Autonomous District Councils

Autonomous District Councils

Autonomous District Councils

Background of Origin

  • India’s population consists of 100 million tribal people who have been constitutionally addressed via two distinct avenues, the Fifth and Sixth Schedules.
  • Fifth and Sixth Schedules were discussed and passed by the Constituent Assembly between September 5-7, 1949.
  • The Fifth Schedule applies to the overwhelming majority of India’s tribes in nine States, while the Sixth Schedule covers areas settled in the northwestern States bordering China and Myanmar.
  • The Sixth Schedule gives tribal communities considerable autonomy; the States of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram are autonomous regions under the Sixth Schedule.
  • The District Council and the Regional Council under the Sixth Schedule have real power to make laws on the various legislative subjects, receiving grants-in-aid from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet the costs of schemes for development, health care, education, roads, and regulatory powers to state control.

About the Autonomous District Councils

  • Tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram are governed as autonomous districts but remain under the state’s executive authority.
  • The Governor has the power to reorganize these districts, including adjusting their boundaries and names and even dividing them into multiple autonomous regions if they have diverse tribal populations.
  • Acts of Parliament or state legislature might not apply directly to these districts unless adapted with specified modifications.
  • Autonomous District Councils: Each autonomous district has a district council consisting of 30 members, 4 of whom are nominated by the governor and the remaining 26 elected through adult franchise for a standard term of 5 years unless dissolved earlier.
  • They can make laws on certain specified matters, such as land, forests, canal water, shifting cultivation, village administration, the inheritance of property, marriage and divorce, social customs, and so on.
  • But all such laws require the assent of the Governor.
  • They can constitute village councils or courts for the trial of suits and cases between the tribes. They hear appeals from them.
  • The jurisdiction of the high court over these suits and cases is specified by the governor.
  • The governor also has the authority to appoint commissions to review district administration matters and can dissolve councils based on their recommendations.

Major Issues Associated with the ADCs

  • Granting special provisions to certain minority tribal groups has led to further demands by other groups for such provisions under the 6th schedule. This has created disparity among the people and resulted in the rise of conflict between various groups.
  • In terms of financial autonomy, the members across the ADCs in North Eastern states share the same view that the ADCs are at the mercy of the state governments. There exists a huge gap between the approved budget and the funds received from the State Government, which has had a direct impact on the development of these tribal communities.
  • They are also dependent upon state governments to make decisions regarding the undertaking of developmental activities in their region.
  • Due to the extensive corruption, development in these regions is seen to be a non-existent phenomenon.
  • Lack of coordination between the States governments and Department of Planning and Development, Hill Areas Department and the Autonomous councils has resulted in the lackadaisical implementation of the development work.
  • The absence of an efficient Committee to monitor, evaluate, and record the funds received and utilized has led to extensive corruption and the underdevelopment of these regions under the Autonomous Councils.
  • Members of the Chakma, Lai and Mara Councils of Mizoram are of the view that funds coming from the Central Government is not sufficient enough, and believes that funds should be granted to different councils on the basis of backwardness of the councils and not on the basis of population.
  • The State government justifies this position by stating that the ADCs have been holding on to their traditional roles of protecting the tribal identity in the region, which abstains the State from various developmental activities.
  • At the same time, the ADCs receive a small amount of funds as taxes and land revenues; however, they have to depend on the central government for more funds.
  • In terms of member representation in the Autonomous Council, Bodoland Territorial Council has 46 members, the highest representation and also the only council with members from the Non-tribal community.
  • From time to time, different ADCs have demanded an increase in the number of members in the ADCs.
  • Unlike the Panchayati Raj System, where the 73rd amendment allows reservation of one-third of all the Panchayat seats for women at different levels, the Fifth and Sixth Schedules do not mention women’s representation or gender equality.
  • The relationship to the land is the basis of tribal or Indigenous identity, and the culture and identity of Indigenous people cannot be preserved without maintaining control over land and natural resources, as these factors, to a large extent, determine the lifestyle and culture of the Indigenous people.
  • Generally tribal or indigenous cultural practices community land ownership, while some other tribes practice individual with clan ownership, however modern land relations and formal law recognizes only individual ownership of land.
  • It was under colonial rule that the process of turning land into commodity began for their own interest, in the name of development. Post independence, large tracts of lands were given away to the immigrants and other settlers.
  • The autonomy and power of the District Councils lie in the hands of a small group of elites who govern the functioning of the Autonomous District Councils.
  • There is clear lack of interest and pursuit on the part of the District Council members in taking initiative and planning and monitoring developmental activities at the micro level.
  • The absence of involvement of local stakeholders in the process of development and in the decision making process has deprived the common masses from their democratic rights.
  • The Sixth Schedule also vests enormous powers to the Governor. Members of the various ADCs, in this context are of the opinion that the Governors are mere puppets in the hands of the Ministers.
  • A major gap in the functioning of the ADCs is the lack of interaction at the village and field level. There is an absence of efficient village councils or regional councils.

Related Links:

Fifth Schedule of Indian ConstitutionSixth Schedule of Indian Constitution
Tribal Forest RightsScheduled Tribes of India