Dialogue April - June, 2004 , Volume 5 No. 4
Village Panchayats and the Governance in North-East India
Governance is defined as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of country’s economic and social resources (The World Bank). UNDP viewed Governance as the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences.
Democracy derives its strength from the people and people need meaningful participation in local governance to make society vibrant and county prosperous and strong. Making Panchayat institutions of self- governance is the mandate of the constitution of India. The 73rd Constitution Amendment Act ushers in a new era of participation governance towards realizing Gandhiji’s dream and his ideas of Gram Swaraj. Today, Panchayats are the bedrock of India’s rural development and poverty alleviation efforts. It has the potential of building a progressive India in harmony with the felt needs and the aspirations of the people.
There were Panchayat republics in the Vedic age in ancient India. The Vedic Sabha and Samiti were not only elected bodies but also representative in character with full voting rights to women. These institutions could probe into the conduct of kings, the misdeeds of the ministers, the abuse of power by the powerful. An ancient Indian republic was a state where the strong were just and weak secure. The Vedic king was the protector of the people i.e., Janaya Along with that the self-governing institutions of ancient India ran parallel in the villages. They were the backbone of the true Indian democracy.
Between ancient, medieval and modern period, the growth of Panchayats had ups and downs. The famous Mayo’s Resolution of 1870 gave impetus to the development of local institutions by enlarging their powers and responsibilities. In 1882 Lord Riponprovided democratic framework to these institutions. In 1907 the famous Royal Commission on Decentralization was established which gave a boost to the local – self government. There after, came a series of efforts in the form of committee, commission and Act. (The Govt. of India Act, 1911; the Govt. of India Act, 1935). However, the colonial rulers could not promote much to local self-government.
Panchayats were included in Article 40 under the Directive Principles of the Constitution of India. Just after independence, Gandhiji urged that India’s independence must begin at the bottom, so that the character of India’s independence as conceived by the Congress was based on Village autonomy. The Post- independence phase of Panchayat Raj is marked with significant developments. In an attempt to usher in socio – economic and cultural transformation in the country side, in 1952, the Government of India launched a comprehensive Community Development Programme encompassing almost all activities of rural development. However, the Programme could not make much headway in fulfilling the dreams of the rural masses. In order to examine the causes for its failure, the govt. of India constituted a high power study team in 1957, headed by Balwant Rai Mehta, a member of Parliament. The team observed that the failure of the Community Development Programme was due to the conspicuous absence of people’s participation. In order to secure people’s participation, the team suggested that “a set of institutional arrangements would have to be created. This resulted in the creation of a ‘three tier’ system of Panchayati Raj Insitution to organize and manage the rural development programmes. Thus began a new experiment in the sphere of rural development through the participation of people. By 1959, all the states, had passed Panchayat Acts and by mid 1990s Panchayats had reached all the parts of the country. The frame-work of new institutional arrangement comprised “Village Panchayat” at the base,, “Panchayat Samities” at the middle and “Zilla Parishad”at the apex level.
But the interest and the support for Panchayat did not last long. The apathy towards Panchayat started growing. The central government headed by then Prime Minister of India, Morarji Desai appointed another committee under the Chairmanship of Sri Ashok Mehta in 1977, to report on the status of Panchayati Raj institutions and sugest measures for their revitalization. The committee recommended constitutional status to the Panchayats, participation of political parties in Panchayat elections, adoption of a two– tier system at District and Mandal level and establishment of a finance body like Panchayati Raj Finance Corporation for providing credit to the Panchayats. The Gram Sabha has been removed from Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in India. The removal of Gram Sabha has distanced the people at the grass–root level from the PRIs and within a short period the entire PRI became inactive and moribund in almost all states.
In order to reinvigorate and revitalize Panchayats, the govt. of India had again appointed G.V.K. Rao committee (1985) and L.M Shingvi committee (1986). Both the committees recommended, inter–alia, the following:
i). To grant constitutional status to the Panchayats;
ii). Devolution of financial resources to the PRIs;
iii). Conversion of PRIs from two – tier to three-tier by reintroducing Gram Sabha in the structure.
On the recommendation of the G.V.K. Rao (1985) and L.M Shingri (1986) committees, the Rajiv Gandhi Government in 1989 introduced a Bill for amending the constitution for giving constitutional status to Panchayats, But he failed to pass through the Bill. It was P.V Narashimha Rao Government who could amend the constitution in 1992 by introducing 73rd Amendment to the constitution alongwith the Nagarpalika 74th Amendment Act.
Thus, the Panchayati Raj institution became a constitutional machinery for rural administration in India. The tribal dominated states under 5th and 6th schedules of the constitution were, however, given option either to introduce Panchayati Raj insitutution or to continue with their traditional self-government institutions. All the states of India including 5th and 6th schedule states except Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram amended their Panchayati Raj Act to accommodate the provision of the 73rd Amendment Act.
