The news today that the centre is willing to have the 6th Schedule extended to the hill districts of Manipur quite obviously would become the new agenda in the coming days for Manipur`™s issue starved politics. The discussions are unlikely have new substance but it is certain to bring out the painful polarity in Manipur politics again, and in our opinion quite meaninglessly. The state has heard these debates on the schedule before and it is unlikely to have become any more enlightened now precisely because political debates in Manipur have become a matter of posturing, and blinding opposing dissenting voices, with the least interest in creating creative dialectics which can throw new light on the state`™s many entangled issues. Like so many other issues, the question of introduction of the 6th Schedule in the state too has come to be appropriated by the other hotter issue of the state`™s territorial integrity, therefore all the heat and dust that this debate always manages to kick up.
The fact is, the 6th Schedule is nothing new. It has been in existence since the time India`™s republican Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950. It was meant for territories within the former undivided Assam and is aimed at giving a level of autonomy to the areas inhabited by hill tribals, in particular the Naga Hills District, which was already showing signs of unrest. Quite ironically, Naga leadership at the time under the charismatic A.Z. Phizo rejected the proposal and opted instead to demand total sovereignty for the Nagas. So the 6th Schedule came to be applied in the Khasi Hills, Jantia Hills, Garo Hills, which together became Megalaya in later years; the Lushai Hills which later became Mizoram; the Mikir Hills (Karbi Anglong); and North Cachar Hills. After Meghalaya became a state in 1972 by clubbing Khasi, Jantia and Garo hills, the Autonomous District Councils which each of them formed was retained, and even today, the entire state of Meghalaya is still covered by these three ADCs, except in the capital Shillong district which had been de-scheduled and de-reserved. When the Lushai Hills (by then known as the Mizo Hills) was elevated to a Union territory in 1972, the Mizo ADC was abolished but the area then known as Pawi-Lakher was split into three ADCs of Pawi, Lakher and Chakma. To go a little further into history, the area which came under these ADCs initially, were what the British called `Backward Tracts` by the Government of India Act 1919, and were generally territories beyond the Inner Line. These tracts later came to constitute two different categories of administrative zones called `Excluded Area` and `Partially Excluded Area` by the Government of India Act 1935. The `Excluded Areas` were not given any representation in the elected provincial government and were instead administered directly by the Governor. The `Partially Excluded Areas` had some representations but not by popular election, but nomination by the Governor. At the time the Constituent Assembly was thrashing out the shape of the Indian Constitution, the government appointed a Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly called the North-East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas Committee, under the chairmanship of Gopinath Bardoloi, the then Chief Minister of Assam. It was this committee which came up with the 6th Schedule as an administrative mechanism for the formerly `Excluded` and `Partially Excluded` areas of Assam. As always happens, the 6th Schedule, as indeed the Inner Line, have been given totally different connotations and today Tripura too has adopted the schedule for its now greatly shrunken tribal areas and in Manipur there are demands for it in place of the state`™s own ADCs created by the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971.
History aside, the moot point is, has the 6th Schedule been a success? The answer generally is no, and this will be confirmed by voices from the states where this schedule is in vogue. There is another question, and very relevant to Manipur. Is the 6th Schedule a threat to Manipur`™s integrity? The answer again would be no, and again this will be confirmed by voices from these states. Meghalaya is almost entirely covered by three ADCs under the schedule, but this has not meant its disintegration. Mizoram and Tripura offer the same answer. The new proposal for introducing the 6th Schedule in Manipur probably is part of a compromise formula for the Nagas who have been holding peace talks with the Government of India for the last 18 years. This would probably in lieu of Naga sovereignty or integration. If a lasting settlement can be thus brought about with such a concession, it needs to be applauded and accepted.