On Sixth February 2019, Mr. Kiran Rijiju, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs of India, quietly introduced The Constitution (125th Amendment) Bill, 2019. This bill which seeks to amend Article 280 of and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in order to increase the financial and executive powers of the ten autonomous councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of the Northeast.
The legislation was introduced in the Rajya Sabha so that the legislation remains alive even after the present House is adjourned sine die for the coming elections. Introducing it in the Lok Saha would have meant that the Bill’s life is co-terminus with that of the term of the Lok Sabha, which will see the last sitting of the current House on February 13.
Official press release said that the proposed amendments provide for elected village municipal councils, ensuring democracy at the grassroot level. The village councils will be empowered to prepare plans for economic development and social justice including those related to agriculture, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, minor irrigation, water management, animal husbandry, rural electrification, small scale industries and social forestry. The Finance Commission will be mandated to recommend devolution of financial resources to them. The Autonomous Councils now depend on grants from Central ministries and the State government for specific projects. At least one-third of the seats will be reserved for women in the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura after the amendment is approved (and in Meghalaya, once the governor approves of the amendments).
But first read the amendments:
10 MAJOR CHANGES WHICH THE AMENDMENT PROPOSES AND IMPLICATIONS FOR MEGHALAYA
- The Some Autonomous District Councils would now be called Territorial Councils.
a) Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council
b) Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council
c) Garo Hills Autonomous Territorial Council
d) Khasi Hills Autonomous Territorial Council
e) Jaintia Hills Autonomous Territorial Council
f) Lai Autonomous District Council
g) Chakma Autonomous District Council
h) Mara Autonomous District Council
i) Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous Territorial Council
- Number of Members of the Council will increase
- The Some Autonomous District Councils would now be called Territorial Councils.
|Name of the Council||Number of Elected Members||Nominated Members||Basis of Election|
|Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council||44||6 (including atleast 2 women)||Adult Suffrage|
|Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council||36||4 (including atleast 2 women||Adult Suffrage|
|Garo Hills Autonomous Territorial Council||36||6 (at least 2 women + 4 unrepresented tribes)||Adult Suffrage|
|Khasi Hills Autonomous Territorial Council||36||4 (atleast 2 women + 2 Unrepresented tribes)||Adult Suffrage|
|Jaintia Hills Autonomous Territorial Council||30||4 (atleast 2 women)||Adult Suffrage|
|Lai Autonomous District Council||26||4 (atleast 2 women)||Adult Suffrage|
|Chakma Autonomous District Council||26||4 (atleast 2 women)||Adult Suffrage|
|Mara Autonomous District Council||26||4 (atleast 2 women)||Adult Suffrage|
|Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous Territorial Council||26||4 (atleast 2 women)||Adult Suffrage|
3. Anti Defection Law will apply to Territorial Councils.
4. Unlike what Mr. P N Syiem (ex CEM of KHADC) thought and fought for, amendment ensures that there shall be no Dual Membership of Territorial Council and other legislative bodies like State Legislature and Parliament. This one goes to Agnes Kharshiing who challenged Dual Membership in the court.
5. Elections shall be conducted by the State Election Commission and the election shall be based on Adult Suffrage.
6. Each Village & Municipal Councils under the Territorial/District Councils shall be elected body. The elections shall be based on Adult Suffrage and gender justice meaning Women can be elected as Village heads and Municipal heads.
7. There shall one third reservation for women in Village and Municipal Councils.
But Meghalaya has been temporarily exempted from point 5 and 6, but this exemption would mean that in Meghalaya, villages and municipality would not receive any funds and would not be able to decide on decentralised plans for development. Without Gender Just and Elected Village and Municipal Councils the following powers which shall accrue to the Territorial and District Councils in Assam, Mizoram and Tripura would be denied to Meghalaya. These powers are.
8. Each District Council shall also constitute a District Planning Committee for the district consisting of such number of elected members from the District Council or Regional Council and from each of the Village Councils and the Municipal Councils, as it deems necessary, for the purpose of consolidating plans prepared by each such Council and to prepare a development plan for the district as a whole and for which funds will be directly transferred. Some of themes on which people can plan and receive direct funding are:
a) Animal Husbandary
b) Primary and secondary education, higher secondary education including vocational training, adult education and college education
c) forests (other than reserved forest)
f) soil conservation;
h)handloom and textile;
i)health and family welfare;
j)public health engineering;
l)sports and youth welfare;
m)weight and measures
n)food and civil supplies
p)urban development including town and country planning
q)land and revenue, land reforms
r)planning and development
s)markets and fairs
t)labour and employment
u)small, cottage and rural industry
v)rural development including District Rural Development Agency.
9. Village councils shall have the power to:
(i) the preparation of plans for economic development and social justice;
(ii) the implementation of schemes for economic development and social justice as may be entrusted to them including those in relation to agriculture and agricultural extension, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, land consolidation and soil conservation, minor irrigation, water management and watershed development, animal husbandry, dairying and poultry, fisheries, social forestry and farm forestry, minor forest produce, small scale industries including food processing industries, khadi, village and cottage industries, rural housing, drinking water, fuel and fodder, roads, culverts, bridges, ferries, waterways and other means of communication, rural electrification including distribution of electricity, non-conventional energy sources, poverty alleviation programme, education including primary and secondary schools, technical training and vocational education, adult and non-formal education, libraries, cultural activities, markets and fairs, health and sanitation including hospitals, primary health centres and dispensaries, family welfare, women and child development, social welfare including welfare of the persons with disability (Divyangjan), welfare of the weaker sections, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, public distribution system and maintenance of community assets; and
Basically the amendment shall allow a proper democratic, decentralised development planning at village level and break the stranglehold of bureucracy and politicians rural development. But thanks to the patriarchal politicians of Meghalaya, the state shall lose out on all such development funds till it legislates a proper democratic and gender just Village Administration Bill which empowers the Dorbar Shnong not the Rangbah Shnong and allows women to participate fully in the Village Administration. Till then no funds for Meghalaya.
10. The finances for Territorial/District Councils, Village Councils and Municipal Councils shall be through the Finance Commission appointed by the Governor for a State which shall review the financial position of the District Councils including the Village Council and Municipal Council. The commission shall decide on the distribution between the State and the District Councils of the net proceeds of the taxes, duties, tolls and fees leviable by the State, and the allocation of such proceeds between the District Councils and the Village Councils and the Municipal Councils under its authority. The Commission shall also determine the taxes, duties, tolls and fees which may be assigned to, or appropriated by, the District Councils including the Village Councils and the Municipal Councils under its authority. And most importantly Commission shall ensure the grants-in-aid to the District Councils and the Village Councils and the Municipal Councils under its authority from the Consolidated Fund of the State. But Meghalaya shall get nothing till it has elected and gender just Village and Municipal Council.