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By Albert Thyniang
If there is a referendum for the abolition of Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) I will vote for it and also lend my signature if there is a campaign for the same. Kudos to Michael N Syiem for filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court of Meghalaya questioning the relevance of the ADCs in Meghalaya. The Hon’ble High Court which has done a lot of good for the State in the short span of time of two years has issued notice to the Attorney General of India. That means the lawsuit has a lot of merit. It is true that ADCs were a fruit of intense debates in the Constituent Assembly that led to the formation of a sub-committee chaired by Gopinath Bordoloi, of which Rev. J.J.M. Nichols Roy was also a member. Ultimately the Constitution of India recognized the ADCs as mechanisms to safeguard and promote the culture, language, customs and other rights of the minority tribals in the North East. To state in short, besides other ADCs in the North East, the GHADC, KHADC and JHADC are an offshoot of the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
It must be remembered, however, that the ADCs were given constitutional status under the undivided state of Assam because hill tribals were minorities in those days. The members of the Constituent Assembly thought it wise that these minority tribals should be protected and the ADCs were recognized as the tools. However, now that the undivided Assam is no more, the ADCs too should cease to exist. In fact, this was the practice. Whenever, a major tribal group obtained statehood ADCs were abolished for that tribe because that particular tribe was no longer minority. It has become majority. It has ruled itself. The responsibility of protecting and promoting the culture, language, customs, practices, and other interests has passed on from the ADC to the State Government.
Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh were initially included in the Sixth Schedule but when they were given statehood they no longer had ADCs. Similarly when Mizoram was elevated to the status of a Union Territory the North-Eastern Areas (Re-organisation) Act, 1971 was amended and the Mizo District Council was abolished in 1972. Presently in Mizoram district councils exist only for ethnic minority groups, the Pawis, the Lakhers and the Chakmas. Similarly in Manipur the Parliament also constituted six Autonomous District Councils for the tribal people living in the hills of Manipur. Likewise, in Tripura there is only the Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council. As we know Tripura is not ruled by tribals but by Bengalis who constitute 70 percent of the state’s population.
Now let us see the present Assam. It has ADCs and other similar arrangements for tribal groups like the Karbi, Bodos and Rabhas. It is clear, therefore, that the ADCs in the North-East India are meant for minority tribes who do not have the right of self-rule.
For strange reasons, in Meghalaya, though we have our own State Government we continue with the ADCs. When the state of Meghalaya came into existence it would have been logical that the ADCs should cease to exist. The powers of the GHADC, KHADC and JHADC should have been naturally and automatically replaced by the state government. The state of Meghalaya was created precisely to protect and promote the culture, language, customs and other fundamental rights of the Garos, Khasis and Jaintias. Am I wrong? Then what is the point in carrying on with the ADCs? They have become redundant, irrelevant and hence outdated. They no longer serve any useful purpose. It’s high time they are relegated to the pages of history. The sooner the better! Instead I would suggest that the Government establish ADCs for other most backward and neglected groups in the State, like the Lyngngam for example. The distinct and distinctive culture, customs and language of this tribe is in danger of becoming extinct.
As pointed out in Michael Syiem’s PIL and reported by this paper Meghalaya has a total of 86.1 % tribal population and therefore, the ‘exploitation, subjugation and oppression’ by any other people does not arise now. The major tribes in the State have the right to protect themselves as the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly has 60 MLAs, out of which 55 are exclusively reserved for tribals. Obviously only pro-tribal legislations can be passed. Furthermore, according to the present law, the law passed by the State Legislature supersedes that of the District Council. In case of conflict, the law passed by the District Council shall be null and void.
Another important element in the PIL is the fact that as per the federal structure, only the Centre and State Governments are vested with executive, legislative and judicial powers. In Meghalaya there exists this peculiar parallel government system – the State and the District Councils. This is the reason for the present stand-off between the State Government and the District Councils with regards to the Meghalaya Building Bye Laws, the Meghalaya Local Administration (Empowerment of Traditional Institutions, Traditional Bodies, Headmen in Governance and Public Delivery System) Ordinance, 2015 and most recently the Prevention of Disqualification (Member of Legislative Assembly Meghalaya) Amendment Bill, 2015.
The last legislation, a relief for many concerned citizens, ends the unhealthy practice of dual posts –MLA cum MDC simultaneously. The hurriedly passed law (now given assent by the Governor) came at the time when the Government expected that the Meghalaya High Court would pronounce a favourable verdict to the PIL filed by Agnes Kharshiing, president of Civil Society Women’s Organization in October last seeking disqualification of eight MLAs cum MDCs. The dual post holders had maintained that they are immune to any law. But the activist, through the court reminded them that as all citizens of this country, they are no exception. The eight legislators were already drawing salary as MLAs before being elected as members of district council (MDC). Therefore, the ‘office of profit’ law applies to them. It does not discriminate anyone.
Seven legislators have already resigned after the law was passed by the Legislative Assembly on September 24. The one who remains defiant is CEM of KHADC, Pyngshngainlang Syiem. The Mawsynram MLA and MDC, who speaks one voice as MLA and another as MDC (CEM), faces the ignominy of being disqualified as MLA or MDC by the Governor. I will certainly clap my hands!
About the irrelevance of the ADCs, it is clear from the resignation of the MLAs who are also MDCs from the latter post. If they consider the District Councils as institutions meant to protect the indigenous practices, customs, language, interests, et al then why did they relinquish the MDC membership? Why did they not quit the MLA posts? This amply shows that that they can work better for the indigenous people as MLAs than as MDCs. Their action proves that the ADCs are redundant, superfluous, irrelevant and outdated. Or dare I suspect that the self-proclaimed and certified champions of indigenous people have their eyes on funds rather than interests of their people? Caught red handed!