The Dismantling of Autonomy in Assam’s Hills: Who is responsible?
Unlike the other hill tribal areas of the North East, the people of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills have been compelled to build their political autonomy brick by brick, albeit on the foundation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution granted to them immediately on the adoption of the Constitution of India. Autonomy was granted to them initially under the Sixth Schedule because, as the Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly headed by the Late Gopinath Bordoloi had remarked that – ‘uniform, general administration which prevailed in the plains should not be introduced in these areas due to the special circumstance…The special circumstances arose from the distinct way of life of the tribal people, their social customs, their attachment to and dependence on land and forests, their peculiar mode of cultivation and the manner in which disputes were resolved’. However in the 1960s when the Assamese leadership attempted to homogenize the society by introducing Assamese language as the official language of the State making the learning of Assamese language compulsory in the schools in the process and thereby threatening the autonomy and identity of the hill tribal people, the hill tribes rose in revolt leading to the creation of the states of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram. By cultivating emotional proximity with the Karbis and the Dimasas, the Assamese leadership had prevailed upon the leaders of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills to remain in Assam with the promise of granting the desired autonomy at a later date; keeping also the option of implementing the provision of article 244 (A) open even after Meghalaya was upgraded to full-fledged statehood. The promised political autonomy came to the two hill areas in labored measures in the form of entrustment of executive functions of the State under Para 6 (2) of the Sixth Schedule through office memoranda, namely, OM No TAD/R/153/70 dated Shillong the 30th May 1970, OM No TAD/R/65/75/110, dated 3rd February 1976, OM No TAD/R/65/75/153, dated 25th August 1976, and OM No HAD 218/77/155, dated the 14th November 1979. The state Government has withheld more than it was supposed to part with, enraging the people, particularly the unemployed educated youth leading to mass political movement under the umbrella organization named the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC), which later on became a political party registered with the Election Commission of India. Following several phases of intense mass movement an MoU was signed between the State Government and the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) and other organizations under the Central Government supervision on 1st April 1995 in New Delhi paving the way for further devolution of autonomous powers to the two hill Autonomous Councils in as many as thirty government departments. The consequential order came in the form of Government OM No HAD. 57/95/309 dated 31st December 1996. But the policy of Dispur to withhold autonomy or even to dismantle the existing autonomy has remained unchanged. In fact the dismantling of tribal autonomy for Karbi Anglong and North Cachar hills had started exactly during the time the other hill tribal people like the Garo, Khasi and the Mizos were being given the highest autonomy possible within the Constitution of India, that is full-fledged statehood. Such was the partiality and injustice done that while the autonomy of other tribes was increased, sub-para 5 was inserted to Para 4 of the Sixth Schedule to limit the autonomy of the Karbi Anglong and NC Hills Autonomous Councils in the matter of judicial administration and an amendment to Para 7 of the Sixth Schedule was made to divest power from the said two councils through the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act, 1969 (effective from 24/4/1970) in the matter of framing financial rules. So when the Assam Legislative Assembly recently usurped provision of the Sixth Schedule to pass the Assam Administration of Judiciary in Karbi Anglong District Bill, 2009, the matter came like a bolt from the blue and the protestations of the hill people were conveniently elbowed out. It is a matter of serious concern that a legislation that solely affects the hill people was carried out without taking the hill people into confidence. Likewise due to the absence of any financial rules, the power to frame financial rules having been usurped by the State from the councils, funds meant for the hill areas are being delivered and spent whimsically by the State HAD ministry, leading to large-scale corruption, even collecting 4% bribe money before releasing the funds. (2- A window of corruption) The ‘single-window’ release of fund without time frame has been a deliberate deviation from the time-bound release of fund (the first in the month of April and second in the month of October as advance) agreed in the MoU and reflected in the OM of 1996. The agreement was on the spirit of automatic release of fund meant for the Councils and in deviating from that, the spirit and principle of ‘automatic release’ has been done away with and given way to ‘whimsical’ release. The purpose of the deviation without the expressed consent of the Autonomous Council authorities has been perplexing, but post-Manisana Commission Report, it is clear that it was done to facilitate the ruling party to extract bribe money from the hill people! The principle of ‘automatic release’ of fund is not the only aspect of the MoU being dismantled by the present ruling party. It was agreed in the MoU that the departments of Food & Civil supplies, Transport, Excise and Sales Tax would be ‘entrusted/delegated’ to the Autonomous Councils in their totality. But the State Government has withheld delegation of the departments in their totality to the said Councils due to non-amendment of the respective Acts, which the State Government is supposed to initiate. Likewise, officers in the rank of Additional Chief Engineer (PWD) is supposed to hold the power of Head of Department within the Autonomous Council areas, but because the corresponding service rules remain un-amended they continue to remain subordinated to their respective Heads of Department in the State and are bound to report to them and not the Council authorities on all technical matters, that include calling of tenders and their settlements. In the process, the autonomy of the said Councils achieved through the MoU has been severely compromised. To make the police more people friendly, it was also agreed in the MoU (Para viii) that a mechanism would be developed whereby the CEM of the Council could be involved in the administration of the police department. But the present Congress regime has completely avoided the understanding already reached on the matter. The crisis in the hills that have caused such violent social tension and monstrous conflict is not the granting of autonomy to the hill people, but the withholding of autonomy already committed (implementation of Article 244-A for instance) and the deliberate dismantling of the autonomy already notified. Dispur has not learnt lessons from the past and has continued to implant puppet regimes in the hills by hook or by crook just to hold on to the powers and resources, which are legally and historically not theirs. They seek to proxy-rule the hills through party puppets and that is why national parties with high command systems are a bane for the polity of the hills.