N-E autonomy: haste uncalled for

N-E autonomy: haste uncalled for

The union cabinet has approved a constitutional amendment to give greater autonomy to autonomous councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of the North-East. Deepening autonomy is welcome as it provides local communities a greater say in the kind of development they want for themselves. If powers are meaningfully devolved and backed with financial resources, local communities will be empowered to prepare plans for economic development in areas such as agriculture, minor irrigation and social forestry. Especially in strife-torn states such as those in the North-East, which are ethnically diverse and where one or a handful of ethnic groups dominate the state to the exclusion of others, greater autonomy to local government institutions that better represent excluded groups helps reduce the latter’s alienation from the State and could help ease conflicts. The proposed amendment to Article 280 and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution will increase financial and executive powers of 10 autonomous district councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura. It is therefore a step in the right direction.

However, the Narendra Modi government’s motivations in pushing this amendment at this time are suspect. General elections are due in three months. The North-East, especially the state of Assam, is roiled in violent unrest over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. It is to win the support and votes of tribal communities in the region that the Modi government appears to be pushing to have the autonomy amendment passed during the upcoming budget session of parliament, the last session of this government’s tenure. What makes the move all the more untenable is that issues like greater autonomy to councils in the North-East are hugely important and deserve to be deeply discussed and debated before they are passed.

Amendment to deepen powers and financial resources of autonomous district councils will evoke a positive response on the ground, by and large. However, it is not a magic wand that will by itself generate development or alleviate local grievances. India’s experience with this has not always been positive as funds do not get used for local development. Funds directed to autonomous councils in Assam, for instance, often ended up finding their way to personal pockets or insurgent groups. Delhi will have a job ensuring that this doesn’t happen with funds sent to the 10 autonomous councils identified under the proposed amendment to Article 280. The amendment will significantly raise local expectations and if these are not met adequately as a result of official apathy in Delhi or corruption in the North-East, Delhi might find itself having to deal with an outbreak of new conflicts and intensification of existing ones.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT