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ARTICLE 244 (A): ITS RELEVANCE FOR ASSAM HILL TRIBES

Context:

As the hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong and West Karbi Anglong go to polls, the demand for an autonomous state within Assam has been raised by some of the sections of the society under the provisions of Article 244A of the Constitution.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions), GS-I: Issues related to SCs and STs)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Article 244(A) of the Constitution?
  2. Special Status of Sixth Schedule Areas
  3. About Autonomous District Councils (ADCs)
  4. How is 244A different from the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution?
  5. Background to the current demand for autonomous state:

What is Article 244(A) of the Constitution?

  • The 22nd Amendment of the Constitution of India, 1969, inserted new article 244A in the Constitution to empower Parliament to enact a law for constituting an autonomous State within the State of Assam.
  • The parliament can also provide the autonomous State with Legislature or a Council of Ministers or both with such powers and functions as may be defined by that law, under Article 244A.

Other provisions of the 22nd Amendment

  • The 22nd Amendment amended article 275 in regard to sums and grants payable to the autonomous State on and from its formation under article 244A.
  • It also inserted new article 371B which provided for constitution and functions of a committee of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Assam consisting of members of that Assembly elected from the tribal areas specified in the Sixth Schedule.

Special Status of Sixth Schedule Areas

  • The Sixth Schedule was originally intended for the predominantly tribal areas (tribal population over 90%) of undivided Assam, which was categorised as “excluded areas” under the Government of India Act, 1935 and was under the direct control of the Governor.
  • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution provides for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to safeguard the rights of the tribal population in these states.
  • In Assam, the hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong and West Karbi and the Bodo Territorial Region are under this provision.
  • The Sixth Schedule provides for autonomy in the administration of these areas through Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) and the special provision is provided under Article 244(2) and Article 275(1) of the Constitution.
  • The Governor is empowered to increase or decrease the areas or change the names of the autonomous districts. While executive powers of the Union extend in Scheduled areas with respect to their administration in fifth schedule, the sixth schedule areas remain within executive authority of the state.
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About Autonomous District Councils (ADCs)

  • The Autonomous districts and regional councils (ADCs) are empowered with civil and judicial powers can constitute village courts within their jurisdiction to hear the trial of cases involving the tribes.
  • Governors of states that fall under the Sixth Schedule specify the jurisdiction of high courts for each of these cases.
  • Along with ADCs, the Sixth Schedule also provides for separate Regional Councils for each area constituted as an autonomous region.
  • In all, there are 10 areas in the Northeast that are registered as autonomous districts – three in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram and one in Tripura.
  • These regions are named as district council of (name of district) and regional council of (name of region).
  • Each autonomous district and regional council consist of not more than 30 members, of which four are nominated by the governor and the rest via elections, all of whom remain in power for a term of five years.

How is 244A different from the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution?

  • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution — Articles 244(2) and 275(1) — is a special provision that allows for greater political autonomy and decentralized governance in certain tribal areas of the Northeast through autonomous councils that are administered by elected representatives. In Assam, the hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong and West Karbi and the Bodo Territorial Region are under this provision.
  • Article 244(A) accounts for more autonomous powers to tribal areas. According to Uttam Bathari, who teaches history at Gauhati University, among these the most important power is the control over law and order.

Background to the current demand for autonomous state:

  • In the 1950s, a demand for a separate hill state arose around certain sections of the tribal population of undivided Assam. In 1960, various political parties of the hill areas merged to form the All Party Hill Leaders Conference, demanding a separate state. After prolonged agitations, Meghalaya gained statehood in 1972.
  • The leaders of the Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills were also part of this movement and they were given the option to stay in Assam or join Meghalaya. The chose to stay in Assam as the then government promised more powers, including Article 244 (A) and since then, there has been a demand for Autonomous state.
  • 2021, 1,040 militants of five militant groups of Karbi Anglong district ceremonially laid down arms at an event in Guwahati in the presence of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, the entire political discourse here still revolves around the demand for grant of ‘autonomous state’ status to the region.

-Source: Indian Express

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June 2022
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