The North –East India consists of seven states of Indian Union, viz. Assam. Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagland and Tripura covering 8 Percent of the total geographical area and 3.78 percent of the total population of the country.
A large part of the North – East India is governed by the fifth and sixth schedules of the constitution of India. The Panchatyats (Extension to the schedule areas ) Act, 1996 extends the 73rd Amendment: to the fifth schedule areas. Three states viz. Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya,which are covered by the sixth schedule are exempted from the purview of the 73rd Amendment. The sixth schedule envisages establishment of Autonomous district councils. These councils have been given legislative, administrative and Judicial powers under the sixth schedule. No law of the centre or the state in respect of the legislative powers conferred on the Autonomous District Councils could be extended to those areas without their prior approval. The district councils are also empowered to constitute Village councils and also Village courts. While the Autonomous District Councils have the advantage of legislative powers which the PRIs do not have, the Autonomous District Councils do not make provision for reservation for women, several important powers such as social forestry management which have been provided by the 73rd Amendment are attached in the PRIs.
Grass root Governance in Assam
Historically Assam had a mosaic of tribal and non-tribal institutions. It was principally the system prevailing under the Ahoms which provided the background to the evolution of Panchayati Raj institutions in the state.
The promulgation of the Assam Local Self-Government Act, 1915 brought about a change of approach. The act provided for the establishment of the Village Panchayat, for the first time on a formal and legal basis. It also provided for an elective non-official majority in the Panchayat and for the election of non-Officials as Chairpersons and Vice-chairpersons. The act delegated powers and functions to the Village authorities relating to Village sanitation, village works, etc. In 1926 another act was passed as a Panchayat act because of the failure of the Panchayat scheme under the 1915 act. The functions of the Village authority under the act of 1926 were listed as water supply, medical relief and sanitation. The outcome of the act of 1926 was that some Village authorities were found to exist only on paper, and out of those that functioned, a sizeable number turned out to be ineffective for want of suitable machinery and necessary resources. Thus, despite formal establishment, Panchayat institutions under the British proved to be a dismal failure.
Post Independence Period
In the post independence period, Assam was one of the pioneering states to introduce Panchayati Raj by enacting Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1948. It provided for the division of rural Assam into Panchayat areas, with each area consisting of a number of villages and each village having a primary Panchayat. All adult residents of a primary Panchayat area were made voters. The act provided that primary Panchayats would have executive bodies. This was a notable improvement on the earlier position. By 1959, however, of the total 742 rural Panchayats that were to be constituted under this act, only 422 ( with 2,657 primary Panchayats) could be established.
On the recommendation of Balwant Rai Mehta committee Report, the Panchayati Rai system was introduced in the country and Assam was one of the states which framed a new Panchayati Raj Act, 1959, replacing the earlier Act, and a three-tier Panchayati system consisting of the Gram Panchayat at the Village level, Anchalic Panchayat at the intermediate level (co-terminus with the CD block) and Mahkuma Parishad at the Taluka or Sub-divisional level were constituted. The Assam Panchayati Raj Act covered the plain districts of the state and the Hill Autonomous Districts and villages located in the tea garden areas were excluded from the purview of the Act. With the introduction of the new act, the then existing local boards were abolished.
The act of 1959, amended in 1964, was repealed after the adoption of the Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1972. Through this Act, the PR system in Assam was reverted back to the two–tier system, the Goan Panchayat (GP) at the village level with the population size ranging from 15,000-20,000 and Mahkum Parishad (MP) at the apex level. Due to the increase in the size of the Goan Panchayat, the number of GPs was reduced to 714 and the number of MPs was 32. The act also brought under its coverage the villages located in the Tea-garden areas.
The state government once again made amendments to the earlier Panchayati Raj Act and introduced a new Act in 1986 replacing the 1972 Act. The new Act became operative with effect from 5th September 1990 only. With this new act the state again reverted to a three–tier set up – Goan Panchayat with 6000 – 10,000 Population size; Anchalik Panchayat (at the block level) and Mahkuma Parishad at the sub-divisional level. In February 1992, the first elections under the act of 1986 were held. For the earlier elections, the electoral rolls of the Assam Legislative assembly had served as the voters list for Goan Panchayat and Mahkuma Parsihads. Due to various reasons, most importantly, the controversy over an acceptable electoral roll in the wake of the movement against the presence of foreign nationals in Assam, Panchayat elections had been stalled for more than a decade.
