failure of socio-economic policies of India and politics in Manipur to provide equal livelihood opportunities and empowerment of common people should be addressed. The resolution or reduction of political demands and conflicts will require critical review of the British colonial legacies and present Constitutional provisions.

The citizens, leaders and political parties have equal responsibilities to ensure the realization of the Constitutional values and goals. Amendments to Constitution will be required through consensus to ensure equality and other rights to the citizens irrespective of one’s birth based identities.

Similarly it will be necessary to ensure equality of States at least in the representation to the Rajya Sabha. Inequalities among the citizens and States which constitute India may not ensure justice, liberty and ‘unity and integrity of the Nation’.

The article is the revised version of the paper presented at the Seminar on 70th Year of Indian Constitution at Y.K. College, Wangjing on 23rd December, 2019.

Conlcuded .....

* Dr N Somorendro wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The author is the General Secretary of FEGOCTA and teaches Political Science in Manipur College.
This article was webcasted on January 22, 2020.

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