Manipur Proposes Greater Autonomy for Hill Councils

  • 06 Sep 2023

Recently, in an effort to address the ongoing conflict in Manipur and address the concerns of the Kuki community, the state government has suggested to the Central government that the existing autonomous hill councils be granted increased autonomy.

Key Points:

  • Government Response: This proposal comes in response to the Kuki community's demand for "separate administration" following violence that erupted on May 3.
  • Denial assumption: However, sources indicate that the Kuki community is unlikely to accept this compromise, asserting that the hill councils have proven to be ineffective.

Historical Context

  • During British colonial rule in Assam, the tribal populations residing in the hills vehemently opposed the imposition of formal British laws, as they had their own customary laws.
  • The British, primarily interested in exploiting the region economically, sought to avoid confrontations.
  • Consequently, they divided the hill areas of Assam into two categories: "excluded" and "partially excluded" areas, as per the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • In these areas, federal or provincial laws would not be enforced unless deemed necessary by the governor for the sake of peace and development.

Role of Autonomous Hill Councils

  • The primary intention behind this provision was to grant tribal populations the authority to govern themselves autonomously.
  • It aimed to preserve their distinct identities and protect their resources.

Integration into Independent India

  • Post-independence, India preserved and improved upon the provision introduced during the British colonial era.
  • This provision was subsequently incorporated into the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
  • The refinement of this provision was guided by recommendations from a committee led by Gopinath Bordoloi, who served as the Premier of Assam.
  • The Bordoloi committee strongly advocated for the establishment of Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in six hill districts of Assam:
    • United Khasi-Jaintia Hills District
    • Garo Hills District
    • Lushai Hills District
    • Naga Hills District
    • North Cachar Hills District
    • Mikir Hills District
  • The core objective behind this initiative was to empower tribal communities, enabling them to protect their cultural identities and vital resources.

Current Scenario

  • Presently, there are ten ADCs operating under the Sixth Schedule in the North East. Among these, Assam, Meghalaya, and Mizoram each have three ADCs, while Tripura has one.
  • In the case of Manipur, six ADCs were established in 1971 under a parliamentary act.

Regional Councils for Minor Tribes

  • In addition to ADCs, the Bordoloi committee recommended the formation of regional councils within ADCs.
  • These regional councils are designed to address the unique needs and concerns of minor tribal communities residing within the jurisdiction of the respective ADCs.

Constitution of ADCs

  • The Sixth Schedule was introduced into the Indian Constitution through Article 244, incorporating provisions for the establishment of autonomous administrative divisions within a state.
  • These autonomous divisions, represented by Autonomous District Councils (ADCs), were granted specific legislative, judicial, and administrative autonomy within their respective states.
  • ADCs within a state typically consist of 30 members serving a five-year term.
  • These councils are vested with the authority to create laws, rules, and regulations across various domains, including land, forest, water, agriculture, village councils, health, sanitation, village and town-level policing, inheritance of property, marriage and divorce, social customs, mining, and more.
  • An exception to the 30-member rule is the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam, which has more than 40 members and the ability to enact laws on 39 different issues.
  • ADCs also have the legal jurisdiction to establish courts capable of adjudicating cases involving parties from Scheduled Tribes, provided the maximum sentence is fewer than five years in prison.

Evolution of Manipur ADCs

  • In December 1971, the Parliament passed The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act.
  • This legislation laid the foundation for the establishment of ADCs in Manipur's hill areas, which constituted 90% of the state's geographical area and were inhabited by various tribal communities such as Nagas, Kukis, Zomis, and Hmars. During that time, Manipur was a Union Territory.
  • While inspired by the Sixth Schedule, the Manipur ADCs do not wield as much authority.
  • Unlike ADCs under the Sixth Schedule, which derive their power from the Constitution, Manipur ADCs are subject to the state Assembly due to the provisions of the Act.
  • Tribal communities in Manipur have consistently pushed for inclusion in the Sixth Schedule, which would lead to the establishment of Autonomous District Councils (ADCs).
  • The creation of ADCs through a dedicated Act faced protests due to dissatisfaction with the provisions and perceived lack of cooperation from the state government.
  • Hill communities boycotted ADC elections for a span of two decades from 1990 to 2010, rendering the ADCs ineffective during this period.
  • Attempts to introduce amendments to provide greater autonomy to ADCs have encountered challenges, with some efforts faltering, getting stuck in the Assembly, or being seen as superficial.
  • Amendments made in 2000 were essentially reversed by another bill in 2006, and those introduced in 2008 were found to be insufficient.
  • The Manipur ADCs have experienced significant functionality issues. Irregular budgetary allocations from the state government have made it difficult, at times, to pay salaries.
  • In practical terms, Manipur's ADCs are considered non-functional, as reported by sources within the Ministry of Home Affairs.