As a sequel to the 73rd Amendment, the Assam Government enacted the Panchayat Act,1994 which covers almost all the features of the 73rd Amendment. The PR system continues to be the three-tier with a modification i,e, in place of Mahkuma Parishad there shall be Zilla Parishad at the District level. The reservation for women was increased from 30 % (as per the 1986 Act) to 33.3 percent in the 1994 Act. Reservation for the SCS/STs in non Autonomous district council (ADC) area shall be in proportion to their population. The Act provides all the 29 items as per the eleventh schedule to be transfereed to PRIs. At the Goan Panchayat and Anchalik Panchayat levels there shall be three standing committees. The three standing committees at the GP level shall be – a). Development Committee; b). Social Justice Committee; and c). Social Welfare Committee. At AP level, the three committees shall be a). General Standing Committee; b). Finance, Audit and Planning Committee; and c). Social Justice Committee. The Zilla Parishad shall have four Committees a). General Standing Committees; b). Financial and Audit Committee; c). Social Justice Committee; and d). Planning and Development Committee.
The 1994 Act provides for the constitution of District Planning Committee. The Zilla Parishad Chairman shall be the Ex-Officio Chairman and CEO of Zilla Parishad shall be the ex-officio Secretary of the DPC. MPs, MLAs, Mayor /Chairman of the Zilla Parishad standing committee shall be the members. The Deputy Commissioner shall be the permanent invitee in the DPC.
In conformity with the 73rd constitutional Amendment, the Act of 1994, has provided for the constitution of a State Finance Commission covering Panchayat institutions and Municipalities. The Finance Commission has been constituted and it had submitted its report to the state govt.
A state Election Commission was also constituted for holding elections to the Panchayats and Municipal Bodies. After a long pending Panchayat election was held in 2002 and Panchayat has been constituted all over the state except in the Hill Autonomous District Council Areas.
Panchayat Raj in Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh was created out of the frontier tribal areas of Assam. It was formerly known as North–East Frontier Agency (NEFA). It was made an union territory in 1972 and given its present name – Arunachal Pradesh (Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains) . In 1987, it became a state. The state is surrounded on three sides by the international border with Bhutan to the west, China to the north and Burma to the east and Assam to the South. It is the only hill state in North-Eastern Region which introduced a Panchayat system as early as in 1969, under the NEFA Panchayati Raj Regulation 1967. The state has a large number of tribes, like Adi, Nishi, Apatani, Tagin, Mishimi, Khampti, Nocte, Wancho, Tangsha, Singpho, Monpa, Sherdukpen and Aka. Traditionally, the tribal people had been managing their affairs through Village Councils, certain tribes even developed into some sort of Anchal councils (for example in Bango Kebang and the Bogum Bokang Kebang of the Adis) operating above the Village level. However, these councils lacked uniformity at different stages of development.
Under the NEFA Panchayati Raj Regulation 1967, a three-tier structure was consitued on 2nd October 1968. It comprised Gram Panchayat at the Village level, Anchal Samities at the anchal level and Zilla Parishad at district level.
The Gram Panchayat consisted of one to ten members directly elected by the villagers. Each hundred villagers has one member. Each Gram Panchayat was to have a minimum of three hundred electors. There was no provision for a Chairman of a Gram Panchayat.
Each Gram Panchayat in the anchal elected one of its members to the Anchal Samiti, which had a maximum of twenty-five members. These members elect their vice– president from amongst themselves. Besides the elected members, the Anchal Samiti could have a maximum of five members nominated by the Deputy Commissioner from among the tribes not represented by the elected members. The Deputy Commissioner of the district could appoint the Sub-divisional Officer or any other Officer of the same rank as the President of the Anchal Samiti, and another Junior Officer, not below the rank of a circle Officer, as its executive Officer .
The Anchal Samiti had wide-ranging financial powers and in fact regulated the flow of resources for various development schemes. It also co-ordinated the activities of the Gram Panchayats. That it had an Official as its President and acted generally under the influence of its Official members, however, meant that it would not always exercise this supreme authority in the best interest of its constituents.
The Zilla Parshads consisted of all the Vice –Presidents of the Anchal samities, one elected representative each from the Anchal Samities and not more than six members nominated by the Deputy Commissioner of the district form among the tribes who have not secured representation in the Zilla Parishad. The Deputy Commissioner of the District is the ex-officio Chairman of the Zilla Parishad. The term of Office of the panchayat were three years. The Zilla Parishad was mainly an advisory body and had no executive function.
In view of the dominant position that officials continued to occupy in the Panchayati Raj bodies at all the three levels and the influence they exercised in these councils, it would be unrealistic to call them self-governing institutions in the real sense of the term. Arunachal Pradesh has a population below twenty lakh. Therefore, it had the option of constituting only two tiers under the constitution 73rd amendment Act, 1992, but an ordinance framed on 18th April 1994, that is, the Arunachal Pradesh Panchayat Raj ordinance, included the constitution of three tiers in the state.
