District Council and the State Government
A Healthy Coordination
By Fabian Lyngdoh
The dynamism in the life of the people in the State of Meghalaya has been badly affected by the perpetual conflict of interests between the Autonomous District Councils and the State Government. To put an end to this useless tug-of-war, the people’s representatives in the District Councils, and in the State Government, need first of all to understand the constitutional status of the District Council and the State Government. By Article 244(2) and the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India, the Autonomous District Councils have been established. And, by Article 244A and The North-Eastern (Re-organization) Act, 1971, the State of Meghalaya, comprising the territories of the Khasi, the Jaintia, and the Garo Autonomous Districts was created, and the State Government was established. The base Article 244 concerns with the administration of the scheduled areas. Hence, the District Council and the State Government are both concerned with the administration of the Sixth Schedule areas of Meghalaya by virtue of Article 244(2) and Article 244A respectively.
The need to protect the ethnic and cultural identities of the indigenous tribals of the State in the virulent sea of modern social change cannot be taken lightly. The indigenous tribals of these hills dearly hold that the land in which they are living is not the gift of any new constitutional system, but it is the inheritance from their ancestors who lived here since time immemorial. So, they consider this land as their ancestral property, and the way they conduct their social living as ancestral heritage. From these realities flow their ethnic, cultural and territorial identity. This is not a wishful thinking or parochial mindset, but a reality that has made the founding fathers of the Indian Democratic Republic to incorporate these tribal aspirations in the constitutional provisions to enable the tribals to protect their lands and safeguard their tradition and culture as well as to mould their own life and development according to their own genius. The members of the Constituent Assembly adopted the Sixth Schedule not solely on goodwill, but they had been compelled to do so by historical precedents and the diversified nature of the Indian society. Hence, in this light, the Sixth Schedule is not a gift, but it is a constitutional necessity to accommodate and reconcile the tribal aspirations with the tenets of a Democratic Republic.
Speaking of the Khasi society in particular, historical circumstances since the beginning of the British rule, compounded with the openness of the culture has put the society in a peculiar and critical situation not found elsewhere among the tribal communities of North East India. This situation has always made the people take an exclusive and defensive stance; and this is perfectly natural. The fear of being engulfed by stronger external cultural waves is not unfounded, but true to the ground. The bona-fide non-tribal residents of Meghalaya need to understand and respect this ground reality as no human community whether big or small, developed or undeveloped is free from this natural exclusive and defensive stance. That is why non-tribal residents in Meghalaya still enclose themselves in their own cultural circles, socializing and indoctrinating their own members as distinct, apart from the indigenous tribals; and this is also to be respected as well. But at the same time, we have to accept the fact that expecting for a real cosmopolitan living in a situation of mutually defensive and exclusive mind sets is a distant dream.
Coming back to the main issue at hand, the Para 12A of the Sixth Schedule should in no way be a hindrance to the healthy coordination between the District Council and the State Government. The Paragraph 12A is to be applied only when an act of the District Council is beyond its mandate, or against its own mandate, or that it is in direct contravention to other provisions of the Indian Constitution. This constitutional provision has a rationale to exist for facilitating public interests and as a safeguard against infringement of fundamental human rights of citizens. An incident in 2013 is an example of how the District Council may act contrary to its own mandate. In 2013, the Government of Meghalaya refused to send to the Governor, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Nomination and Election of the Syiem, Deputy Syiem and Headmen of Langrin Syiemship) (Third Amendment) Bill, 2013, on the grounds that the principal Act was intended to serve and protect the indigenous Khasis in Langrin Syiemship, while on the other hand, the proposed amendment by the KHADC to delete the phrase “both of whose parents are Khasi by birth”, from Section 2(d) of the principal Act would be against the existing tradition of the people of the Syiemship. Whether it was the truth or party politics that prompted the whole exercise, but overall, this episode demonstrated that under Article 244A, the Government of Meghalaya too has the mandate to conserve and protect the traditions and customs of the indigenous people. While in this particular case the District Council seems to lack that concern. The District Council’s Bill in question is not repugnant to any existing law made by the State Legislature, but it can be said to be repugnant to the fact of a subject matter which the State Legislature also has the mandate to enact laws for had the District Council not been there. The currently popular narrative that the State Government has no jurisdiction in the Sixth Schedule areas, or that the State Legislature has no mandate to make laws on the subjects of the Sixth Schedule is a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the constitutional provisions.
