Toothless district councils!
CHAIRMEN of six Autonomous District Councils threatening to drag the government of Manipur to the court over alleged inaction to devolve power to the councils sums up the utter frustration of the grassroots level elected people’s representatives. Though the words of caution by Ukhrul ADC chairman Dr Yaronsho Ngalung that legal action would be initiated against the government in case of further indifferent attitude seems intended to draw the attention of authorities concerned such a stand suggests that there has been growing disenchantment among the council leaders over denial of executive powers in the real term. Among others, Dr Yaronsho, on behalf of his colleagues, stressed the need to keep the ADCs under a separate head of the tribal affairs department, conduct recruitment of teaching staff for ADC schools, strengthen Hill Areas Committee, hold election for the post of chairman for Senapati ADC, extend pension facility to non-teaching staff of schools under ADC and early recommendation for full implementation of the 6th Schedule. These proposals appear to be genuine as existence of the six ADCs of the state will serve no purpose when they are rendered powerless. His other demand for framing rules of Manipur Hill Areas District Council (3rd Amendment) Act, 2008 also merits appropriate consideration by the government for ADCs were made a public mandated institution to undertake developmental works in the hill districts where many of the populated pockets are located in distant and unfriendly terrain. It is disheartening to learn that amount of fund being allocated to the ADCs had been static since 2008 though there has been manifold increase in the cost of living as well as in implementing structural projects.
In its formative period, the new government announced to earmark an amount of Rs 164 crore for the six ADCs giving the impression that the tone has been set for devolving power to the hill councils. However, the group of ADC chairmen voicing resentment against alleged government apathy indicates that it is quite different at the ground level. As empowerment of the councils has been one of the demands that many hill-based organisations have been constantly raising, it is time that the government pays adequate attention to grievances of the hill people and ensure uniform and adequate distribution of developmental funds to the ADCs. Disenchantment over powerless ADCs was also reflected in the form of the Hill Areas Committee of Manipur Legislative Assembly deciding on July 18, 1990 to forego elections to the ADCs unless the provisions of the Sixth Schedule were extended. After over two decades the ADCs were revived with the successful conduct of elections amid high hopes that the requisite executive powers would be guaranteed to the ADCs for efficient local self-governance. However, voices of dissent being raised occasionally over operational ineptness of the councils manifest that powers are yet to be devolved in the right sense. There has to be a firm policy and commitment to help the elected representatives of the ADCs chalk up developmental schemes in their respective jurisdictions. Moreover, such a move will also help silence criticism that successive governments in Manipur had been, politically and developmentally, discriminating against the hill dwellers, and would eventually strengthen relation between the state government and the ADCs.