Indian Government Proposes Actions to Resolve Autonomous Councils Intricacy

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A central committee constituted by the Prime Minister’s Office in August 2014 headed by Virginius Xaxa as its chairperson, proposed a number of rectifications for the autonomous councils which may have far-reaching effects on the autonomous regions of northeast India. This would be particularly so in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao autonomous councils.

One of the recommendations of the committee is that the councils should be roofed under the state finance commission and that financial support should not be left to “capricious discretion” of the state governments.

The group has also proposed one third reservation for women and reservations for numerically undersized tribes not only in the autonomous councils but in all other political establishments. The panel has recommended that government should give proper reorganization to all political setups right from village level, however small that might be.

Criticism Of The Assam Government

Criticizing the state government for its discriminatory action regarding releasing funds for the autonomous councils which are generally Centrally sponsored and subsidized with money for specific projects, the committee proposed drastic changes to reaffirm the financial autonomy of the autonomous bodies. The committee in its scrutiny has scanned the socio-economic, educational and health status of indigenous tribes.

The three main autonomous councils, Dima Hasao autonomous council, Karbi Anglong autonomous council, and the Bodoland Territorial Council, created under the provision of the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution, have been embraced by the committee.

The other tribal councils, such as Rabha Hasong, Lalung (Tiwa), Mising,Thengal Kachari, Sonowal Kachari and Deori council, which were created under state acts, have proved to be unsuccessful in the most important places, such as protecting their land forests, natural resources, culture and identity. The committee has attributed the reason for ineffective governance in the tribe specific council created by Assam Government, because of the numerous hurdles added in the funding process. According to the committee report, the sixth scheduled autonomous councils are functioning better on all fronts compared to the tribal councils created by the state government where land alienation has been viewed as a serious problem by the ingenious tribes.

The Virginius Xaxa committee in more than one instance has pointed out that financial autonomy of the autonomous councils does not tally or synchronize with its legislation and growth agenda. The committee has stated the reason as the root cause for its dependency on Central Government and state government. It may be mentioned here that both Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao autonomous councils receive funds from the Central government under plans such as “Non Lapsable Central Pool of Resources,” “Backward Region Development Fund,” and other scheme oriented funds.

Assam Government Starves Autonomous Councils of Money

In fact, about 90% of funds for growth come from the Centre, but paucity in financial autonomy of the two councils’ main central subsidized funds goes into to the coffers of the Assam Government and is released after much deliberation which has seriously hampered the natural growth rate of the autonomous hill districts. The committee has also pointed out the paradoxical standing of the yearly fiscal budget passed by the assembly of the councils, and massive discrepancies exist between the approved budget and the amount of funds actually received.

In 1995 a tripartite agreement was signed between the Government of India, Assam Government and certain political party and student organizations in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. The agreement granted enhanced power to both councils, in fact the councils were upgraded from district council to autonomous council, and full administrative control of 30 developmental departments was handed over to the autonomous councils and rectification of the administrative system was made. The agreement popularly known as Memorandum of Understanding was fully endorsed by the Assam Assembly and the Office Memorandum was passed by both houses of Parliament. Even after a decade of enacting the MoU, none of the councils have been given control of Sales Tax, Excise, Transport and all other revenue generating departments by the Assam government.

Up until today, the state government has kept full control over the electoral process of the councils; almost the same voter list is used for the election of the MAC (member of autonomous council) and for MLA and MP. Instead of Election Commission of India, the state government’s statuary body conducts the election. In practice, both the hill councils of Assam are serving as colonies or a money-spinning hinterland for the ruling cliques of the Assam government.

Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao Fight For Statehood

Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao autonomous councils over the last 20 years have kept up their endeavours to remove the lacunas of the 6th schedule autonomous council which compels the autonomous bodies to depend on the state government for every financial matter. Moreover, the draconian Hills Area Development of the Assam government has served as an effective tool of the state government to curb the self-governing authority of the councils. Both councils have demanded creation of an autonomous state on the pattern of one-time Meghalaya by encompassing the two autonomous hill districts of Assam; as specified in Article 244(A) of the Indian Constitution’s 6th Schedule.

Sushanta Roy is a journalist in Assam, India, who photographs and writes about the people, animals and flora of Assam, and the things that affect them.