Demand for 6th schedule status

The 6th schedule of the constitution of India provides for power to tribal communities to administer the tribal areas in Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram. These are mentioned under article 244 (1) and 275 (1). This schedule aims at preserving the cultural and social heritage unique to the tribes. Recently, Arunachal Pradesh assembly has passed a resolution for the entire state to be in the 6th schedule.

This, if approved by the parliament, will provide benefits to the state and its tribal areas like democratic devolution of powers and will help protect the rights on land, transfer of funds among others. Previously, the Arunachal government had passed bills in the assembly for autonomous councils in 2004 and 2007, but the provisions could not be enacted upon by the parliament.

Schedule 6 is different from another schedule of the constitution i.e. schedule 5. Schedule 6 is concerned only with the tribal areas of 4 states viz, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam only, and it will be 5 if Arunachal is added too. Arunachal Pradesh has inner line permit requirement under Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act 1873. And the recent Citizenship Amendment Act exempts the 6th schedule areas and ILP areas.

The demand by Arunachal Pradesh is to amend the article 371 (H) and include provisions given to Nagaland and Mizoram in articles 371 (A) and 371 (G), respectively. 371 (H) provides powers to state governor for law and order. But the demand is to get customary rites and other autonomy, as given to Nagaland and Mizoram.

The distinctness of the tribal culture deems it necessary for them to have special provisions to ensure their unique ways of living. The traditional knowledge of the natives of such areas is close to the idea of sustainable living. The sense of community and respect for nature is an epitome of devotion. The tribal areas of north east India have limited connectivity. Immediate measures for the areas may take time to get directions from centre. The local administration must therefore be rightfully given extra powers to legislate and govern the areas locally.

These legislative steps, although, have to be approved by the governor of the state. 6th schedule tribal areas require a constitutional amendment under article 368 to get funds devolved under article 275 (1). District councils and regional councils administer the laws specific to the region. Recently, apart from Arunachal Pradesh, the National Commission Of Scheduled Tribes i.e. NCST, has recommended a 6th schedule status for the nascent union territory of Ladakh.

Such regions of exemplary history and heritage require extra ordinary legislation for protection of their traditional ways. The councils under article 244 (1) have powers like judicial, regulatory, tax revenue collection to support the efficient administration. But there are loopholes like, the district councils require assent of governor to implement decisions. And in case of conflict between the council and state legislature, the decision of latter prevails. These are also checks and balances to prevent knee-jerk legislation. Financial dependency on centre and lack of transparency in use of funds has introduced lethargy and corruption in the system.

Finally, there needs to be inclusive to women and other ethnic minorities to the councils. There must be regular elections conducted by state election commission. Transparency as a virtue must be followed in monitoring developmental programs. Demands for special provisions must positively discriminate for the ultimate goal of development. This must adhere to principles of diversity, sovereignty, integrity, secularity and fraternity of the country and its people.

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