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Garo council’s tenure extended

Chief minister Mukul Sangma addresses a news conference in Shillong on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Shillong, Jan. 8: The Meghalaya government today decided to extend the tenure of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) by six months. It hoped that the “agreed text for settlement” with the militant outfit A’chik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) would get the Centre’s nod before fresh elections.

For the two autonomous district councils in Khasi-Jaińtia region — Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC) — the cabinet extended their tenure only by 15 days.

The proposal to extend the tenure of the three councils, which is expiring on February 16, was taken by the cabinet, at a meeting chaired by chief minister Mukul Sangma here.

The extension period begins from February 17, Sangma told reporters.

While elections to the KHADC and JHADC will be held before March 3, the polls to the GHADC will be conducted only after the “agreed text for settlement” is accorded by the Centre.

“The main reason for extending the tenure of KHADC and JHADC was to enable the councils to conduct the elections according to the newly delimited constituencies,” Sangma said.

The cabinet, which approved the amendment rules related to delimiting of constituencies in KHADC and JHADC has also decided to recommend them to governor K.K. Paul for his assent.

The GHADC did not carry out any exercise on realignment of constituencies.

Though the “agreed text for settlement” between the state and Centre and the ANVC was signed a year ago on January 5, signing of the final agreement is, however, is yet to take place.

“We will communicate to the Centre to expeditiously complete the whole process of signing the final agreement within this period of six months,” Sangma said

The ANVC, which has scaled down its demand from creation of separate Garoland state for the Garo tribe, demanded enhancement of autonomy to the existing GHADC and that the number of seats in the council be increased from 30 to 40 seats.

From the proposed 40 seats, the ANVC wanted direct election to 35 seats, while five — comprising two ANVC members, two nokmas (traditional heads) and one woman — will be nominated.

“It was contended if the elections to the GHADC are held now without extension, it will just contradict the intention of the government to allow the whole accord to be completed. If elections are held now, then even if the accord is signed, they (ANVC) will not be able to participate in the election process, because the next elections to the district councils will be held only in 2019,” Sangma said.

The ANVC, once a powerful outfit in Garo hills region, entered into the tripartite ceasefire agreement with the state and the Centre on July 23, 2004, with an aim to have a political settlement to bring lasting peace in the Garo hills.

Despite the outfit joining peace talks with the Centre’s interlocutor, P.C. Haldar, one after another splinter groups emerged in the Garo hills, including a breakaway faction, the ANVC-B.

In November last year, the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) referred to the Meghalaya government for clarity with regard to the “agreed text for settlement” as the ministry was not clear on the demand of the ANVC to increase the number of seats in the GHADC.

The Centre is awaiting a reply from the Meghalaya government till date.

Sangma, however, claimed that the ultimate accord, which would be signed based on the “agreed text settlement” for permanent political settlement with the ANVC, is in the final stage with some views required to be sent back from the state government.

“The views of the state government on this issue will be soon communicated to the Centre,” he added.

According to Sangma, the delay to complete the “agreed text settlement” has made the parent organisation of ANVC difficult to maintain their cadres and prevent desertion and mushrooming of organisations, which will further vitiate the peaceful environment in the Garo hills.

To a question on whether the signing of the final agreement would materialise during the tenure of the present Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Sangma said, “If not, we will wait for the new government.”

On whether the agreement to increase the number of seats in GHADC would also apply to KHADC and JHADC, Sangma said the issue would be attended to by both the state and the Centre. This is because the issue was also linked to constitutional amendments in the Sixth Schedule as the same provision will require to be extended to other district councils in the state.

“The whole process of amendment to the relevant portion of the Sixth Schedule will be taken up by the state government so that a sense urgency can be conveyed to the Centre,” he said.