The domain of the District Council is with the maintenance of the social order in the cultural context; it is with the conservation and protection of land and culture, and guidance to the evolution of customs. The District Council should concern itself more with the management of land and its resources and administration of the tribal society in its cultural traditions and social values. The domain of the State Government is with the maintenance of the social order in the legal context; it is in socio-economic development, civic welfare of the citizens, and in matters concerning fundamental rights and gender justice among the citizens. It would be good if the District Council does not get itself involved with the modern civic development of the people which is a concern of the State Government. The ADCs should not compete with the State Government; and the MDCs should not compete with the MLAs in the implementation of modern development projects such as construction of roads, footpaths, playgrounds, bathing places, dustbins and latrines, etc. That is to be left to the State Government and the MLAs with their schemes.
As a suggestion specifically for the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, it would be good if the individual MDC development schemes meant for construction of modern infrastructures in the villages be abolished, and the fund be channelized for the construction of dorbar halls and judicial buildings in every Raid and Hima. We have seen that old and wretched buildings are being used as offices and dorbar halls in many Raids and Himas. Fund should also be provided for the construction of open-theatres for cultural festivals in the Raids and Himas. I have seen such large and beautiful open-theatres in the villages of Nagaland. With its meagre resource and limited financial capacity, it would be a wasteful exercise for the District Council to attempt to clean the Umkhrah River; there are no cultural wastes there, but only modern urban wastes. It is better to leave that scavenging work to the State Government. On the other hand, special centres like the dancing ground of Hima Khyrim, the Weiking dancing ground, the Behdienkhlam festival grounds, and other places of importance should be provided with adequate finance for improvement and beautification as these centres would not only reflect the culture of the tribe and raise its identity and image, but would also contribute immensely to the development of tourism industry in the State.
With regards to village administration, it would be good if the District Council enacts laws for the constitution of the dorbar shnong as a political and judicial authority, limiting to administration of land and social customs. The State Government on the other hand, can enact laws for the constitution of village councils limiting to the implementations of modern developmental programmes, providing civic welfare services to the citizens and maintenance of law and order in the villages and urban localities, without touching anything on matters concerning land and judicial administrations. Presently, the State Government has constituted Village Employment Councils (VECs) in the villages for the implementation of village infrastructures though the NREGS programme. Overall, the programme seems to be successful and the people are happy with the exercise, and the District Councils should have nothing to be suspicious or jealous about it.
As citizens of Meghalaya, we are fortunate to have the State Government for democratic and civil administration; the District Councils which are tribe-specific, and mandated with the constitutional authority to legalize the traditions and customs of indigenous tribes, and we also have the traditional institutions to provide cultural and psychological continuity in the minds of the people in the process of change. However, we must also be wise to adapt ourselves to the new circumstances of life brought about by social change. If we refuse to adapt to the requirements of Social Change according to our own will, then the powerful Social Change will force itself upon us to adapt according to its own will. Hence, let us equip ourselves with relevant attitudes and mindsets to be able to move culturally intact in the waves of social change.
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The lack of clarity on the issue of territorial authority especially in the Khasi Hills where the core concern of the people is the independent private ownership over their lands without any intervention by the Government.
The need to build up equitable, transparent and responsible democratic governance at the grass-roots according to the present requirements of the modern democratic society can no longer be ignored. The Khasi society needs to adapt itself to some healthy changes so that the tribe can survive in a competitive world.