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Autonomous District Council demand raised by Assam’s Rengma Nagas

Autonomous District Council demand raised by Assam’s Rengma Nagas

Relevance

  • GS 2 || Polity || Union Territories and Special Areas || Scheduled and Tribal Areas

Why in news?

  • The RengmaNagas in Assam has written to Union Home Minister Amit Shah demanding an autonomous district council amid a decision by the Central and the State governments to upgrade the KarbiAnglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) into a territorial council.

Historic Background

  • The Rengma Naga Peoples’ Council (RNPC), a registered body, said in the memorandum that the Rengmas was the first tribal people in Assam to have encountered the British in 1839, but the existing Rengma Hills was eliminated from the political map of the State and replaced with that of Mikir Hills (now KarbiAnglong) in 1951.
  • During the Burmese invasions of Assam in 1816 and 1819, it was the Rengmas who gave shelter to the Ahom refugees.

Issue

  • With the Assam government on the verge of signing a peace accord with militant groups located in KarbiAnglong, the NSCN-IM declared that any arrangement that victimizes the RengmaNagas would be unacceptable.
  • KarbiAnglong, formerly known as Rengma Hills, is the subject of discussion. Rengma Hills has been victimized by an infusion of hostile outsiders with entrenched interests.
  • When Nagaland became a state in 1963, the Rengma Hills were divided between Assam and Nagaland.

What are Autonomous district councils?

  • ADCs are bodies that represent a district inside the state legislature, with varying degrees of autonomy granted by the Constitution.
  • According to the Sixth Schedule, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram all include Tribal Areas, which are theoretically distinct from Scheduled Areas.
  • Though these areas fall within the executive authority of the state, provision has been made for the creation of the District Councils and regional councils for the exercise of certain legislative and judicial powers.

Provisions in the constitution

  • Article 244
    • According to Article 244 of the Indian Constitution, the Sixth Schedule contains provisions for the governance of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.
    • It was passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949 and aims to protect indigenous people’s rights by establishing Autonomous District Councils (ADC).
  • The sixth schedule to the Constitution includes 10 autonomous district councils in 4 states. These are
    • Assam:Bodoland Territorial Council, KarbiAnglong Autonomous Council, and DimaHasao Autonomous District Council.
    • Meghalaya:Garo Hills Autonomous District Council, Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, and Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council.
    • Tripura: Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.
    • Mizoram:Chakma Autonomous District Council, Lai Autonomous District Council, Mara Autonomous District Council.
  • Regional Councils
    • Along with ADCs, the Sixth Schedule also provides for separate Regional Councils for each area constituted as an autonomous region.
    • In all, 10 areas in the Northeast are registered as autonomous districts – three in Assam, Meghalaya, and Mizoram and one in Tripura.
  • Under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule, autonomous district councils can make laws, rules, and regulations in the following areas with the assent of Governor
    • Land management
    • Forest management
    • Water resources
    • Agriculture and cultivation
    • Formation of village councils
    • Public health
    • Sanitation
    • Village and town level policing
    • Appointment of traditional chiefs and headmen
    • Inheritance of property
    • Marriage and divorce
    • Social customs
    • Money lending and trading
    • Mining and minerals
  • Members and tenure
    • Each autonomous district and regional council consists of not more than 30 members, of which four are nominated by the governor and the rest via elections.
    • All of them remain in power for a term of five years.

Need for ADC’S

  • Preserving cultural identity and land ownership
  • The relationship to the land is the basis of tribal or indigenous identity and that the culture and identity of indigenous people cannot be preserved without maintaining control over land and natural resources, as these factors to a large extent determine the lifestyle and culture of the indigenous people.
  • It was under colonial rule that the process of turning land into commodities began for their interest, in the name of development. Post-independence, large tracts of lands were given away to the immigrants and other settlers.
  • Devolution, deconcentration, and divestment
  • A sizeable amount of autonomy has been given to the people belonging to the tribal
  • Devolution, deconcentration, and divestment are the mandates that dictate the protection of their culture, greater economic development, and, most significantly, ethnic security.
  • Under the Sixth Schedule, the District Council and Regional Council have real legislative power, the ability to make laws on various legislative subjects, and the ability to receive grants-in-aid from the Consolidated Fund of India to cover the costs of development, health care, education, and road schemes, as well as regulatory powers to state control.