The passage of the 73rd constitutional Amendment Act 1992 created a unique situation in Arunachal Pradesh. To meet the requirement of the 73rd Amendment Act, the Arunachal Pradesh Government issued the Arunachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj ordinance 1994 replacing the NEFA Panchayati Raj Regulation 1967 to meet the requirements of an Amendment Act.
The ordinance was sought to be replaced by the Arunachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj Bill 1994 passed by the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly in September 1994. It contained the same provisions as in the Panchayati Raj Ordinance. However, the Bill could not become an Act as the Govenor of Arunachal Pradesh reserved it for the assent of the President of India. The President of India did not give assent to the Bill remitted it to the Legislative Assembly with the observation that (1). It does not provide for Gram Sabha, and that (2). It does not provide for reservation for scheduled castes.
The State Legislative assembly reconsidered the Bill in March 1997 and modified it to provide for a Gram Sabha at the lowest level of Panchayats but it did not agree to make a provision for reservation for scheduled castes on the plea that Arunachal Pradesh does not have any scheduled caste population. The negligible scheduled caste population (0.47% as per the 1991 census) in the state is only floating population and is mainly concentrated in urban areas. The bill was sent again to the President of India in April 1997. It is now awaiting the President’s assent.
Meanwhile the Arunachal Pradesh Governor trice extended the life of the Panchayat bodies elected in 1992 under the NEFA Panchayat Raj Regulation 1967, first time in August 1995 for one year and then in September 1996 and in March 1997 extending it for six months each time. The original term of Panchayats were three years. It was extended upto five years with the plea that the 73rd Amendment Act, 1992 makes an uniform 5 years term for the Panchayats, throughout the country, overlooking the fact that it does not allow any extension of terms of the Panchayats elected under the existing Acts. It only allows them to complete the term if it extends beyond 1994.
Hence, on 14th September 1997 on completion of the two-year term of the Panchayats, the state government ordered their dissolution. Thus, the 73rd Amendment Act has created an entirely reverse position of its intended objectives of strengthening and ensuring introduction of Panchayats in every state. In Arunachal Pradesh, it had led to a situation where existing Panchayats are also eliminated. This probably is a violation of the 73rd Amendment Act and thus constitution of India. There are however, frequent and ever increasing demand from the people to restore the Panchayats in the state as soon as possible.
Panchayats in Manipur
Manipur came under British rule as a princely state in 1891. The Manipur Constitution Act, 1947, established a democratic form of government with the Maharajah as the executive head and a legislature constituted by election based on adult franchise. The Legislative Assembly so constituted was dissolved on the integration of the state with the Dominion of India in October 1949. It became as a part ‘C’ state under the Indian constitution with effect from 26-1-1950. Manipur achieved full statehood on January 21, 1972.
Manipur is geographically divided into the hills and the centrally situated valley. The Hill areas are inhabited predominantly by the Naga and Kuki tribes with a sprinkling of the Nepalese in the immediate neighborhood of the valley. In the valley live Meiteis, (Manipuri Hindus), Pangals (Manipuri Muslims), the Nepalese, and the Business communities like Marwaris, Punjabis, Biharis and so on. The Barak basin is inhabited by the Meiteis and the Bengalis.
The Panchayati Raj institutions were functioning only in the valley districts and Jiribam sub-division. In the hill districts, there were village authorities, almost similar to village Panchayats, functioning under the provisions of the 1956 Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act.
Evolution of Panchayats
Traditional form of Panchayats had been existing both in the valley and hill areas of Manipur from time immemorial. In the villages of valley there were institution viz, Singlup or wood clubs, resembling the Panchayats of Bengal, under the Sirdar or head of village. Besides generally controlling village affairs, these singlups used to adjudicate petty disputes in the villages.
In December 1896, the singlups were replaced by Panchayats. These Panchayats were constituted with five members. These members were remunerated through free grant of land up to a maximum of 25 pari/hectare. In 1906 a cash payment of 15 rupees per month for each Panchayat member was sanctioned in addition to the free grant of land. These Panchayats had the power to impose fines up to fifty rupees, and of deciding civil suits involving a value of fifty rupees or less.
The apex Panchayat at Imphal, known as Sadar Panchayat, adjudicated in civil cases of appeals from the village Panchayats besides looking after the civil cases of the Imphal area.
Under the Manipur State Courts Act, 1947, Vilalge Panchayats were conferred with the powers of the lowest court for the administration of Justice in criminal and civil cases.
Modern Panchayat System
The Panchayat system in Manipur was introduced in 1960 under the provisions of the United Provinces Panchayat Raj Act 1947, which was extended to the state. Under the Act, a two-tier system was introduced in the state. The state govt. enacted the Manipur Panchayati Raj Act in 1975 which provided a three tier system of Panchayat in the state comprising Gram Panchayats at the Gram Sabha level, Panchayat Samities at the block level and Zilla Parishads at the district levels, besides Nyaya Panchayats for judicial purposes.
