SHILLONG, Oct 01: Any move by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre to bring in a Panchayati Raj-like system in Meghalaya will face stiff opposition as has been informed by a delegation of the 14 groups which include headmen and NGOs under the banner of the Meghalaya Indigenous Tribal Constitutional Rights Movement (MITCRM).
In its meeting with the Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma on Monday had expressed their stiff opposition after reports of the Chief Minister had attended a meeting chaired by Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh during which the subject of introduction of a Panchayati Raj-like system in Meghalaya was discussed.
Allaying the concerns expressed by the delegation, Conrad had said that the Centre has agreed and accepted almost all the views and suggestions coming from the state with regards to the proposed amendment of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India.
“The CM informed us that ninety-nine per cent of the points included in the memorandum by the delegation have been agreed and accepted by the centre (for incorporation in the proposed amendment to the Sixth Schedule),” Synjuk Ki Nongsynshar Shnong Ka Bri U Hynniewtrep (SNSBH) general secretary RL Blah said after meeting Conrad.
He said that Conrad has also suggested that the delegation meets officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) before the finalization of the draft amendment of the Sixth Schedule.
North East Students Organization (NESO) chairman Samuel Jyrwa said that the MITCRM would form a committee to ensure that the final draft is in the interest of the indigenous people of the region.
On the other hand, Grand Council of Chiefs of Meghalaya (GCCM) chairman John F Kharshiing said that the word ‘district councils’ will now be included in Article 280 of the Constitution (relating to funding) which earlier only mentioned Panchayati Raj.
He said that the provisions of the Tenth Schedule will also be extended to the Autonomous District Councils besides increasing the number of seats as proposed in the Agreed Text of Settlement signed by the Centre and State with the disbanded ANVC and ANVC.B.
The MITCRM had submitted a 15-pages memorandum to the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the issue of proposed amendment of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India, last year.
The need to clearly define the words “adult suffrage” appearing in Para 2 (1) of the Sixth Schedule is one among the important points raised by the 14 groups in the memorandum citing that it is ambiguous and is against the tribal interest.
“The intention of the Constituent was that the Sixth Schedule would protect the interest of the areas in the autonomous areas and allow tribals to grow and progress as per their own systems. If the intention was to allow all classes of citizens to take part in the administration of the autonomous tribal areas then the word India citizen would have been used and the phrase universal adult suffrage would been inserted. Therefore clarity has to be made that adult suffrage means indigenous tribal adult suffrage since it is clear from the provision of Para 17 that the non tribals are not to be granted voting rights within the autonomous Schedule areas as defined in Para 20 of the Sixth Schedule,” it stated.
The delegation had also sought the constitution of an autonomous and independent State Election Commission (SEC) by the state government which shall be governed by the provisions of the Assam and Meghalaya Autonomous Districts (Constitution of District Councils) Rules, 1951, or under the provision of any law enacted by the autonomous district councils.
It also demanded the inclusion of a separate chapter on special provisions for the tribal areas of Meghalaya in every legislation of the Parliament and the Meghalaya legislative assembly.
Further, the delegation also stated that a robust “pre-facto” mechanism have to be grafted to constitutional provisions which would ensure requisite attention to tribal concerns, most of which would be the mandatory inclusion of a separate chapter on special provisions for Scheduled areas/Schedule tribes in every central or state legislation affecting the habitat tribals property rights and enjoyment of lands occupied, the religion, customs and culture of these people and traditional relationship with their environment.
“It is desirable that all acts and laws should be reviewed for their adaption to the scheduled areas but this is not practically feasible by the concerned departments. The law commission (under the ministry of law) should be entrusted this responsibility of review of existing laws affecting property rights, succession, marriage, land holdings, indebtedness, constitution and management of public/administrative services for adaption to scheduled,” the MITCRM stated.