Autonomous District Councils are frequently blamed for failures of governance in Meghalaya. Their inefficiency, however, is a feature of the system rather than an anomaly. In seeking to preserve traditional institutions by transforming them, the Sixth Schedule only further entrenched the colonial paradox it inherited. The ADCs it invented—simultaneously accountable to everybody and responsible for nobody— were practically designed for endemic corruption and abuse. Sometimes, as in the case that opened this essay, the legal system works. The RTI infrastructure helps citizens uncover specific illegalities and then the judiciary provides a remedy. More often it does not, because structural inequity cannot be meaningfully addressed in this piecemeal fashion. The eternal liminality of the ADCs also indicates just how indebted our institutional imagination remains to condescending colonial assumptions about tribal peoples and the need to “gently assimilate” them into modernity. The Constituent Assembly’s recognition of indigenous sovereignty was a landmark moment in world history, but it was only half the task. It falls to us now to build institutions that can live up to that sweeping democratic vision.
Author: Deepika Chaturvedi
Deepika Chaturvedi is an independent researcher
At Raiot, we remember the conviction that launched the RTI movement: hum jaanenge, hum jeeyenge; when we know, we survive. We are launching a new series this week, in which we reassess the history of the RTI in Meghalaya in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dilemmas it has posed for governance in both the state and the nation. For the next few weeks, we will tell you stories from 15 years of RTI activism: the successes, the failures, and what we learned through it all. The RTI Act was once called the sunshine law; may it serve now to illuminate these dark times.