● A group of lawmakers from Assam has submitted a memorandum to the Centre seeking the implementation of Article 244A for the creation of an autonomous state within Assam.
● Implementation of Article 244A, which prescribes the formation of an autonomous State comprising certain tribal areas of Assam and the creation of local legislature or Council of Ministers, has been a demand across three hill districts — Karbi Anglong, West Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao — since the 1980s.
There has been a demand for more power/autonomy, especially in the northeast. How do special provisions in the Indian constitution accommodate the demand for regional autonomy in the northeast?
● Article 244(A) allows for the creation of an ‘autonomous state’ within Assam in certain tribal areas. It also has provision for the creation of a local legislature or Council of Ministers or both.
● It was inserted into the Constitution by the 22nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1969.
● Article 244(A) accounts for more autonomous powers to tribal areas. In Autonomous Councils under the Sixth Schedule, they do not have jurisdiction of law and order.
● The Sixth Schedule consists of provisions for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, according to Article 244 of the Indian Constitution.
● In Assam, the hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong& West Karbi, and the Bodo Territorial Region are under this provision.
● It was passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, it seeks to safeguard the rights of the tribal population through the formation of Autonomous District Councils (ADC).ADCs are bodies representing a district to which the Constitution has given varying degrees of autonomy within the state legislature.
● The governors of these states are empowered to reorganise the boundaries of the tribal areas. In simpler terms, she or he can choose to include or exclude any area, increase or decrease the boundaries and unite two or more autonomous districts into one. They can also alter or change the names of autonomous regions without separate legislation.
Autonomous districts and regional councils:
● Along with ADCs, the Sixth Schedule also provides for separate Regional Councils for each area constituted as an autonomous region. In all, there are 10 areas in the Northeast that are registered as autonomous districts – three in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram and one in Tripura. These regions are named as district council of (name of district) and regional council of (name of region).
● Each autonomous district and regional council consists of not more than 30 members, of which four are nominated by the governor and the rest via elections. All of them remain in power for a term of five years.
● The Bodoland Territorial Council, however, is an exception as it can constitute up to 46 members out of which 40 are elected. Of these 40 seats, 35 are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and non-tribal communities, five are unreserved and the rest six are nominated by the governor from underrepresented communities of the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD).
Powers of Autonomous districts and regional councils:
● The ADCs are empowered with civil and judicial powers and can constitute village courts within their jurisdiction to hear trials of cases involving the tribes. Governors of states that fall under the Sixth Schedule specifies the jurisdiction of high courts for each of these cases.
● The councils are also empowered to make legislative lawson matters like land, forests, fisheries, social security, entertainment, public health, etc. with due approval from the governor.
● Also, Acts passed by Parliament and state legislatures may or may not be applicable in these regions unless the President and the governor give her or his approval, with or without modifications in the laws for the autonomous regions.
The provisions in the constitution have been given to provide for greater autonomy to certain regions to protect their local culture and traditions. This should not be allowed as a tool to be politicised but rather to strengthen greater grassroots democracy.