The demand for the implementation of the 6th Schedule surfaces every now and then in Manipur. It is doing so yet again, though in a low profile way. Quite characteristic of the place, every time the issue surfaces, the chattering classes are shaken awake and they begin chattering, some calling it a threat to the territorial integrity of the state and others calling it a birthright of the hill people. The truth of course is far from either of these two poles. It may not even be a midway house. The relatively short history of this Schedule, as well as the states where its provisions were embraced or rejected tell a story quite different from how it is perceived today. If it was meant as a tribal right, why is Nagaland not covered, or marginalised in just three small pockets of Mizoram, namely Chakma, Lakher and Pawi? The Schedule covers almost the entire state of Meghalaya, except for the capital district of Shillong, obviously because of the cosmopolitan nature of the demography here. Here too, those familiar with politics of this state knows, there are many who want this Schedule done away with because its jurisdiction almost totally overlaps with those of the State government, causing many unnecessary administrative frictions.
This is not at all a campaign against the possibility of introducing the schedule in Manipur, but only a plea that its history, therefore the logic that gave it life, must be understood well before jumping into the chattering din. What is most important is to remember the context in which this schedule was introduced in the Indian Constitution. This is a Schedule as old as the Constitution itself, and therefore at the time of its birth, all of the areas which were originally classified under the Schedule were peripheral districts of Assam `“ the Naga Hills, the Lushai Hills, the Khasi and Jantia Hills and the Mikir (North Cachar) Hills. These districts, under the Government of India Act, 1935 were classified as either `Excluded Areas` or `Partially Excluded Areas`. In the former, popular rule was not extended at all and they were given no representatives in the Assam Assembly, and were instead rule directly by the Governor. In the latter, some representation through nominations were given in the Assembly, therefore they have some experience of popular governance. Earlier still, by the Government of India Act 1919, both these areas were simply classified as `Backward Tracts` and left under very loose or no administration. Roughly again, these regions were those kept behind the imaginary line drawn by the Bengal Inner Line Regulation of 1873. In many ways, the philosophy behind the 6th Schedule is a somewhat sublimated extension of this tradition of colonial administration of keeping revenue and non-revenue districts segregated. Except for the Naga Hills district which rejected the schedule from the start, the other original 6th scheduled areas became de-scheduled much later, when they became full-fledged states, except in the peculiar case of Meghalaya, where the original scheduled areas remained as they were. The North Cachar Hills are still a part of Assam, therefore covered by the schedule as it originally was.
So then, it may be a reality today that the state needs to restructure its autonomy model so as to reach the benefits of democratic governance to all sections and regions. Maybe there are guarantees within the 6th Schedule which makes it still a desirable model. But this model, created 70 years ago, cannot possibly be tuned perfectly to modern governance needs and deficiencies. For one thing, no region is excluded or partially excluded by law from the government anymore. Under the circumstance, the modern avatar of the 6th Schedule, if it at all must be implemented, must also address modern needs and frictions. This autonomy model must not be with the objective of segregating regions, and instead must be aimed at making administration more efficient. IFP had suggested this once before, let not this autonomy model be about falling prey to the one-up-man ship between the valley and the hills. Let it cover all of the state, so that each region can have their own separate plans over and above the larger plans of the state government.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam