Article 243M of the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution exempts application of the provisions contained relating to PANCHAYATS in certain areas of the country. These areas are Fifth Schedule Areas, Sixth Schedule Areas, 1996(PESA) and other tribal areas. However, the Parliament may by law extend the provisions of Part X of the Constitution to the Schedule Areas and tribal areas referred in clause (I) subject to such exceptions and modifications as may be specified in the law. In the Fifth Schedule Areas of 10 States namely Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Maharasthara, Telangana and Odisha, the 73rd Amendment was extended, which was ultra vires to the Constitution. Subsequently, to rectify the lawlessness in this context, the Government of India had constituted Bhuria Committee and on the basis of the recommendations of this Committee, the (PESA) was enacted in Fifth Schedule Areas of above indicated States. In this way, the 5th Schedule Areas have come under the fold of the 73rd Amendment or in other words Panchayati Raj a system of rural governance has been extended to these areas. However, 73rd Amendment Act has not been extended to the 6th Schedule Areas and other tribal areas of the country. This aspect is discussed in details here.

Sixth Schedule Areas and Other Tribal Areas: Meghalaya has been exempted under Article 243M and covered by the provisions of the Sixth Schedule. Some part of Mizoram has been exempted under Article 243M and some areas of the State are covered by the provisions of the Sixth Schedule. Bodoland, North Cachar and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam have been covered under Sixth Schedule. The whole of Nagaland, hill area of Manipur and six districts of Mizoram have been exempted under Article 243M and not covered under Sixth Schedule. In fact, these areas are covered by State Laws governing Village Councils and out of these areas only the hill areas of Manipur have District Council. Parts of the hill district of Darjeeling, in West Bengal, covered by the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council have been exempted under Article 234M of the Constitution.

Existing Practices of Governance: Sixth Schedule areas and other tribal areas exempted under Article 243M of the Constitution contain provisions relating to the administration of the tribal areas in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal. There are Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) and Autonomous Regional Councils (ARCs)in these areas which have a long tradition of self-management systems including issues related to land, forest, shifting cultivation, village or town administration including village or town police and public health and sanitation, inheritance of property, marriage and divorce and social customs. The main issue with regard to traditional governance in these areas is the lack of deepened decentralised governance. For instance, Village Councils do not exist in Council areas of Assam and Meghalaya. In Nagaland and Manipur, the Village Countils are often headed by traditional Village Chiefs. Elections to the District Councils of Manipur have not been held for decades. The Government has the powers to extend the tenure of Councils and also supersede them which reduce the powers of the Councils. Parallel structures exist at the village level in Nagaland which means the existence of two bodies in the Village. While elections are being conducted through State Election Commission in most of the States, neither this has been mandated nor has the conduct of elections prior to the end of tenure been prescribed under Law.

In Tripura, the District Council has too much control over the Village Committee and this is against the spirit of independent rural self management government system. In fact, the entire philosophy of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is aimed at protection of tribal areas and their interests, by constitutionally mandating district or regional local self government institutions for them and by entrusting the twin task of protecting tribal culture and customs and undertaking developmental tasks for them. But in practice, these objectives have not been reaIised fully in practice. Although theoretically, the powers of a District Council appear more than that are given to the equivalent institution of the District Panchayat in areas covered by the Part IX of the Constitution, these institutions are not well empowered and equipped to handle the issues of the tribes with requisite autonomy.

Seeing the importance of deepening democracy in Schedule areas, it is appropriate to incorporate the principles of decentralised governance within the legal framework set up for each State and each region in the States. The 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) in its Seventh Report entitled ’Capacity Building for Conflict Resolution’ has dealt specially with ’Conflicts in the North East’ focused on : (i) Autonomous District Councils in the Sixth Schedule areas (ii) Village-level seIf-governance therein and (iii) Tribe-specific Councils in Assam.

Demand for Greater Autonomy: AS per the Constitution, Panchayats are mandated to prepare plan for economic development and social justice including 29 subjects listed in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution. Though ADCs have various regulatory powers, subject to the State control, but they would be more advantageous with respect to planning and developmental activities if 73rd Amendment is extended to these areas because ADCs depend on the State Governments for budget requirement. Further, powers of ADCs are not similar in both 6th Schedule area and other areas. For instance, ADCs in Manipur are weak as compared to ADCs in the 6th Schedule areas because the former depend entirely on the state for financial support in taking up developmental activities.

Although tribal system is egalitarian in nature, even then people's participation particularly women is negligible. For instance, in Mizoram, representation of women in majority of the District and Village Councils is below 10 per cent. Besides, women are not only entitled to participate in the decision making as per the aged old ’Ao’ tradition but they cannot be a member of the Village Putu Menden, Gaon Bura traditional systems. In contrast, the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution gives reservation of one-third for the posts of members and chairperson at all levels of Panchayats in the country. Experience shows that over a one-fourth century of the functioning of Panchayats women have been engaged in rural governance through the institutions of Panchayats and there are umpteen success stories they have made in their working.

C. Nunthara conducted a study of three VCs in Mizoram in 2007 and among others, the study concluded that people are not satisfied with the existing system of governance as it is driven by bureaucracy. ”They overwhelmingly support the introduction of Panchayati Raj system as in other states”, the study says.

There are other salient features like elections of Panchayats within six months if dissolved, constitution of State Finance Commission for strengthening financial base of the Panchayats, State Election Commission to conduct elections of Panchayats and preparation of plans for economic development with social justice including 29 subjects listed in the 11th Schedule of the 73rd Amendment Act. Whenever these features are integrated with existing traditional system it would establish de facto rural government in these areas and such system would be a glorious example for the country and the world.

Towards Decentralised Democracy: From the above discussion it emerges that the North-Eastern States have different rural governance structure as compared to rest of the country. Keeping this in view, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj has been engaged in strengthening grassroots democracy in this region of the country. Following are some efforts toward this end.

  1. A consultation process has been initiated with concerned States and Ministries of Government of India.
  2. A inter-ministerial team from Ministries of Panchayati Raj, Home Affairs, Tribal Affairs and Development of North Eastern Region has been visiting these States since August 2010. Draft amendments to laws of ADCs and VCs were made to deepen the process of democracy in these states. Further, laws for forming VCs have also been drafted for adoption in areas where neither VCs nor Gram Panchayat exists. These draft laws and these draft amendments broadly address : (i) Recognition of Gram Sabha and Ward Sabha, make Village Councils accountable to Gram Sabha,(ii) reservation for women (iii), specific functions of Village Councils and Gram Sabha under the law, (iv) regular elections through independent State Election Commission (v), regular meeting of Gram Sabha (vi), rationalization of control of State Government over District and Village Councils, and (vii) constitution of State Finance Commissions.
  3. As an outcome of this initiative and also the visit of the Additional Secretary, MoPR to the three Autonomous District Councils of Mizoram namely Chakma, Lai and Mara, the Councils have amended their laws relating to Village Council and District Council to include the following provisions:
  • A term of five years instead of three years.
  • Conduct of election through State Election Commission
  • Reservation for at least one seat in every Village Council for women.
  • Transparency in supersession.
  • Mandatory eIection in case of supersession within six months.
  • Accountability of Village Councils to Gram Sabha, and functions of Gram Sabha specified under Law.
  • Authorization of State Finance Commission to recommend devolution of funds to District Council and Village Council.
  • Two seats of the nominated seats of the District Council shall be for women.

In August 2012, representatives from Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) and North Cacher Hills District Councils (Dima Hasao) (NCHDC) have met the then Panchayati Raj & Tribal Affairs Minister and expressed the willingness to legislate for elected village councils in line with the principles of Panchayati Raj. The government at the centre should continue this process of interaction for deepening grassroots democracy in these areas.

Conclusion: North-Eastern States have different rural governance structures in the form of ADCs , Dcs and VCs. However, with some exception, they are not upto the expectations of the people of region. There is no effective people's participation in socioeconomic development of the region. Although the Central Government has made some efforts towards deepening democracy in the region, more concerted efforts are required to be made in this regard. The present government in the Centre is in an advantageous position in the Region to put into the practice its popular slogan ’sabkasaathsabakavikas’. The PESA legislation is an important piece of legislation blending traditional practices of tribal with developmental activities in a meaningful way. The experience of the functioning of the PESA in the last two decades can provide guidance in blending traditions with development in Sixth Schedule areas and other tribal areas. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj must address this and make more efforts in extending deepened decentralized democracy through Panchayati Raj system in Sixth Schedule areas and other tribal areas of North East.

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