Role of Governor

  • The governors of these states have the authority to restructure tribal boundaries.
  • The Acts of Parliament or the State Legislature do not apply to autonomous districts and autonomous regions or apply with specified modifications and exceptions.
  • Each district is an autonomous district and the Governor is vested with powers regarding the councils. He/she, by public notification, may
    • Include or exclude any new area.
    • Create a new autonomous district.
    • Define the boundaries of any autonomous district.
    • Increase or decrease the area of an existing autonomous district.
    • Alter the name of any autonomous district.

Powers vested

  • Revenue and Taxation
  • Autonomous district councils have powers to levy taxes, fees, and tolls on; building and land, animals, vehicles, boats, entry of goods into the area, roads, ferries, bridges, employment and income, and general taxes for the maintenance of schools and roads.
  • Civil and judicial powers
  • The ADCs are empowered with civil and judicial powers can constitute village courts within their jurisdiction to hear the trial of cases involving the tribes.
  • Governors of states that fall under the Sixth Schedule specify the jurisdiction of high courts for each of these cases.
  • The Councils have also been endowed with wide civil and criminal judicial powers, for example establishing village courts, etc. However, the jurisdiction of these councils is subject to the jurisdiction of the concerned High Court.
  • However, the Sixth Schedule has its flaws, such as a breakdown of peace and order, elections that are not contested, and exclusion rather than empowerment, which fails to give much-needed protection to tribes who live at the whim of government finances in the lack of political will.

Issues with ADC’s

  • More groups arising
    • Granting special protections to select minority tribal groups has prompted more calls for such protections under the 6th schedule from other tribes. As a result, there has been an increase in conflict between diverse factions, causing division among the population.
  • Corruption
    • Development in these areas is considered a non-existent phenomenon due to widespread corruption.
  • Lack of coordination
    • The lack of coordination between state administrations, the Department of Planning and Development, the Hill Areas Department, and the Autonomous Councils has resulted in sluggish development implementation.
  • Inefficient committee
    • The lack of an effective committee to oversee, evaluate, and keep track of the cash collected and spent has resulted in widespread corruption and underdevelopment in the Autonomous Councils’ regions.
  • Issues with ownership
    • In general, tribal or indigenous cultures adopt community land ownership, though some tribes practice individual with clan ownership; nonetheless, modern land relations and formal legislation acknowledge exclusively individual property ownership.
  • Lack of representation
    • In terms of representation of members in the Autonomous Council, Bodoland Territorial Council is the only council that has 46 members, which is the highest representation, and also the only council which has members from the Non-tribal community represented in the Council.
    • From time to time different ADCs have demanded an increase in the number of members in the ADCs.
  • Reservation for women
    • Unlike the Panchayati Raj System where the 73rd amendment allows reservation of one-third of all the Panchayat seats for women at different levels, both Fifth and Sixth Schedules have no mention of women representation and gender equality.

Way forward

  • Trust building and coordination
    • The government and other agencies must gain the trust of non-scheduled area residents and provide them with a sense of security and belonging.
    • Traditional traditions and usages must be properly coordinated or adjusted to the changes that have occurred within the tribal community today.
    • The absence of involvement of local stakeholders in the process of development and the decision-making process has deprived the common masses of their democratic rights, So it becomes necessary to involve the locals in the decision-making.
  • Role of civil societies
    • The empowerment of civil society bodies would contribute immensely to the monitoring of the developmental activities and progress rate across diverse sectors undertaken by the councils.
  • Traditional forms of governance must be promoted with self-governance.
  • Proper check on corruption
    • The establishment of an efficient watchdog with Lokayukta powers to monitor and keep track of the operations carried out by the ADCs should be prioritized, as this will aid in ensuring transparency in areas of financing and other developmental plans and activities.
  • Effectiveness in Financial aid
    • The success of such measures will be determined by two important factors: regular and assured financial aid from governments and an effective monitoring mechanism, as well as awareness and active engagement of other stakeholders.
  • 125th amendment bill
    • It seeks to increase the financial and executive powers of the 10 Autonomous Councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of the northeastern region.

Conclusion

  • In recent decades, the ADCs have been effective in preserving tribal identity and achieving statehood for some of the tribes who had been fighting for independence in India’s North-Eastern region.
  • However, in the current context, where states are undergoing various changes in terms of development, administrative upgrades, welfare programs and policies, and demographic changes, it is time for the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to be enhanced to keep up with the changing mechanisms and demands of local communities.

Mains model question

  • How promising do you find the role of autonomous district councils in promoting the economic interest of the regions in which they are constituted? Critically analyze

References