After the election in 1978, 167 Gram Panchayats, 37 Nyaya Panchayats and 6 Panchayat Samities were constituted. Though the act provided for the establishment of three-tier system of Panchayats, only Gram Panchayats and Panchayat Samities were constituted.
The Act provides for the establishment of a Gram Fund and Panchayat Samiti fund raised through taxation, donations and contributions from the state and central governments. The state govt. allocated funds for the development of Panchayati Raj institutions under the five year plans. Gram Panchayats received funds directly from the central govt. and from state government for executing various rural and community development schemes.
Post 73rd Amendment Developments
In conformity with the 73rd constitution Amendment Act of 1992, the Manipur Panchayati Raj Act 1994 was passed on 23rd April 1994 by repealing the Act of 1975. The new Act has provided for the constitution of a two-tier Panchayati Raj in the valley areas, the Gram Sabha at the village level and Zilla Parishad at the district level. The Act of 1994 was amended substantially in 1996 to accommodate gram sabha at the village level having population of not less than 3000 and not more than 6000.
District Councils in the Hill Areas
In the hill area of Manipur, district councils under the sixth schedule are in existence. As such, these areas are outside the purview of part IX of the constitution.
Local Self – Governance in Tripura
Tripura is the second smallest state in India. It was formally declared a Union Territory on November 1, 1957 and elevated to the status of a full-fledged state on January 21, 1972.
The PR system in Tripura was initially guided by the United Province Panchayat Raj Act, 1947, and Goan Sabhas in development blocks were constituted in a phased manner. As the ambit of the Gram Panchayats activatees and their effectiveness increased and participation of the villagers became more intensive, the state govt. felt it necessary to enact a new Legislation. The Tripura Panchayats Act, 1983, was brought into force in January 1984, replacing the United Provinces Panchayat Raj Act, 1947.
Tripuraa has a long history of good local self governance. Where a single tier system of Panchayati Raj was started at the village level. The Gram Panchayat is the executive body of the Goan Sabhas constituted through open election by raising hands. Naya Panchayat was also formed at circle level by comprising several Goan Sabhas.
The Tripura Panchayat Act, 1993 established a three-tier structure in the state with the Gram Panchayat as the lowest tier, the Panchayat Samitis at the block level and Zilla Parshad at the district level. The Act also provides for a Gram Sabha which shall meet annually to consider matters relating to accounts, budget, and report of development works in the Gram Panchayat.
The State also set up the Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TAADC) in 1982 under the sixth schedule of the constitution and it provides for separate elections to village councils.
Gram Sabhas are there irrespective of schedule or non-schedule area. Hence, Tripura’s local self governance is quiet unique. The members of Gram Sabha in Tripura have never been silent observer. They actively participate in almost all the village affairs like crime and punishment, guarding the villages and forests, resolving community conflicts, land alienation and management matters, general cleanliness of the village and other service areas like cleaning the local health centre. Gram Sabhas are capable of determining and analyzing the resources they have including opportunities as well as problems and obstacles to development.
Traditional Institutions and District Councils of Meghalaya
Meghalaya, literally ‘the abode of the clouds’ was inaugurated as an autonomous state on April 2, 1970. It was declared as state on January 21, 1972. Khasi, Jaintia and Garo are the three major tribes and other smaller tribes are Hajong, Rabha, Delu, Babai and Mann.
There are three District councils under the sixth schedule of the constitution covering 7 districts of the state.
Garo Hills, below the level of District Council there is an institution called Lasker which is recognized by the District Council as a traditional body. During the colonial rule they were under the control of the Deputy Commissioner. They have Executive function both and Judiciary function within their area. In Garo Hills there is another institution at the village level called Nokma. Nokma who holds control over clan land is called A’king Nokma and there are village level Sardars to assist the Nokmas in day to day village administration. The Nokmas and Sardars to are under the administrative control of the District council. Nokmanship is inherited by the clan members under the District council administration, the A’king Nokmas have been reduced to mere custodians and supervisors of their A’kings on behalf of their wives and their clans. However, the Garo Hills District (Jhum) Regulation Act, 1954, conferred on the A’king Nokmas the right to allot land for jhumming to each family within his A’king in consultation with the residents thereof. But in the event of any dispute with regard to the land so allotted by the A’king Nokma to any particular person or a family, the matter has to be referred to the village council, a power which was earlier exercised by the A’king Nokma.
