Tracking Moving Targets

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The 6th Schedule of the Constitution was, as we have noted earlier, meant for the formerly undivided Assam on the peripheral hills of which lived many different, till then backward tribal communities. As the agitation for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit System in the State in the last few months have brought to the fore, the idea of delineating the unadministered Assam hills from those administered by modern laws was already a concern even during the British days. The Bengal Inner Line Regulation of 1873 was the first official documentary statement of this concern. This line as we now know was drawn roughly along the foothills of Assam`™s peripheral hills, and by this system, British subjects were required to take special permission to enter these hills. By the Government of India Act 1919, these hills would come to be designated as `Backward Tracts` and by the Government of India Act 1935, they would be further delineated into `Excluded` and `Partially Excluded` areas. The `Excluded` areas, constituting of the Naga Hills and Lushai Hills, were under the direct administration of the British Governor, while the `Partially Excluded` areas, constituting of the Khasi-Jantia Hills and the Mikir Hills (now known as Karbi Anglong) were given some representations in the Provincial Assembly through nominated members and therefore partially responsible for their own governance. After Indian Independence, the former `Excluded` and `Partially Excluded` areas were the ones sought to be given special administrative facilities under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution. The rest, including what became of the original 6th Schedule ADCs, is now history, and discussed in some details in another recent IFP editorial. As to why Manipur never had either the ILP or 6th Schedule from the beginning is because it was never part of British Assam.

In other words, these were administrative arrangements fashioned by the British and then the nascent modern Indian State, to govern formerly ungoverned or little governed areas of undivided Assam. Times have changed, and changed unrecognizably in the context of the Northeast. Out of the former Assam, four hills States have been bifurcated, making the Northeast a sisterhood of seven States, or eight including Sikkim after Sikkim was incorporated within the purview of the NEC. The Inner Line is now the boundary of many of these relatively new States, and the 6th Schedule thereafter become redundant and either was abandoned or retained in parts in most of these former districts of Assam. It is amidst these that the demands for the implementation of the Inner Line Permit System and the 6th Schedule are rearing their problem laden heads in Manipur. No argument about it that needs for similar legislations could have arisen again and therefore the urgency of bringing them back to the State`™s discursive forums, but the trouble is, those who feel so seem to think simply bringing back these archaic laws is the panacea for all problems the state is faced with. These instruments of governance had unique historical contexts, and these contexts are hardly likely to have remained intact, therefore the extreme likelihood of these instruments being outdated and unfit for the present times. Indeed, there were many who have had an experience of the Inner Line System, including the Chief Minister of Nagaland, saying how toothless this system is today. There are an equal number of people, say for instance in Meghalaya and Mizoram, who hold similar opinions about the 6th Schedule. Yet those demanding these systems insist on having them as they were.

The moot point is, it does not have to be these archaic laws, already bending under the weight of decades and even centuries of troubled existence. Instead, the better approach would be to take the spirit from them and make new laws which are fit to current purposes and needs. It is a truism that times change continually, which is why each era has its own needs and makes its own demands. Ability or otherwise to recognize these needs, and make adjustments to meet the new challenges, has always been the defining criteria for survival or collapse of societies. To hit shifting targets, the need is also to shift aims correspondingly. Let it also be remembered that the tides of time not only change, but also wait for nobody.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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