Dialogue April - June, 2004 , Volume 5 No. 4
The 6th Schedule and I
The Khasi Students Union (KSU) celebrated its 25th Anniversary and the 15th death Anniversary of Syiem Wickliffe through a Symposium to deliberate on the continued relevance of the Autonomous District Councils. The Symposium was held on the 21st Oct 2003 at the Talents Club premises ,Shillong. An impressive array of resource persons ranging from octogenarian politicians , academicians , journalists and social workers spoke on the occasion. A few significant aspects of the meet was immediately obvious to all. Firstly this call by the KSU indicated the growing impatience of the younger generation over issues of governance and administration, especially issues that affect the very essence of Tribal identity and culture. The issue of identity is a sensitive subject - proven time and again. That the Khasi student body should now call for a critical review of the very institution entrusted with the responsibility to protect the Identity and Culture of the Khasis, speaks volumes of the negative image projection the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) of Meghalaya have made. Secondly though the meet was called by the KSU, a student body, the topic for discussion was considered serious enough to attract the attention and interest of a large cross section of Meghalayan society. As mentioned above, the very fact that an elderly and experienced politician in the likes of Shri J.E.Tariang consented to attend and address the he meet and that the moderator of the meet should belong to the staid Khasi Authors Association is indicative enough of the importance people attach to the theme under discussion. The composition of the audience ranging from heads of traditional institutions, elderly matrons, youths, chauvinistic peddlers of ethnicity and state Padmashrees etc only served to confirm the degree of interest the subject roused .
In Khasi, the theme of the meet was titled Ka District Council- dang donkam ne ym donkam shuh which translated to English comes out as District Councils whether still needed or not. Surprisingly the theme was limited to only these two options to continue or to do away with the ADCs. The possible existence of a third option just never did seem to occur to anyone. Some of the speakers did point out the need for caution and prudence before any call is made for the elimination of the ADCs , but even these timid souls restricted their observations to the existing structure of the ADCs. This limited approach to the subject was one of the rather disappointing features of the discussions of which we shall return to later. The other disappointing trait that characterised the entire proceedings was a universal tendency of each speaker to delve exhaustively into history and into the past. Almost all the speakers, with Mr B. Lanong an exception, went into detailed explanations of how the 6th Schedule came about.
History in this case may have been relevant but it certainly was not pertinent enough to have been pursued to the point of utter boredom! Speaker after speaker went on and on and on about the greatness of our past . OK once upon a time we may have been giants and walked tall on this planet ,so what ? As a community we are usually so obsessed with the assumed unwritten greatness of our past that we often forget that we live in an uncomfortable, insecure present and that there is also an unforgiving tomorrow to whom we are answerable to. We must certainly learn from the past but the time to move on ; to look ahead ; to plan for the future is now upon us. No time now for nostalgia. Our destiny as a community shall lie in our ability to articulate a vision for our future as a community rather than indulging in hollow glorification of our past. Birbal in his column (Meghalaya Guardian 24th Oct 2003) calls this tendency to glorify the past as a trait of Prehistoric Communities. A more plausible down to earth explanation may perhaps lie in the fact that for an insecure and nervous society, the past with all its wisdom of hindsight is a definitely more comfortable platform than facing the unknown challenges of the future. Can this tendency be defined as The Meghalayan psyche ? If so, the reluctance of successive Meghalayan Govts to come up with a vision or a roadmap for the state, even after more than 31 years of statehood is understood, though definitely not condoned ! Coming back to the proceedings of the KSU symposium , some of the audience came away with the distinct impression that the infatuation with the past prevented most speakers from coming up with any exciting, inspiring and exhilarating proposal for the future. Sad but Khasily true!
As mentioned earlier ,most of the Speakers had nothing but contempt for the 6th Schedule, the District Councils and the elected MDCs who man these institutions. More than 75 percent of the speakers were unanimous in their call for an immediate revocation of the 6th Schedule and of dissolution of the ADCs. The general contention was that the ADCs had failed in their Terms of Reference and are totally irrelevant to the present day needs and demands of the communities they profess to serve. No doubt there is ample ground for voicing such grievances and sentiments. But if the 6th Schedule is to be done away with ,as is the popular demand, then what is the proposed viable alternative? ( The stress on the word viable may please be noted !) Some speakers appeared to be in favour of a safeguard provision similar to that of Article 370 of the constitution. Some as mentioned earlier even wish to rewrite history; of putting back the clock as it were and for giving the syiems and the himas a second chance to renegotiate their destiny with the Govt of India. Such sentiments are wishful thinking at best and downright dangerous at their worst. A third option may however exist. This 3rd option may perhaps lie in identifying the most unsatisfactory aspects of the 6th Schedule; reburnish such faults through an amendment of this Constitutional provision; enforce the 6th Schedule with amendments that are expected to promote and assist the social, cultural and economic aspirations of the community as it moves into the 21st Century. We can certainly examine such options before us.
