TODAY -

Autonomous District Council in North East India
- Part 3 -

Dr. Laishram Dhanabir *

Oath Taking ceremony of elected members of 6th Autonomous District Councils :: June 2010
Oath Taking ceremony of elected members of 6th Autonomous District Councils :: June 2010



Sixth Schedule and Ethnicity in North-East

The prolonged turmoil in the North-East is rooted in two causes; (a) the question of ethnic/cultural identity, which is perceived to be threatened by encroachment/infiltration by people of other ethnic/cultural groups from within and outside the region and the country; and (2) the persistence of economic backwardness14 Creation of smaller & ethnic states does not seem to have led towards elimination of either of these causes.

In any case the viability of more new states in the region is extremely doubtful. The experiments with Autonomous District Councils have also not yielded the desired results. Such a step has so far not received the favor of either the ruling politicians or the agitation leaders demanding greater autonomy or separate states.

Some kind of competitive ethnicity, real and contrived, is frittering away the energy of people, besides encouraging fragmentation and social distancing. There is a need for relook. There is no justification now of ADC in Meghalaya and Mizoram. It seems waste of resources15.

The problem of encroachment and infiltration will also be easier to handle with closer monitoring at the local level, a task that can he easily and legitimately taken up by the elected local bodies. Thus democratic decentralization of power to the grassroots can lead to an ultimate solution to the twin problems of persistent underdevelopment and ethno-cultural insecurity of the people of the region. It is therefore necessary to ensure through constitutional or other provisions that politicians are not able to prevent such a process of democratic decentralization from setting in.

While the provisions like the Sixth Schedule and the PRIs require a thorough review, the existing federal arrangements and the power sharing demands new thinking. It is necessary to explore new dimensions of power sharing in the region which may address the long-standing demands of various ethnic groups to have genuine autonomy and self-rule. Should we hesitate in terms of asymmetrical federal arrangements with whatever modifications in the manner that it has been experimented in Quebec and Switzerland with success to quell bitter ethnic conflicts? And there can be no better time than this when negotiations are being held with the various rebel groups of the region16.

Sixth Schedule & Insurgency

While Sixth Schedule was incorporated in the Constitution to give Greater Autonomy to the Tribal Areas of the North-East to counter insurgency, the ADCs in Autonomous District Councils in Karbi Anglong district and North Cachar Hills district have been witnessing separatist movements in the last decade.

This underlines the fact that Councils have not been able to fulfill the aspirations and address the grievances of the people of the area. Ceasefire agreements with the key insurgent groups have helped to reduce violence in the area.

Groups active in the two Autonomous Councils—United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), Dima Halim Daogah (DHD), and also Hmar People’s Convention- Democracy.17 Tripura too has been witnessing insurgency despite the formation of TTAADC. The two principal secessionist groups in the state are National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), which mostly operate from their bases in Bangladesh. Peace Accords have been signed with two factions of the NLFT— Montu Koloi and Nayanbasi Jamatiya and they have laid down arms last year17.

Recommendation

The relevance of the Sixth Schedule in the present context needs a serious review. The Schedule was specifically created to ensure the protection of the minor tribes from the threat of marginalization, domination and homogenization by the major tribal group under the jurisdictional area of the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs).

While the Schedule succeeded to a great extent to preserve the distinct identity and autonomy of tribal population, yet the same provision has become subject to controversies. The former excluded areas which the Schedule was supposed to protect have graduated from districts into full-fledged States such as Meghalaya and Mizoram.

Therefore, the District Councils in these States are now an anachronism as they overlap the normal district administration and have tended to duplicate the former and become a rival focus of power and financial burden.

Further, the Sixth Schedule has an inherent tendency to promote ethnic polarization and sub-nationalism. At one level, the Schedule has brought out the clash of interests between the non-tribal valley dwellers and tribal hill dwellers. Further, the Schedule has problem so far as issue of representation is concerned.

For instance, the Legislative Assemblies of Arunachal, Mizoram and Nagaland have all but one seats reserved for STs. This was justified when the tribal’s were in majority. But a sea change has undergone in the demography of the region. In a way, the Schedule promotes a de-facto regime of two-tiered citizenship. Unless reviewed comprehensively, the Schedule could become chief source of future conflicts in the region.

The genesis of the movements for greater autonomy by different ethnic groups in the North-East lay in the British policy of administration for the region. The system of administration established under colonial rule was effective in the plains of the region. But the hills, inhabited mostly by tribal people, were virtually left out from that system of administration. In fact the hills were classified as ‘excluded’ or ‘partially excluded’ areas and tribal communities living in such areas were allowed to continue with their traditional arrangements of self- governance’.

After independence, in an attempt to integrate these areas while preserving the tradition of self-governance of the tribal communities, the Sixth Schedule was incorporated in the Constitution of India. The Sixth Schedule provided for District and Regional Councils for the erstwhile ‘excluded’ and ‘partially excluded’ areas and these institutions were expected to integrate such areas with the modem system of administration while preserving the traditional autonomy and self-governance of the tribal people. But these arrangements failed to meet the aspirations of the newly emerging political leadership of some of the tribal groups.

Nagas demanded independence. Other groups also followed by launching movements demanding autonomy of various degrees. The Central Government responded to these demands by carrying out several rounds of reorganizations of the region and carving out new states. But instead of settling the issue, creation of the new states encouraged other ethnic groups to organize movements and agitations demanding greater autonomy, separate states and so on.

Concluded....


* Dr. Laishram Dhanabir wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was posted on September 12 , 2016.


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