New Delhi, Oct. 3: The Centre will seek an amendment to the Sixth Schedule in a bid to implement accords signed with Northeast outfits and devolve more powers to the grassroots.
The schedule lays down provisions for administration of tribal areas in Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Tripura through autonomous district councils and regional councils accountable to the governor.
A draft bill piloted by the Union home ministry to amend the schedule has got a nod from most of the ministries concerned, sources said. The government will try to bring it for Parliament’s approval in the winter session.
The principal feature of the amendment could be the constitution of village councils. “Democracy to the grassroots through elected village councils cannot be ruled out,” a senior official said. The model is believed to be largely based on the concept of village councils and village development boards in Nagaland.
Also, there is considerable impatience among Northeast militants who have or will sign settlements with the Centre and state governments. These accords cannot be implemented unless changes are made to the Constitution.
For instance, implementation of the clauses of the memorandum of settlement signed with the United Peoples Democratic Solidarity, a Karbi militant group, is pending because of changes needed in the Sixth Schedule. Similar will be the case with the Dimasa outfit, Dima Halam Daogah, which is set to sign a settlement.
As agreed with the outfits, the Centre will introduce a “body” like the state finance commission to take care of the non-plan expenditure of the autonomous councils.
However, the thrust seems to be on the councils’ demand for “direct funding” from the Centre. Funds for the councils are now sent through state governments and this, the councils feel, hampers their autonomy and fiscal freedom. A commission to look into this, coupled with a standing order that funds should be transferred by the state capitals to the councils within a stipulated time, say a fortnight, is aimed to resolve this grouse. Direct funding literally will not be possible, say officials, as it could endanger the identity of states like Meghalaya as the entire state, with the exception of Shillong town, is under the Sixth Schedule.
Another salient feature of the amended schedule will be a change in the mechanism of elections to these councils, as demanded by the negotiating tribal groups.
Elections to the councils are currently held under the hill areas development department. A separate body on the lines of the state election commission will be created to organise the council elections, sources said.
DHD (N) chief Dilip Nunisa said the changes “will benefit all tribes”. The proposed changes do not include the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s demand to bring Gorkha hills under the schedule.