So let us for a moment then concede that Meghalaya is able to convince Parliament to do away with the 6th Schedule and with it the District councils through the passing of a Constitutional Amendment Bill. The 6th Schedule is scraped. Then what? Let us not forget that the 6th Schedule is a Protective Mechanism however defective that mechanism may now appear to be. Will we be able to get alternative constitutional protection if the 6th Schedule goes? What guarantees are there and who has given them? None! Do we then mean to say that we no longer require Consitutional Protection? I hope not. Let us therefore not forget that expunging the 6th Schedule and bringing in alternate safeguards in place of the 6th Schedule will both entail Amendment of the Constitution with all the requirements such a move will entail as listed out in Art 368. Do we as a state command that sort of political clout in Parliament at Delhi where we are sure of support from at least 2/3 of its members and also support from a majority of state Govts when we ask for such amendments of the Constitution? Think again ! In reality most MPs and Mainland politicians do not even know nor do they care about the 6th Schedule. If we who are affected by the 6th Schedule ask for its abolition I have no doubt that such a demand will safely pass muster in any Parliament. Asking for alternative Protection Mechanisms through Consitutional Amendments is a different ball game altogether. There is sincere doubt if such a bill will even see the light of day let alone be tabled in the legislature at Delhi. Prudence therefore demand that we look before we leap. Then there is Art 40 of the Constitution that speaks of the need to enforce and implement local self government at the grass-root level. Directive Principles of State Policy. We have singularly failed to take advantage of this Constitutional provision. The 73rd constitutional amendment and the introduction of the Panchayti Raj System was the Mainland answer to the requirements of Art 40. Provisions under Art 244 has spared Meghalaya from the 73rd amendment and in the process also given a fresh opportunity to the Traditional Institutions of the state. This opportunity has yet to be taken advantage of. Our Traditional Institutions escaped the axe because of the 6th Schedule. Art 243M of Part IX and Art 243ZC of Part IXA of the constitution are quite clear on this issue. Dissolution of the 6th Schedule will also automatically remove the protective constitutional armour provided to our Traditional Institutions. We now discover ,however late in the day, that the very survival of our Traditional Institutions is umbilically conjoined with the fate of the 6th Schedule and the Autonomous District Councils themselves. Ironical but true . No Kidding!
We have also more or less accepted the fact that any attempt at putting back the clock or a second chance for a pre independence status for the himas and syiems is not a practical acceptable option. In the process there is also the general perception that the ADCs are Constitutional White Elephants, imposed upon the people of the state and only serve as wayside recreational centers for the few mediocre politicians who could not make the grade to the state assembly. MDCs of the District Councils have constantly demonstrated that self interest more than any other factor is their vested version and raison -detre for the existence of the District Councils. These wishy-washy political stalwarts have constantly proved to be thoroughly disloyal and fickle to the very principle and ethos of the institution they owe their survival to. Superfluous to say that all this is a complete betrayal of the provisions of the Constitution. Elimination of these political drones is therefore no longer a debatable question. It is just a constitutional event that is waiting to happen. The third option may therefore lie in our ingenuity to come out with a satisfactory working relationship between the ADCs and the communities they represent. A review of the present status shows that the souring of relationship between the two is primarily due to :
· The inability of the District Councils to deliver as per the expectations of the people. They have neither been able to project themselves as Service Providers nor have they been able to successfully role model themselves as Guardians of Tribal Interest.
· Members of the District Councils are basically the products of Political parties and MDCs often show more allegiance to the party system than to the tenets of custom and tradition they are suppose to uphold. Priority identification has always been the bane of District Council administration. Political survival has always preceded Constitutional imperatives in District Council affairs. In the process it has become obvious that the interest of the people has been marginalized and overlooked .
· A visible and tangible outcome of the above has been the traumatic relationship ( at least in the Khasi Hills) between the Himas and the District Councils. In the process the Executive Council has managed to emerge as the autocratic big brother who would stop at nothing to ensure perpetuating its own political survival. Such actions have not cut any ice with the people.
· A realization is slowly dawning on the indigenous population of the incompatibility of the elected members (MDCs) and the District Council Terms of Reference (TOR)as enshrined in the 6th Schedule. There is nothing wrong with the TOR nor with the objectives of the 6th Schedule. The incompatibility has more to do with the structural mindset of the elected members of the District Councils. MDCs are creatures of a Party based electoral process. No political party, be it National or Regional, has ever prioritised the aims and objectives of the 6th Schedule. Is it therefore surprising that elected MDCs should summarily neglect the very issues they are suppose to promote? Why should they do otherwise when the very party they belong to does not expect them to do so. In the process we have managed to produce confused personalities with the mentality of tadpoles. MDCs refuse to accept what they are and instead long to be what they are not. Such personalities have indulged and reveled in selfpity and self righteous hand wringing for the past 50 years. Unfortunately people no longer find District Council antics amusing. They have now become public eyesores.
