In a run-up to the ongoing council elections 2021, the larger rural populace in Garo Hills is looking forward to a new change in the next Executive Council of Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) after a prolonged deterioration in administration, which had reached a stage of the Council’s inability even to clear the salary of its own employees, due to poor administrative lapses and alleged corrupt practices.
It may be recalled that when the Constituent Assembly of India accepted the recommendation of the Sub-Committee headed by J N Bordoloi, a broadminded Assamese statesman, who was convinced by the appeal of Rev. J J M Nichols Roy that limited autonomy was the only solution to save the small ethnic tribals of North East India, he never wavered then on, even when some other Assamese members of the Sub-Committee opposed the idea.
The said autonomy came in the form of incorporating the Sixth Schedule in the Constitution of India and interestingly, Garo Hills was the first to get the District Council on 14.4.1952, followed by the then UK & J Hills, which was commissioned on 27.6.1952. Later, on 23.11.1964, the government bifurcated a separate District Council for the district of Jaintia Hills, registering thus, three Autonomous District Councils for Meghalaya.
Polling for the 29-seat GHADC is slated on April 12, 2021 and yet all parties, including those who terribly marred the Council, call for a change. Hopefully, all should learn a lesson from the past. As a matter of fact, the Autonomous Councils have come to stay, since they have both the Constitutional guarantee and the many subjects and responsibilities under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India, to specifically administer for the welfare of the backward tribes under their respective jurisdictions, like protecting their trade, markets and other economic activities from exploitation by entrepreneurs, to protect the land and mineral deposits, forest, agriculture and notwithstanding anything, to raise their varied cultures and traditions, preservation of their social customs and practices and everything for their overall welfare as specified under the said Schedule.
It may be of interest, but more a subject of in-depth study and research, if we look back and try to analyse how much the autonomous councils have been able to live up to their vision, at least this time in the case of Garo Hills region.
Comparatively, though not up to the expectation, the Khasi Hills Autonomous Council is doing commendable services in terms of their traditional institutions of the Chiefs and Headmen, the judicial wings, including the Village Courts at Village level, protection of their land, forest, trade and commerce and at least in matters of administration, there has not been any instance of their workers, not getting their due salary and wages.
Other Tribals Want Sixth Schedule
There are many tribal leaders from various parts of the country, who want Sixth Schedule provision to be introduced in their areas. Of late, a group of tribal leaders from UP visited Shillong to study the Sixth Schedule governance in Khasi Hills and left with the format to try convincing their government to grant them the autonomy that we enjoy. Recently a group from Jharkhand also came for the same mission.
A team from Ladakh was the most eager team which had visited Shillong a couple of times and they have even approached the government of India for extension of Sixth Schedule System to their areas.
It’s always the case with those who have, they do not value their own, whereas others who do not have, suffer and covet for the same.
Ongoing Parley With Centre
In October 2019, all Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) from North East were invited to Delhi to discuss their powers and functions and funding by Centre as extended to the Panchayat bodies in the country, apart from other amendments the government wanted to propose.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, which invited the ADCs and with whom extensive parleys were held in Delhi, in a deft courtesy of good gesture, made a visit to Shillong only two months after, in January 2020 to resume the discussions we had in Delhi and what transpired was, the ADCs shall in future be rechristened as Autonomous Territorial Councils and they will be expanded by a few more seats, where at least a few seats shall be nominated for women and other unrepresented tribes. Over and above, the much desired law to ban defection in the Councils, resembling the Tenth Schedule provision is likely to be considered, apart from considerable funding by the Centre.
As of today, the ADCs have their own revenue from minerals, paid by the State government in the form of shares, their self-generated revenue from markets, other trades, minor minerals and other development projects and the like. Over and above the Central government has also been imparting funding to the Councils to help cope in administrative matters.
What matters most is the complete revamping of their strategy, transparency in planning and execution and the accountability that all have to bear. The ongoing electoral process, therefore, not only provides an opportunity to reshuffle the elected members once in every five years, but it also casts a heavy duty and responsibility to all the elected.