Are ADCs white elephants?

By Albert Thyrniang

White elephants were revered as sacred in antique Siam (present day Thailand) and other Asian countries but keeping a white elephant was highly expensive. The pricey pachyderms required special food and housing. Due to their ‘sacredness’ they were not allowed to be worked.  The story goes that if a subordinate or official fell out of favour the Thai King would present him a white elephant to ruin him financially. Given his own will the recipient would be relieved to get rid of the gigantic mammal but he could not so because of the sacredness attached to the pale animal. Today the term is used to mean a burdensome, expensive, useless possession or undertaking that is more a liability than an asset.

On November 9 the press reported the Congress MLA, David Nongrum’s plain talking that the ADCs are a liability. This daily followed it by an editorial the next day. Defenders have come out slamming the Sohryngkham legislator.

As often argued Nongrum reminded us that the existence of ADCs and their role of protecting and safeguarding the culture, identity, land and resources of the indigenous people have been rendered irrelevant and redundant with the creation of the state of Meghalaya. It can be logically interpreted that ADCs were formed in 1949 to safeguard the rights of the tribal population simply because the state of Meghalaya did not exist then. Therefore, ADC administration in Meghalaya was included in Sixth Schedule along with the tribal areas in Assam, Tripura and Mizoram. If the state was there the question of ADCs would not have crossed the mind of the architects of the ADCs. So when the state came into being in 1972 it would have been natural to do away with the ADCs. In Mizoram the two ADCs are for the two minority communities in the state, the Maras in the south and Chakmas in the west. In Tripura the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) still exists because the tribal population in that state is only 30%. In Meghalaya it is not the case. Statehood should have been granted on the clear condition that the ADCs would be abolished. It does not mean that if ADCs don’t exist the state would be a free for all property. The state government is there to safeguards the rights of the native population. Laws like the Land Transfer Act can be passed by the Legislative Assembly. Mechanisms like ILP could be in place to shield the state. The reason for excluding Meghalaya from ILP is because of the Sixth Schedule. CAA is excluded from IPL states like Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. So CAA does not necessarily come into operation even in the absence of ADCs.  The reason for the Government of India not granting ILP to Meghalaya is because of the existence of ADCs/the Sixth Schedule.

In Assam the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council (KAADC) administers the two districts, South and West Karbi Anglong because statehood is still a dream. The Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) was granted as an alternative to ‘Bodoland’ state. If ‘Bodoland’ was granted BTC would not have come about. The unnecessary duplicity of governance in Meghalaya is due to, as the editorial pointed out, the lack of political will and vision on the part of political leaders.

Now we have the KHADC, JHADC and GHADC which have become a liability. The Congress leader pointed out that the resources of the state are spent mainly on salaries of the staff. In his defence the KHADC Chief Executive Member (CEM) Titosstarwell Chyne said that the Council has its own legal system of collecting taxes including toll gates. But how justified is setting five gates on a 20-24 km stretch of the Shillong-by-pass? Chyne also informed that KHADC does not levy taxes like professional taxes though legal. I know for a fact that at least an ADC does impose professional, water and other taxes. ADCs are not service providers and development institutions. They do not provide services like water supply, nor do they run educational institutions and manage professional institutes. Therefore, how can they levy water and professional taxes? Overly the money pulled from the citizens is spent for the salaries of their staff. The public only gives but gets nothing in return. Is this not a liability?

JHADC diverted 20 crore of the central funds earmarked for development to pay the remuneration of its personnel. It implies that the Council is not able to generate enough funds for its own workers. Is this not a liability? KHADC depends on the central government to build a ‘missing’ museum. Even if the museum does come up there may not be fund for its maintenance. Is this not a liability? The affairs in GHADC are no pleasant commentary. The Council is too overstaffed with more than 1700 employees. Their salary has not been paid for past 28 months. Is this not a liability? To make it worse new appointments did not halt in spite of the excess number of staff.  Notwithstanding the directive of the High Court of Meghalaya and The Meghalaya Human Rights Commission (MHRC) the dues are still to be cleared.

How long will GHADC take to pay its employees? No one knows. How much money does the council need? If we take an average of Rs. 20,000 per employee per month for 28 months the amount totals to a whopping Rs. 95.20 crores. If this is not a liability then what is it?

The KHADC chief said that there is a strong sentimental attachment and a great pride in the ADCs. This is precisely what a white elephant does. Due to perceived reverence for the ADCs as institutions for the culture, customs, tradition and rights of the indigenous people we may not be able to get rid of them in spite of them being more of a bane than a boon.

Supporters boast that ADCs preserve and promote the culture of the indigenous people. When was the last book on culture published by an ADC? Do ADCs have publications of culture? Monolith Festivals turn out to be instances of alleged corruption and misuse of funds thus teaching people to move away from the integral tribal values of honesty and integrity.

It might have been in 2015 in a minor function organised by a literature society in Tura the present Chief Minister Conrad Sangma informed that GHADC does not have a library. It was quite a shock. Till today the Council has no library of its own. How come after more than 70 years a library is not even in the plan? Then where are the books on the Garo history and culture stored? If someone wishes to read about the Garos the first and best place to visit should have been the GHADC’s library. Do the questions hold good for other ADCs?

KHADC’s CEM Titosstarwell Chyne was the first to staunchly defend the institution he is heading. The observations/questions below are addressed to him as CEM of the Council and not to him as an individual. Therefore, there is nothing personal. It is learned that ‘Chyne’ is an anglicised version of the Khasi surname ‘Khain’. If true, what was the need to so do? Was it to look more English? Is the anglicised form superior to the Khasi counterpart? Did the change have the approval of KHADC? What if others too decide to anglicise their titles? Will that be okay? Will the Council approve the move? Will they remain Scheduled Tribes (ST)? Would that mean preserving or diluting the culture?

Why don’t we broaden the implications?  What if names of villages, localities, towns, etc., are modified to look and sound more English? Would the District Council stamp its approval? In Shillong quite a number of localities have lost their original Khasi names. In Tura too the same! Why not demand for their renaming?

The cited editorial suggested an independent assessment by an independent agency to evaluate the outcomes and impact of the ADCs. Between 2012 and 2018 the management of schools in Meghalaya and Assam (and in fact in the whole country) run by a religious society decided to engage an independent agency to evaluate  its institutions. The schools are a prestigious brand. They are highly appreciated and are much sought after by the general public. But a shocker was presented to the authorities after the assessment. A vast majority of these schools came nowhere close to the national and international standards. Will the ADCs submit themselves to an independent assessing agency to shut all doubters up?

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