Soon, bill to grant more powers to NE councils

Sources said that the “landmark” Bill to amend the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution would be introduced during the forthcoming session of Parliament as the ruling BJP was keen to reap its political dividends in the Lok Sabha elections. (PTI File Photo)

The BJP-led government at the Centre is likely to introduce a bill in Parliament to amend the Constitution to grant more power and financial resources to 10 autonomous councils in the Northeastern states.

The Bill to amend the Article 280 of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution was approved by the Union Cabinet in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The proposed legislation is apparently aimed at placating the tribal communities in the region, where several civil society organizations are up in arms against Modi Government for its recent move to change the Citizenship Act 1955.

Sources said that the “landmark” Bill to amend the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution would be introduced during the forthcoming session of Parliament as the ruling BJP was keen to reap its political dividends in the Lok Sabha elections.

The forthcoming session of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is likely to be held from January 31 to February 13. It is going to be the last session of parliament before the nation goes to polls, possibly in April and May.

The proposed amendments in the Article 280 and the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution will significantly improve the financial resources and administrative powers of the Autonomous District Councils of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. The Government is set to move the Bill in Parliament in order to fulfil long standing aspirations of the tribal population in these North Eastern States, a government official said after the meeting of the Union Cabinet.

The Bill seeks to specifically mandate the Finance Commission constituted by Union Government to recommend devolution of financial resources to the 10 Autonomous District Councils as well as the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas.

“This will be a game changer, as it will substantially enhance the funds available to these local government institutions for undertaking development works in these tribal areas,” the Union Government official said in New Delhi.

The amendment also provides for constitution of State Finance Commissions in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.

The amendment also provides for transfer of additional 30 subjects including Public Works Department, Forests, Public Health Engineering, Health and Family Welfare, Urban Development and Food and Civil Supply to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council (KAATC) and Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council (DHATC) in Assam, thus greatly strengthening the Autonomous Councils and giving them a major role in the days to day governance and developmental activities.

The proposed legislation also provides for elected village and municipal councils ensuring grass root democracy. The village councils would be empowered for preparation of plans for economic development and social justice including those in relation to agriculture, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, minor irrigation, water management, animal husbandry, rural electrification, small scale industries and social forestry.

There will be reservations of at least one-third of seats for women in the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura and at least two of the nominated members in all autonomous councils in the North East Sixth Schedule areas resulting in empowerment of women.

“There will be State Election Commissions for holding elections to the Autonomous Councils, village and municipal councils in the areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura. Meghalaya has for the time being kept out of the purview of the provision for elected village and municipal councils and one-third reservations for women,” said an official.

The amendments will fulfil the commitments made under tripartite Memorandum of Settlements signed by Government of India, State Governments of Assam and Meghalaya, United People's Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) and Achik National Volunteers' Council (ANVC). The amendments propose to rename the existing autonomous councils as Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council (KAATC), Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council (DHATC), Garo Hills Autonomous Territorial Council (GHATC), Khasi Hills Autonomous Territorial Council (KHATC), Jaintia Hills Autonomous Territorial Council (JHATC) and Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous Territorial Council (TTAATC) as the present jurisdiction of these Councils extend to more than one districts.

There will also be increase in seats in KAATC, DHATC, GHATC, KHATC and JHATC.

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Soon, bill to grant more powers to NE councils

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