Autonomous District Councils (Sixth Schedule) – UPSC

In this article, You will read everything about Autonomous District Councils (Sixth Schedule) for UPSC IAS Exam.

The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India allows for the formation of autonomous administrative divisions that have been given autonomy within their respective states. 

Most of these autonomous district councils are located in North East India but two are in Ladakh, a region administered by India as a union territory.

Presently, 10 Autonomous Councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura are formed by virtue of the Sixth Schedule with the rest being formed as a result of other legislation.

The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution deals with the administration of the tribal areas in the four northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram as per Article 244.

Autonomous District Councils

As per the Sixth Schedule, the four states viz. Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram contain the Tribal Areas which are technically different from the Scheduled Areas.

Though these areas fall within the executive authority of the state, provision has been made for the creation of the District Councils and regional councils for the exercise of the certain legislative and judicial powers.

Each district is an autonomous district and Governor can modify/divide the boundaries of the said Tribal areas by notification.

The Governor is empowered to increase or decrease the areas or change the names of the autonomous districts. While executive powers of the Union extend in Scheduled areas with respect to their administration in the Vth schedule, the VIth schedule areas remain within the executive authority of the state.

The Governor may, by public notification:

  • (a) Include any area.
  • (b) exclude any area.
  • (c) create a new autonomous district.
  • (d) increase the area of any autonomous district.
  • (e) diminish the area of any autonomous district.
  • (f) alter the name of any autonomous district.
  • (g) define the boundaries of any autonomous district.

The acts of Parliament or the state legislature do not apply to autonomous districts and autonomous regions or apply with specified modifications and exceptions.

The Councils have also been endowed with wide civil and criminal judicial powers, for example establishing village courts, etc. However, the jurisdiction of these councils is subject to the jurisdiction of the concerned High Court.

Constitution of District Councils and Regional Councils:

  1. There shall be a District Council for each autonomous district consisting of not more than thirty members, of whom not more than four persons shall be nominated by the Governor and the rest shall be elected on the basis of adult suffrage.
  2. There shall be a separate Regional Council for each area constituted an autonomous region.
  3. Each District Council and each Regional Council shall be a body corporate by the name respectively of the District Council of (name of district) and the Regional Council of (name of region), shall have perpetual succession and a common seal and shall by the said name sue and be sued.

The sixth schedule to the Constitution includes 10 autonomous district councils in 4 states. These are:

  • Assam: Bodoland Territorial Council, Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, and Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council.
  • Meghalaya: Garo Hills Autonomous District Council, Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, and Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council.
  • Tripura: Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.
  • Mizoram: Chakma Autonomous District Council, Lai Autonomous District Council, Mara Autonomous District Council.