· Mene, Mene,Tekel, Upharsin ( Daniel 5:25 ). This Biblical quote best describes the public image of the District Councils of today.
I sincerely believe that there exists a just case for continuance of the 6th Schedule. It is the composition, structure and sense of focus of the District Councils that need restructuring and realigning. This can be done without resorting to Art 368 of the Constitution. 6th Schedule amendment requires a simple majority in Parliament.(Para 21 of the 6th Schedule) Any Central Govt, genuinely interested in the welfare of this Tribal state should have no difficulty initiating such a process. Of significance is the nature of the restructuring, of which, a number of permutations are possible. One such proposal is that of the National Constitutional Review Committee whose recommendations are yet to be discussed in Parliament. Here I make bold to submit another possible option. This option is based on the following prerequisites:
1. the importance of inducting into Council affairs persons who are committed to the principle of autonomy for the indigenous people to manage their own affairs according to ageold customs ,traditions and practices. Accountability in policy implementation then becomes imperative.
2. to enable the indigenous people of the state to promote, protect, foster and develop their language, culture, heritage and custom in accordance with their own ingenuity.
3. to combine the best aspects of traditional consensus democracy with those of party based democracy and to ensure that this synthesis result in practices that serve the best interest of the people of Meghalaya.
4. to bring into practice the actual separation of Legislative, Judicial and Executive powers within the District Council setup. To ensure therefore that these principles for a democratic milieu are actually practiced in an amended version of the 6th Schedule.
For the above, the following outline proposal for restructuring of the Autonomous District Councils in Meghalaya is given below:-
A. Legislature restructuring.
1. In stead of elected MDCs, the Legislative Council of the ADC shall be composed of traditional heads. Syiems, sordars, wadadars, dalois, nokmas and rangbah shnongs shall find representation in the legislative council. (Details of the actual norms ie. Tenure, power of recall, administrative orientation, training, ultimate election process etc for such representatives can be worked out. Please do not forget that this is just an draft outline of a potential alternative to the present muddle .)
2. These representatives shall retain their original indigenous characteristics. This means they shall not be paid any remuneration or salaries. Their representation shall be voluntary in keeping with the nature of their traditional role. On days that they attend Council meetings however they can be paid actual expenses in the form of TA/DA and sitting fees, nothing more.
3. These representatives shall be debarred from holding any executive posts within the ADCs. The members of the Legislative Council shall have no executive role. Emphasis shall be on the mode and manner of legislation. They shall confine themselves to the discussions, debates and deliberations as befitting members of a Legislative Council. The scope and temptation of toppling or otherwise any Executive council shall be eliminated.
4. They shall address themselves mainly to issues that touch upon the culture, tradition, way and quality of life, language, identity and environment of the district/districts they represent.
5. A distinct plus side of such an arrangement is that members will be exposed to new ideas ,new technologies ,new ways of thinking and management concepts that they can replicate in their own Himas, daloiships, akhings and dorbars. Afterall de-cetralisation and endowment of grass root governance is the basic TOR of the 6th Schedule.
B. Executive Restructuring.
1. There shall no longer exist any Executive Council headed by an elected MDC. The executive wing of the District Council shall instead be headed by a Chief Executive Officer(CEO) who shall be selected by a special body of the Legislative Council who can seek the assistance of experts for such selection.
2. The CEO shall be selected on the basis of criteria and qualifications to be determined by the Legislative Council. The prime responsibility (TOR)of the CEO is efficient management of District Council affairs. Selection of the CEO shall be through open competition and subject to confirmation by the Governor of the state.
3. The CEO shall be contracted for a predetermined period of time. He shall be responsible and answerable to the Legislative Assembly who shall have the power to suspend, remove or terminate the CEO subject to approval by the Governor.
4. The CEO shall execute and implement the decisions of the Legislative Council.
5. The CEO shall be assisted by a team of experts who likewise shall be recruited through open competition. Focus of these experts shall primarily be on (a) Financial Management (b) Community resource management and (c) Livelihood promotion. Other areas of priority for the Management shall be determined by the Legislative Council from time to time as the need arises.
6. Unlike members of the Legislative Council , the CEO and his team of assistants shall enjoy executive powers and shall be remunerated for the same.
C. Judicial Restructuring
There appears to be no need to restructure the Judicial Wing of the ADCs from what they are at present.
In conclusion it can be said that a just case exist for a serious review and reassessment of the 6th Schedule and its provisions. There is doubt of the ability of the 6th Schedule as it now exists to cater to the emotional and cultural requirements of the indigenous people of the state. The Autonomous District Councils, products of the 6th Schedule see themselves as competitors with the state Govt. This is unfortunate and need not be so. Domination and accentuation of Party Politics is the main cause for dissonant focus within District Council affairs. This has to be rectified. Consensus Politics on the other hand is non divisive in nature and is consonant with the concept of participatory management and development. The end objective after all is to work together for the common good.
Courtesy: Shillong Times, dated
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