NGOs, Opp stall tabling of Customary Law Bill

Bid to give recognition to person born of non-Garo parent

Members of Garo Hills NGOs launch a protest to oppose tabling of the controversial Garo Customary Laws Bill on Wednesday. (ST)
Members of Garo Hills NGOs launch a protest to oppose tabling of the controversial Garo Customary Laws Bill on Wednesday. (ST)

TURA: An attempt on the part of the Congress-led executive committee in the GHADC to hurriedly push through the controversial Codification of Garo Customary Laws Bill-2009 led to strong opposition from NGOs and opposition party MDCs forcing the ruling bench to withdraw it on Wednesday morning.

The Alphonse A Sangma-led executive committee was compelled to withdraw the Bill from the current session after several Garo NGOs descended on the council building and raised objections while Opposition NPP MDCs joined the chorus and demanded an all-party meeting to first discuss the Bill.

The controversy erupted over the inclusion of certain points in the Bill that aims to recognise any person born of a non-Garo mother and a Garo father as a Garo. Likewise, a person born of a Garo mother and a non-Garo father would also be recognised as a Garo while the non-Garo father can also become a Garo provided they follow the Garo matrilineal system, kinship and other customs and traditions.

“We had demanded that the Bill should be first taken up for consultation within the Garo society and an all party meet needs to also discuss it before it can be tabled in the house. But Congress-led EC wanted to go ahead with the tabling and subsequent passing of the Bill which was strongly objected by us,” informed NPP MDC from Resubelpara Sukaram K Sangma.

While the Opposition members were objecting to the proposed tabling in the House, outside the NGOs including the Garo Students Union, A’chik Youth Welfare Organization (AYWO), Association for Democracy and Empowerment (ADE), Garo Hills State Movement Committee (GHSMC), Tura Government College Students’ Union (TGCSU) and the Garo National Council (GNC) political party activists were threatening to stall the ongoing session if the ruling Congress went ahead with the introduction of the bill.

“We were completely taken by surprise that the Executive committee had decided to move for the tabling when none of the Garo NGOs and intellectual bodies had been briefed about the bill that plans to give recognition to those whose parents are not even Garo ,” said ADE President Dalseng Bira Ch Momin.

The CEM Alphonse A Sangma had tried to justify the move by allegedly stating that the bill was already discussed and thee had been no objections raised from civil society, Mahari clans among others. He also alleged that since the Governor had forwarded the bill to the Council it was necessary to introduce it in the floor of the house.

With the still opposition to the bill’s introduction it was ultimately withdrawn and an all party meeting was held in the office of the CEM participated by MDCs from both sides.

“We have demanded that the bill cannot be introduced in this session and in its present form where there is a controversy. We want that the Codification Bill must be translated into Garo first and the matter discussed by Garo civil society groups. The CEM has assured us it will not be tabled this time,” announced NPP MDC Sukaram Sangma.

Later, speaking to The Shillong Times after completion of the session for the day, opposition MDCs pointed out that the controversial part of the bill in regards to tribal identity was already a Sub-judice matter in the court.

They mentioned that the tribal status of the Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma is already a judicial matter taken up in the Supreme Court of India and the final verdict is yet to be given out.

There is allegation that the ruling Congress was trying to push through the Codification Bill given its sheer numbers in the house.

In the 30-member GHADC house the ruling Congress has 24 MDCs against the opposition’s six members. Given that the council does not have the anti-defection law in place members are free to switch allegiance to any party they wish to.

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