Major Issues

  • Granting special provisions to certain minority tribal groups have led to further demands by other groups for such provisions under the 6th schedule. This has created disparity among the people and resulted in the rise of conflict between various groups.
  • In terms of financial autonomy, the members across the ADCs in North-Eastern states share the same view that the ADCs are at the mercy of the state governments. There exists a huge gap between the approved budget and the funds received from the State Government which has had a direct impact on the development of these tribal communities.
  • They are also dependent upon state governments for decisions regarding the undertaking of developmental activities in their region.
  • Due to the extensive corruption, development in these regions is seen to be a non-existing phenomenon.
  • Lack of coordination between the States governments and Department of Planning and Development, Hill Areas Department, and the Autonomous councils has resulted in the lackadaisical implementation of the development work.
  • The absence of any efficient Committee for the purpose of monitoring, evaluation, and keeping a record of the funds received and utilized has led to extensive corruption and underdevelopment of these regions under the Autonomous Councils.
  • Members of the Chakma, Lai, and Mara Councils of Mizoram are of the view that funds coming from the Central Government is not sufficient enough, and believes that funds should be granted to different councils on the basis of backwardness of the councils and not on the basis of population.
  • The State government justifies this position by stating that the ADCs have been holding on to their traditional roles of protecting the tribal identity in the region which abstains the State from various developmental activities.
  • At the same time, the ADCs have a small amount of funds which they receive as taxes and land revenues, however, they have to depend on the Central government for more funds.
  • In terms of representation of members in the Autonomous Council, Bodoland Territorial Council is the only council which has 46 members, which is the highest representation, and also the only council that has members from the Non-tribal community represented in the Council.
  • Time to time different ADCs have demanded an increase in the number of members in the ADCs.
  • Unlike the Panchayati Raj System where the 73rd amendment allows reservation of one-third of all the Panchayat seats for women at different levels, both Fifth and Sixth Schedules have no mention of women representation and gender equality.
  • The relationship to the land is the basis of tribal or indigenous identity and that the culture and identity of indigenous people cannot be preserved without maintaining control over land and natural resources, as these factors to a large extent determines the lifestyle and culture of the indigenous people.
  • Generally, tribal or indigenous cultural practices community land ownership, while some other tribes practice individual with clan ownership, however modern land relations and formal law recognize only individual ownership of land.
  • It was under colonial rule that the process of turning land into commodity began for their own interest, in the name of development. Post-independence, large tracts of lands were given away to the immigrants and other settlers.
  • The autonomy and power of the District Councils lie in the hands of a small group of elites who govern the functioning of the Autonomous DistrictCouncils.
  • There is a clear lack of interest and pursuit on the part of the District Council members in taking initiative and planning and monitoring developmental activities at the micro-level.
  • The absence of involvement of local stakeholders in the process of development and in the decision-making process has deprived the common masses from their democratic rights.
  • The Sixth Schedule also vests enormous powers to the Governor. Members of the various ADCs, in this context, are of the opinion that the Governors are mere puppets in the hands of the Ministers.
  • A major gap in the functioning of the ADCs is the lack of interaction at the village and field level. There is an absence of efficient village councils or regional councils.

Suggestions

  • The government and other agencies need to win the confidence of non scheduled area population and bring a sense of security and belongingness to them.
  • There has to be proper coordination or adjustment between traditional practices and usages with changes that have occurred within the tribal society today.
  • The issue on representation needs to be seriously reconsidered, which still has limited participation of women in the decision-making process, and also excludes the non-tribals of the State.
  • Adequate accountability and transparency of funds generated should be entrusted to authorities such as the Comptroller-General and Auditor-General of Accounts to prevent misuse.
  • Documentation and codification of traditional laws is an essential step through which the actual aim of the Sixth Schedule that is the protection of tribal cultural identity can be fulfilled.
  • Measures should be taken in order to ensure that the Autonomous Councils have well-defined legislation that clearly identify the powers of the village level bodies, release of funds by the government, transparency in the allocation and utilization of funds.
  • Stringent laws regarding frequent reviewing of the financial position of the ADCs like the Panchayati Raj System will enhance the status of the ADCs.
  • There is a need for inclusive development and capacity building of ADCs by introducing ideas from the PRI setup.
  • Strengthening and empowering the local self-governance, which would also include Village and Tribal Councils.
  • The empowerment of civil society bodies would contribute immensely in the monitoring of the developmental activities and progress rate across diverse sectors undertaken by the councils.
  • Traditional forms of governance must be promoted with self-governance.
  • To make ADCs’ platform of governance broader and capable of dealing with a changing world at both the national and international levels, there is a need for the inclusion of democratic elements like gender justice into these institutions.
  • To get a positive outcome the members of the ADCs should be trained, as capacity building of the ADCs members is vital for healthy governance and helps one to be more alert about the responsibilities assigned and the overall functioning.
  • The functioning of the ADCs should be amended to make them accountable through the insertion of a clause that makes mandatory the creation of village councils/ bodies with a degree of representation to the traditional institutions of chiefs.
  • Creation of an effective watchdog with the powers of Lokayukta in monitoring and keeping a track of the activities undertaken by the ADCs should be given priority as this will help in maintaining transparency in matters of finance and other developmental plans and activities.
  • Regular and assured financial assistance from governments an efficient monitoring system are two major factors that will determine the success of such provisions, along with awareness and active participation of the other stakeholders.

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