By: Kshetri Bimola
It was under the Government of Indian Act, 1935 that the hill areas of Assam was classified into 3 categories (1) Excluded areas (2) Partially Excluded Area and (3) Frontier Areas. The Excluded Areas were the Naga hills, the Lushai hills and the North Cachar hills. The Excluded Areas were the Naga hills, the Lushai hills and the North Cachar hills. The Garo hills, the Miker hills and the British portions of the Khasi and Jaintia other than the Shillong Municipality and Cantonment were partially Excluded areas. The Frontier Areas were Balipara, Sadiya, Lakhimpur Tracts. The Governor of Assam was vested with powers and authority over the Frontier Tracts. The Governor was also responsible for Excluded Areas were the Naga hills district, the Lushai hills district and the North Cachar Hills. The Ministers in Assam province had no jurisdiction on matters relating to Excluded Areas. The Partially Excluded Areas, the Khasi hills district, Jantia hills district and Garo hills district and the Miker hills district were administered by the Provincial Government of Assam. At the same time, the Governor had the power to withhold or apply the laws passed by the Provincial legislature with or without modifications. Among the hill districts, the Khasi hills district was the most advanced, might be because Shillong was the capital of Assam. The Khasis were in contact with the Government of Assam as well as the plain people.
The political status of the hill districts of Assam both Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas was discussed and examined by the Cabinet Mission of the British government in 1946. The Cabinet Mission suggested that an Advisory Committee on the rights of citizens, Minorities and Tribals should be formed to make proposals for the administration of tribal areas. The Constituent Assembly, accordingly set up an Advisory Committee. This Committee appointed a Sub-Committee with Gopinath Bordoloi as its Chairman. The Committee was also known as Bordoloi Committee. The members of the Committee heard the views of the leaders of the hill areas by visiting different hill districts of Assam.
The Bordoloi Committee had examined the proposals made by several tribes and made its recommendations. The main points of the recommendation were:
Evolution should come from the tribe itself, the occupation and use of land should be in the hand of the District Council, the people should have the full power of administering their own social laws, the District Council should manage primary schools, dispensaries etc. The Committee had also recommended the allocation of certain taxes and financial powers to the Councils. The Government of Assam should prepare a development programme for the hill areas and should be financed liberally both by the Central and Provincial government. One recommendation of the Bordoloi Committee was the establishment of Regional Councils in autonomous districts. The Governor had the power to dissolve the Dstrict Council, if necessary. Only the tribals should represent the hill districts in the legislature. At least one representative from the hill districts should be in the State Cabinet. The non-tribal should not be allowed to contest elections in the hill districts.
The recommendation of the Bordoloi Committee was taken up in the Constituent Assembly. There were different views among the members of the Constituent Assembly regarding the establishment of district councils in the hill districts of Assam. Some members ofthe Constituent Assembly like Rohini Kumar Choudhury, LaksminarayanSahu etc. strongly opposed the establishment of district councils in the hills. But there were members who had supported the creation of district Councilors. Ambedkar had supported the creation of District Councils in the hill districts of Assam. He said that “there is a difference between the tribals in Assam and the tribals of other places. The tribals in other places were m9ore or less Hindunised and assimilated with the culture and civilization of the people among whom they lived. But the tribals of Assam had their roots in their own culture and civilization”. The Constituent Assembly after minute and thorough deliberations had accepted the recommendation of the Bordoloi Committee with minor modifications. The recommendation became the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India.
The District Council and the Regional Council under the Sixth Schedule have the power to make laws for the area under its jurisdiction. The law making power of the District Council are on matters like allotment, occupation and use of land for agricultural and non-agricultural purposes, other than reserved forests, management of forest other than the reserved forests, the use of canal or water courses for the purpose of agricultures, control prohibit or permit jhuming or other forms of shifting cultivation, the establishment of town councils or village councils and determine their powers and functions, the appointment of chiefs, their succession, inheritance of property, marriage, social customs etc. The District Councils and the Regional Councils may set up village cours for the settlement of disputes, The establishment and management of primary schools, dispensaries, markets, cattle pounds, ferries, fisheries, roads, waterways, regulation of money lending and trade by non tribals, assessment and collection of land revenue, imposition of taxes on profession, trade, employment, animals, vehicles, carts, tolls, markets etc. are also within the power of the District Council.
The laws passed by the State legislature may be applied by the District Councils with or without modifications. But the state legislature do not have the power to make laws on any subject allotted to the District Councils or Regional Councils. The Governor has the discretionary power to amend, suspend an act or resolution of a District Council or a Region of the District Council would endanger the safety and security of India, the Governor may suspend such an Act or Resolution.
The idea behind the Sixth Schedule was to provide the tribal people with administration or their which would safeguard their customs and way of life. The provisions of the Sixth Schedule assure them autonomy in the management of their own affairs. The tribal people are sensitive about their lands, forests, their customs and systems of justice. The District Councils have to exercise their powers and functions in matters pertaining to their customs and institutions without affecting the unity and the general responsibility of the State and the Union Government.
The District Council under the Sixth Schedule was constituted in hill districts of Assam except the Naga hills. In Naga Hills, the Naga National Council under the leadership of Phizo did not accept the Sixth Schedule. The first general elections for the District Councils in all hill districts of Assam, except the Naga hills were held in 1952.
The autonomous District Councils are local authorities under the State Government. Each District Council shall be presided by a Chairman or a Deputy Chairman. There are also nominated members in the District Council. The Governor has to nominate the members who hold office during the pleasure of the Governor.
The Rules under the Sixth Schedule provided for a Cabinet system of government. There is an Executive Committee of the District Council. The Chief Executive member is the head of the Executive Committee. The Chief Executive member, with two members appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the former, will execute the laws passed by the District Council. The Executive Committee may be removed by the District Council at any time. The Executive Committee is collectively responsible to the District Council.
Thus, the District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India may be regarded as important local bodies for direct participation of the people in the administration of their own affairs.