The autonomy provided under the 6th schedule of the constitution is not enough to protect the unique cultural and ethnic identities of the North East. Comment. (15 Marks)

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Answer:

The recent Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 which aims to give citizenship to persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh has raised concerns of protection of cultural and ethnic identities of North East.

Constitutional protection provided to Cultural and Ethnic Minorities in India

  • Fundamental Rights under Articles 29 and 30 guarantees certain rights such as citizens having a distinct language, script or culture have the right to conserve the same and right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
  • India’s population consists of 100 million tribal people who have constitutionally been addressed via two distinct avenues i.e Fifth and Sixth Schedule.
  • The Fifth Schedule applies to the overwhelming majority of India’s tribes in nine States, while the Sixth Schedule covers areas that are settled in the northeastern States bordering China and Myanmar.
  • The Sixth Schedule gives tribal communities considerable autonomy; the States of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram are autonomous regions under the Sixth Schedule.

Provisions of Sixth Schedule

  • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution deals with the administration of the tribal areas in the four northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram as per Article 244.
  • Under this provision, 10 autonomous district councils have been established in 4 states.
  • The Governor is empowered to increase or decrease the areas or change the names of the autonomous districts. 
  • While executive powers of the Union extend in Scheduled areas with respect to their administration in Vth schedule, the VIth schedule areas remain within executive authority of the state.
  • The acts of Parliament or the state legislature do not apply to autonomous districts and autonomous regions or apply with specified modifications and exceptions.
  • 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.

Why these provisions are not sufficient

  • Granting special provisions to certain minority tribal groups have led to further demands by other groups for such provisions under the 6th schedule giving rise of conflict between various groups.
  • In terms of financial autonomy, the ADCs are at the mercy of the state governments. There exists a huge gap between the approved budget and the funds received from the State Government which has had a direct impact on the development of these tribal communities.
  • They are also dependent upon state governments for decisions regarding undertaking developmental activities in their region.
  • Lack of coordination between the States governments and Department of Planning and Development, Hill Areas Department and the Autonomous councils has resulted in the lackadaisical implementation of the development work.
  • The State government justifies this position by stating that the ADCs have been holding on to their traditional roles of protecting the tribal identity in the region which abstains the State from various developmental activities.
  • At the same time, the ADCs have a very small amount of funds which they receive as taxes and land revenues, hence they have to depend on the Central government for more funds.
  • ADCs have also demanded an increase in the number of members in the ADCs making them more representative which has been overlooked by State governments.
  • 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.
  • Generally, tribal or indigenous cultural practices community land ownership, while some other tribes practice individual with clan ownership, however modern land relations and formal law recognizes only individual ownership of land.
  • The autonomy and power of the District Councils lie in the hands of a small group of elites who govern the functioning of the Autonomous DistrictCouncils.
  • The absence of involvement of local stakeholders in the process of development and in the decision-making process has deprived the common masses of their democratic rights.
  • The Sixth Schedule also vests enormous powers to the Governor. Members of the various ADCs, in this context, are of the opinion that the Governors are mere puppets in the hands of the Ministers.
  • A major gap in the functioning of the ADCs is the lack of interaction at the village and field level. There is an absence of efficient village councils or regional councils.

Suggested Reforms to Autonomous District Councils

  • The government and other agencies need to win the confidence of non scheduled area population and bring a sense of security and belongingness to them.
  • There has to be a proper coordination or adjustment between traditional practices and usages with changes that have occurred within the tribal society today.
  • The issue of representation needs to be seriously reconsidered, which still has limited participation of women in the decision-making process, and also excludes the non-tribals of the State.
  • Adequate accountability and transparency of funds generated should be entrusted to authorities such as the Comptroller-General and Auditor-General of Accounts to prevent misuse.
  • Documentation and codification of traditional laws is an essential step through which the actual aim of the Sixth Schedule that is protection of tribal cultural identity can be fulfilled.
  • Measures should be taken in order to ensure that the Autonomous Councils have well-defined legislation which clearly identify the powers of the village level bodies, release of funds by the government, transparency in the allocation and utilization of funds.
  • Stringent laws regarding frequent reviewing of financial position of the ADCs like the Panchayati Raj System will enhance the status of the ADCs.
  • Strengthening and empowering the local self-governance, which would also include Village and Tribal Councils.
  • Empowerment of civil society bodies would contribute immensely in the monitoring of the developmental activities and progress rate across diverse sectors undertaken by the councils.
  • To get a positive outcome the members of the ADCs should be trained, as capacity building of the ADCs members is vital for healthy governance and helps one to be more alert about the responsibilities assigned and the overall functioning.
  • The functioning of the ADCs should be amended to make them accountable through the insertion of a clause that makes mandatory the creation of village councils/ bodies with a degree of representation to the traditional institutions of chiefs.
  • Creation of effective watchdog with the powers of Lokayukta in monitoring and keeping a track of the activities undertaken by the ADCs should be given priority as this will help in maintaining transparency in matters of finance and other developmental plans and activities.
  • Regular and assured financial assistance from governments an efficient monitoring system are two major factors which will determine the success of such provisions, along with awareness and active participation of the other stakeholders.

Conclusion 

The ADCs in the past decades have been successful to a certain extent in preserving the tribal identity and attained statehood for some of the tribes who had been struggling for a separate state in the North-Eastern part of India.

However, under the prevailing set up, not only the existing powers and functions of the traditional bodies are extremely limited, but also their access to resource allocation is severely poor. Thus the system under Sixth Schedule is in need of urgent reforms.

Additionally, the tribes in other parts of India are faced with problems of development as well as identity. Hence it is worth exploring the extension of such systems in other parts of tribal India.

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Akankhya Behera
Akankhya Behera
2 years ago

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