Making Meghalaya’s autonomous councils more effective

Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council
KHADC office building

5 min read

The three Autonomous District Councils in Meghalaya have evolved and changed with time, but the question is whether the change will facilitate the councils become more effective or are Councils becoming mere replicas of the state government.

Meghalaya is generally divided into three main regions–the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia region. Hence based on this broad generalization, the district councils in the state were also created on the basis of this arrangement and we have the Khasi Hills, the Garo Hills and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Councils.

Based on the fact that the people who live in Northeast or the composite state of Assam have a distinctive culture which is unique to the region, the drafting committee of the Constitution came up with the idea of a special provision in the constitution to protect the same.

The provision known as the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution was designed to cater to the specific need of the people in the region. Therefore, the ADCs are the institutions created under this provision of the Constitution to address to the special requirements of the people in the region.

The mandate of the ADCs as prescribed under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is to protect and promote the unique customs and traditions of the people in the region, the majority of which are tribal. However, there are hundreds of ethnic groups in the region which are unique in their own way and also different from each other in many ways than one can think of.

This diverse way of life need to be protected and their rights as enshrined in the Constitution needs to be protected. But critics of the Autonomous District Council (particularly those in Meghalaya) have raised several questions with regards to the performance of the ADCs and its relevance in the current state of affairs that the state Meghalaya is in.

The first question is whether the ADCs have achieved it major mandate of protecting and promoting the unique tribal culture in their respective jurisdiction. And the second most important question is whether the institutions are still relevance in the current political scenario when we already have our own state with the same objective of promoting the unique tribal customs and traditions of the people in the area. Is there a need to continue with the ADCs when Meghalaya was  created as a separate hill state to cater to the special need of the people in the area?

One thing that is obvious is the fact that ADCs have become mere avenue for the state government (whichever government is in power) to accommodate party’s second rung politicians and also to influence the functioning of the institution. Currently the ADCs have become battle ground of the parties especially those who are in power in the state government.

The truth is whenever there is a change in the government at the state level; the Executive Committee at the various ADCs also follow suit. This is one of the factors which hampered the functioning of the ADCs. The cases in point are the two ADCs–the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council and the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council–which experienced change of leadership the moment the MDA government was installed in Shillong.

The moment the new MDA government was instituted in Shillong, the Congress-led Executive Committee at both Tura and Jowai also collapsed on its own weight as Members of the District Council at the two ADCs also switch sides. That the ADCs are not under the purview of anti-defection law is also another reason for the ECs in the district councils being instable because MDCs can jump fence anytime and at their whims and fancy.

This is not healthy for the smooth functioning of the ADCs because unlike the state government, the ADCs were created with a specific and special mandate. Many a times the functioning of the District Councils was affected due to this frequent change of EC of the different ADCs.

If the objective of the schedule is to protect and promote tribal culture then the ADC should have a special way of governing or mechanism to administer the functioning of the ADCs. The ADCs should stop duplicating the way how the state government is run and since it is mandated to protect the customs and traditions of the people, it should adopt the traditional way of managing the administration of the ADCs.

The existing administrative mechanism of the Dorbar Shnong is one idea worth exploring for the very reason that the institution is being run on a political party-less system of government.

The traditional system runs more on a consensus than voting by ballots and the change of the Rangbah Shnong unlike in the change of the Chief Executive Member of the ADCs does not have adverse impact on the day to day functioning of the Dorbar Shnong. To achieve its goal, the ADCs should stop acting like a mini government because it is not a government in the first place.

HH Mohrmen is a freelance writer and environment activist based in Jowai, Meghalaya. He can be reached at hhmohremen@gmail.com

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