The Garo Hills Autonomous District Council passed the Constitution of Village Council Act in 1958 in order to establish and develop local self government in the rural areas and to make better provisions for rural administration and to develop them as self-sufficient units. A village council was constituted for each village and group of villages. There was a President and a Secretary for each village council. The duties and functioned allocated to the Village Council included: cleaning and lighting of village roads and paths; sanitation, construction, maintenance and improvement of public wells and tanks; preventive measures in case of epidemic, opening and regulation of burial and creruation ground and places for disposal of dead animals, construction and maintenance of places for the storage of cowdung and other manures, maintenance of record of population census, census of unemployed persons and landless persons and persons having no economic holdings and other statistics; construction; maintenance and improvement of village communication, drains and water-ways ; control of village grazing grounds; village common and other communal property; the relief of the poor victims of famine, flood and other calamities; regulating slaugter houses; controlling and maintenance of owned or transferred buildings, institutions or property; regulating the construction of new building or houses or extension or alteration of existing one; Primary School education. Registration of births and deaths.
Khasi and Jaintias
In the Khasi Hills the syiem is recognized as traditional institution who holds office usually for life but in some cases for short period of five years. The syiem is elected in accordance with the customary law and practice by traditional executive called myntris. The institution is under the administrative control of the District Councils.
In the Jaintia Hills District also there is a traditional authority called Doloi who functions more or less on the same pattern of syiems among the Khasis. A district council for the then Khasi and Jaintia Hills District was inaugurated in 1952. The United Khasi Jaintia Hills Autonomous District (Appointment and Succession of Chiefs and Headman) Act, 1959 (hereafter referred to as the Principal Act), made provision not only for its authority to appoint the chiefs and headmen, but also that of the removal and suspension of the same by the executive committee of the district council, if in its opinion, these incumbents violated, the terms and conditions of their appointment. This act not only brought radical changes in the pattern and procedure of the election and appointment of chiefs, but also reduced their position and status.
According to Article 243 M of the constitution, the provisions relating to Panchayati Raj institution are not applicable to Meghalaya. Hence constitution 73rd Amendment does not apply to Meghalaya.
Local self-governance in Mizoram
Mizoram, in the local language, means the land of Mizos. ‘Mizo’ itself means highlander. Under the British administration, Mizoram was know as Lushai Hills District. In 1954 by an Act of Parliament the name was changed to Mizo Hills District. In 1972, when it was made a Union Territory, it was named Mizoram. Mizoram became 23rd state of Indian Union on 20.2.1987. The Mizos have various tribes viz, the Lushais, Pawis, Paites, Raltes, Hmars, Kukis, Maras, Lakhers etc. Mizoram has democratically elected Village Councils since 1954 which have been set up by the enactments of the District Council as per sub-clause (e) of the clause (3) of the sixth schedule to the Constitution of India with a very limited functions and powers mostly administrative and judicial of petty nature. The Lushai Hills District (Village Councils) Act 1953 and the Pawi-Lakher Autonomous Region (Village Council) Act 1994 have been adopted by the Govt. of Mizoram and the District Councils (Mara District Council, Lai District Council and Chakma District Council) since 1972. The provisions of the Acts are amended by an executive/ administrative orders of the government and District Councils.
The 73rd Constitutional Amendments Act does not apply to Mizoram.
Village Councils of Nagaland
The Nagaland state comprises of the former Naga Hills district of Assam and the former Tuensang Frontier division of the North East Frontier Agency. These were made a Centrally Administered Area in 1957. In January 1961, it became the state of Nagaland. The state of Nagaland was officially inaugurated on 1st December 1963. The population of Nagaland is entirely tribal. There are as many as 16 tribes and among the Nagas with their own distinctive languages and cultural features. The major tribes are Angami, Rengma, Sema, Lotha, Zaliang, Ao, Chang, Sangtam, Khemnungan, Yimchunger, Phom, Konyak, Dimasa Kachari and Kuki.
Village level institutions have been strong in Nagaland. Since time immemorial Naga villages were independent in nature. There had been two major forms of village governments in Naga society, viz. democratic and autocratic. For instance, the Angamis, the Aos, the Chakhesang, the Kacharis etc, have democratic form of government where as the Kukis, the Semas, and the Konyaks practiced autocratic type of village government. The governments were run without written laws. However, the customary laws and usages were strictly adhered to. Even today customary laws are considered as the guiding principles of life in society.
Traditionally, life in every village in Nagland is managed by a council of elders – village council. Village organization in Nagaland is primarily based on institution of clan. A clan is a group of families amongst whom inter-marriage is strictly prohibited. It is the basic unit of the society Two or more such clan form a Naga village. Geographically a Naga village is divided into Khels (wards or sectors) which indicates a cluster of families.
The history records that Naga villages were organized as small states or republics. However, there was no uniform legal system of village government in Naga society till 1970. After realizing the importance of village government, the state government of Nagaland passed an Act known as Nagaland Village, Area and Regional Council Act, 1970. Thereafter, it was further amended in 1973 and 1978 as Nagaland Village and Area Council Act with a view to bringing uniformity in Village Council structure all over Nagaland. A Village Council consists of members chosen by villagers in accordance with the prevailing customary practices and usages, the same being approved by the state government, provided that hereditary village chiefs, Goan Booras (GBs) and Angs shall be e-officio members of such councils and shall have voting rights. The village council will choose a member as Chairman of the council. The Village council may select and appoint a Secretary who may or may not be a member of the council. If the Secretary is not a member of the council, he shall have no voting power.
Powers and Duties
The Village Council has the following powers and duties.
1. to formulate village development schemes , to supervise proper maintenance of water supply, roads, forest, education and other welfare activities,
2. to help various govt. agencies in carrying out development works in the village,
3. to take development works on its own initiative or on request by the government.
4. to borrow money from the government, Banks or financial institution for application in the development and welfare work of the village and to repay the same with or without interest,
5. to apply for and receive grant–in–aid, donations, subsidies from the government or any agencies,
6. to provide security for due repayment of loan received by any permanent resident of the village from the government, Banks or financial institutions.
7. to lend money from its funds to deserving permanent residents of the village and to obtain repayment thereof with or without interest.
8. to forfeit the security of the individual borrower on his default in repayment of loan advanced to him or on his commission of a breach of any of the terms of loan agreement entered into by him with the council and to dispose of such security by public auction or by private sale.
9. to enter into any loan agreement with the government, Bank and financial institutions or a permanent resident of the village.
10. to realize registration fee for each litigation within its jurisdiction;
11. to raise fund for utility service within the village by passing a resolution subject to the approval of the state government; provided that all monetary transactions shall be conducted through a scheduled Bank or the Nagaland state Co-operative Bank;
12. to constitute village Development Board;
13. power to do certain acts on the event of epidemic. On the outbreak of an epidemic or infectious disease village council shall initiate all preventive measure.
Administration of Justice
The Village council can administer justice within the jurisdiction of the village, in accordance with the customary law and usages as accepted by the canons of justice established in Nagaland, and the law in this respect as enforced from time to time. In case of disputes between villages falling in different areas or districts, two or more village council may settle dispute in a joint session or refer it to the appropriate authority.
The village council is authorized to act as the supporting agent to the government in the village administration which includes the following:
a). Maintenance of law and order;
b). In serious case offender may be arrested but such person should be handed over to the nearest Administrative Officer or Police Station without undue delay;
c). to report to the nearest Administrative Officer of occurrence of any un- natural death or serious accident;
d). to inform the presence of strangers, vagabonds or suspects to the nearest Administrative Officer or Police Station;
e). to enforce order passed by the competent authority on the village as a whole;
f). to report outbreak of epidemics to the nearest Administrative Officer or Medical Officer;
g). no transfer of immovable property shall be effected without the concent of the village council. Written record of this shall be maintained by the village council.
At the circle level there was Area council. Area council was a council constituted by the representative sent by each village council within the circle. Area council is an intermediary body in between district and village. However, Area council has been eliminated since 1990.
Village Development Boards (VDBs)
In accordance with the Nagaland Village Area and Regional Council Act 1970(Amended in 1973 and 1978) VDB came into existence in 1980,as a subsidiary to Village Council. At present Nagaland has 1045 recognized villages and each village has a Village Council to look after law and order situation of the village and a VDB to undertake developmental activities of the village. VDB deliver developmental works to the village through centrally sponsored Schemes as well as State govt. Schemes.
The constitution 73rd Amendment Act does not apply to the state of Nagaland.
Comparison between Panchayats, Districts Council and traditional Institutions
Making Phanchayat institution of self governance is the mandate of the constitution. The 73rd constitution Amendment Act ushers in a new era of participatory governance towards realizing Gandhiji’s dream and his ideas of Gram Swaraj.
The objective of the 73rd Amendment Act to the Constitution is the devolution of power, where as Village Council Acts do not stipulate the same. The village Councils thus have no comparison with constitutional provisions relating to Panchayats. When all the provisions of the 73rd Amendment about the powers, scope of function and financial support for the exercises of the powers and discharge of the responsibilities by the Panchayat bodies are compared with those attached to the District Councils attached to the sixth schedule area, it is found that while the District Councils have several regulatory powers subject to state government control, the PRIs are in more advantageous position in respect of developmental functions. The sources of income of district councils are a less stable. Infact, they are solely at the mercy of the state government, whereas the Panchayat bodies are entitled to get funds from the state and central government under several schemes, in addition, to their own regular sources of income by taxation, mobilization of locally available resources, and the like. To prevent the Panchayat bodies from falling into financial Starvation Financial Commission has been established. In case the Panchayat bodies are dissolved, the 73rd Amendment to the constitution stipulates that they must be reconstituted within a period of six months from the date of their dissolution. In the case of district councils, fresh elections can be held subject to the approval of the state legislature within a period not exceeding twelve months. Moreover, where as there is a provision of reservation of seats for women in Panchayat bodies, their representation is neglected in the traditional institutions and in the District Council.
