Arunachal steps up to protect indigenous rights

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Posted in Arunachal Pradesh, Featured, Northeast


The ruling government in Arunachal Pradesh recently came under the scanner when the Mon Autonomous Region Demand Committee (MARDC) reiterated its clarion call for the Mon Autonomous Region. Various civil society organizations and students’ association were vocal against the demand, which, according to them would impact other communities and initiate division among the tribes of the state. The state government led by Chief Minister Pema Khandu has been widely criticized for its alignment towards a particular community and the resignation of the CM was also demanded. However, the state government in consultation with various groups is now vouching for the implementation of Sixth Schedule in the state, following which the state Assembly on August 27, passed a resolution to include the frontier state in the Sixth Schedule of Constitution and amend Article 371 (H) to protect the rights of its indigenous population. From the recent development, it can be assumed that the state is in the process of decentralization of power and empowering various tribes and communities in the state.

Demand for an Autonomous Council resurfaced

The push for the creation of the two autonomous councils- Mon Autonomous Council (MAC) which consists of the Tawang, West Kameng and part of East Kameng District and Patkai Autonomous Council (PAC) comprising the three Eastern districts of Tirap, Changlang and Longding, was raised 17 years back in 2004. Even though resolutions were passed in the state assembly in two separate occasions for the creation of the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs), things did not materialize.

The call for the long-pending demand for the creation of MAR resurfaced when on July 29, the MARDC submitted a memorandum to CM Khandu. According to the MARDC, the 17-year-old demand for creation of the MAR, which started in 2003, is still pending before the Government of India. The Committee further exhorted to strong views of the extreme necessity of the MAR and expressed displeasure over the inordinate delay of the Government in granting the Autonomous Region. The Committee urged for the immediate creation of the Autonomous Region, and to pursue the same vehemently with the State Government and the Government of India. It also emphasized to have tripartite talks of the Demand Committee with the State Government and the Centre at the earliest for the creation of the proposed Autonomous Region. The meeting then finalized a memorandum requesting the State Government to take up the long pending demand of MAR.


Countering the Demand for ADCs

Arunachal shares international borders with Bhutan in the west, Myanmar in the east, and a disputed border with China in the north at the McMahon Line. Within the region, it shares its border with Assam and Nagaland in the south. It is home to a diverse group of tribes and communities, each with a unique identity.

As the proposal of the two councils emerged various groups and organizations have expressed their resentment as it will fuel the need for more such autonomous councils, thereby disturbing the integrity of the state.

More so, when there is trouble with China on the international border and the nation is grappling with Covid-19. The territorial claim of the eastern districts of Arunachal owing to the Naga political problem is another sensitive issue at hand.

The apex students’ body, All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) has opposed the proposal since day one of the demand of the ADCs. Concerned about the divisive consequence, it would bring among various communities in the ethnically sensitive state, the Union rather urged the state government to focus on a holistic approach and take every region together along the path of prosperity and development.

“Rather than exclusive autonomy for a few regions, the focus should be on the overall development of the state,” the AAPSU stated in a press release.

It suggested that the proposed consultative debate/meeting should seek to put a “permanent moratorium” on the ADC issue and primarily focus on the defective Statehood Act and the ways and means to secure constitutional rights for the people of Arunachal.

“It should focus on strengthening of ILP system, constitutional safeguards to the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, etc, and not on justifying the creation of Mon autonomous council and Patkai autonomous council on a state government platform,” it said.

The state vouches for the Sixth Schedule

Between the demand and opposition on the issue of creation of the twin ADCs emerged a mutual understanding for the benefit of the community and the state at large. An effort was made by the state government to bring together all parties together and have a comprehensive discussion.

A nine member committee headed by Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein was constituted to consult all the community-based organisations “on the issues related to constitutional safeguards for the indigenous people of the State” and submit a report to the CM.

Accordingly, political parties, social and students’ organizations pointed out that the autonomy demand was not justified as Arunachal falls under the Fifth Schedule state. And the need of the hour is to ensure equal rights and ownership of resources for all the communities instead of confining the state into autonomous zones.

It was stressed on to bring the entire state under the ambit of the Sixth Schedule or Article 371 (A) of the Constitution of India, which allows for the formation of autonomous administrative divisions within the respective states.

Presently, ten Autonomous Councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura are formed by virtue of the Sixth Schedule with the rest being formed as a result of other legislation. Arunachal falls under 5th schedule, it “does not provide special rights for the indigenous communities” unlike the Sixth Schedule.

Hence the state assembly recently passed a resolution to include the frontier state in the Sixth Schedule of Constitution and amend Article 371 (H) to protect the rights of its indigenous population.

Khandu expressed that Arunachal Pradesh has many tribes but not adequate laws to protect tribal rights. “We have no laws to protect our tribal rights and customary laws. It is time we need to act strongly for safeguarding our rights,” he said to media.

“We will place the resolution before the Centre explaining all the views expressed by the MLAs and the CBOs so that it can be taken up for discussion in both Houses of Parliament,” Khandu said.

Decentralization of power is the need of the hour

The Indian Constitution introduced the Fifth and Sixth Schedule to protect the tribal indigenous communities and their customs. While Fifth Schedule provides for the administration of scheduled areas and scheduled tribes, the Sixth Schedule was formulated to provide autonomy to the tribal regions of the Northeast. It seeks to safeguard the rights of the tribal populations through the formation of ADCs, which gives considerable autonomy to the tribal community by empowering the council to enact laws for land protection.

State Home Minister Bamang Felix told Economic Times, “Arunachal comes under Article 371(H) of the constitution, which does not provide full protection to the state’s people for under the said article there is no special provision. We may have our land, air, and water but we do not have its ownership.”

Arunachal has a different terrain compared to other states. The indigenity of the state is defined by the diverse cultural background, tribes and traditions. Hence, with the objective to preserve the tribal autonomy, their culture and economic empowerment, and to ensure social, economic and political justice, and preservation of peace and good governance the Fifth Schedule was implemented.

Lately, the state realized that the absence of a protective mechanism (Sixth Schedule) will alienate the tribals of Arunachal from their land and culture. As such the state cabinet initiated the move to bring the frontier state under the purview of the Sixth Schedule.

In Assam, the Dimasa, Bodo, Karbi and Mising community has strongly benefitted by the Sixth Schedule to safeguard their culture, traditions or promote their language.  Therefore, comparing with other Northeastern states which enjoy the provisions of the sixth schedule it can be summed up that the decentralization of power and functions to the local bodies will enhance the state to work towards the development of tribal areas which seeks to associate peoples participation in the decision making process at the grass roots level. While it gives the tribals to exercise legislative and executive power, it will further safeguard their rights.

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