Corruption: a major threat to development
The overriding issue of corruption has emerged as problem number one in the country. It is now being accepted all over that one of the major drawbacks of the process of development planning has been corruption in rural development works, even at the high levels of bureaucracy and political leadership.
In the north-eastern region the pace of development is comparatively slower in case of District Councils in comparison to the Panchayat areas, which is mainly due to rampant corruption.
In tribal areas the elite class of the people or the local leaders are emerging as an opportunist class and they take the largest share of benefits depriving the poorest section of the society.
Panchayats are party based and it is the ruling party that dominates. However, since the members are from different political parties there is scope to take meticulous measures to prevent or reduce corruption. In Tripura, common people’s feeling is that the distribution of social goods and benefits are always partial, i.e. the party supporters get the priority in the matter of such benefits; then it is given to the party sympathizers and the rest are deprived of such benefits. This is the general remark made by the opposition party members and a section of the people. Same is true in the case of Assam. In Assam, there are allegations of misuse of rural development fund at the top level. It is alleged that bureaucrats, Panchayat Sabhapatis are engaged in corruption and earning disproportionate property with the help of local MLAs/politicians and bureaucrats. In Nagaland, common people feel that hardly 10 percent of development fund goes for developmental works. When the VDB workers blame the rural development officials of misusing and sharing of their development fund, the officials counteract by accusing them of mis-utilization of development funds. There are reports and allegations from Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh also of channelizing development fund to the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats.
Rural reconstruction can be achieved through changing the mindset of the rural people, particularly that of the marginalized sections. They should not consider themselves merely as a cog in the wheel, but as the cornerstone of the governing system. This could only happen when they become participators in decentralized governance, planning and development. Governance from grass root level gives much scopes for development, but lack of awareness among the poor, manipulation and exploitation of the masses by the local elite are blocking the benefits of development from reaching to the most needy rural people. It is one of the saddest part of our development endeavor. However, people are the real witness, guard and also the beneficiaries of their development projects. So, they have to be cautious. As Rabindra Nath Tagore said: “There is no power which can awaken you from outside. The awakening can come only from within you through your own united strength…….”.
1. Task Force on Panchayati Raj, Rajvi Gandhi Foundation, March 2000,New Delhi.
2. The North-east Frontier Agency Panchayati Raj Regulation 1967.
3. Govt. of Manipur, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Imphal, (1989).
4. Govt. of Manipur, A Note on Panchayati Raj in Manipur, Imphal.
5. The United Province Panchayati Raj Act, 1947 as extended to the union territory of Manipur (1960).
6. The Manipur Panchayat Raj Act, 1975.
7. The Manipur Panchayat Raj Act, 1994.
8. The Manipur State Hill People’s (Administration) Regulation, 1947.
9. The Manipur (Village authorities in Hill areas) Act 1956.
10.The Manipur Hill Areas (Acquisition of chiefs’ Rights Act) 1967.
11.The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act,1972.
12.The Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Amended Act 1983.
13.The Constitution 73rd Amendment Act,1992.on Panchayat
14.Prasad R. N “Democratic Decentralization through Phanchayati Raj Administration : A study of its prospects in Mizoram (in) Administrative Review, Annual Issue,1995, a Journal of Indian Institute of Public Administration, Aizawal local branch.
15.Mizoram Administrative Reforms Commissions, Govt. of Mizoram.
16.Nagaland Village and Area Council Act, 1978.
17.Village Development Board Model Rules, 1980, Govt. of Nagaland.
18.Rao, V. Venkata, “A Century of Tribal Politics in North-East India, 1874-1974, S.Chand & Company Ltd, New Delhi 1100555.
19.Declaration and Charter of Demands, National Convention of Panchayat Representatives in New Delhi, 22-23 December 2001.
20.Status of Panchayati Raj in the States and Union Territories of India, 2000, Institute of Social Sciences New Delhi.
21.Bhargava, B. S, 1979, Panchayati Raj System and Political Parties, New Delhi, Ashish Publishing House;
22.Rajput, R.S. and D.R. Meghe (eds), 1984, Panchayati Raj in India, New Delhi, Deep & Deep Publications.
23.Sharma, S.C., 1986,Tai Ahom System of government, Delhi, BR Publication Corporation ;
24.Venkata Rao,V and Niru Hazarika, 1986, Local Self-Government in India, New Delhi, S. Chand & Company.
25.World Bank, World Development Report, 2001, Building Institutions for Markets, The World Banks, Washington.
26.Civil Society and Good Governance, Gupta, V.S., Kurukshetra, July 2003.
|Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati|