The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution

Article 244 in Part X of the Constitution envisages a special system of administration for certain areas designated as ‘scheduled areas’ and ‘tribal areas’. The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, deals with the administration of the tribal areas in the four north-eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

  • The tribes in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram have not assimilated much the life and ways of the other people in these states.
  • These areas have hitherto been anthropological specimens. The tribal people in other parts of India have more or less adopted the culture of the majority of the people in whose midst they live.
  • The tribes in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, on the other hand, still have their roots in their own culture, customs and civilization.
  • These areas are, therefore, treated differently by the Constitution and sizeable amount of autonomy has been given to these people for self-government.
  • The rationale behind the creation of Autonomous District Councils is the belief that relationship to the land is the basis of tribal or indigenous identity.
    • The culture and identity of indigenous people can be preserved by ensuring their control over land and natural resources, as these factors to a large extent determine the lifestyle and culture of the indigenous people.
  • Under the Sixth Schedule, autonomous districts and councils have a varying degree of autonomy to frame laws to protect the interests of the tribal.
    • Eg: The Bodoland Territorial Council can make laws on 39 additional subjects such as culture, education, health and agriculture, labour and employment, land and revenue among others.
  • The District Council and the Regional Council under the Sixth Schedule have real power to make laws, possibility on the various legislative subjects, receiving grants-in-aids from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet the costs of schemes for development, health care, education, roads and regulatory powers to state control.
  • The mandate towards Devolution, de-concentration and divestment determine the protection of their customs, better economic development and most importantly ethnic security.
  • Furthermore, the Sixth Schedule has certain features that can be implanted in any governance model for tribal areas, particularly concepts of constitutional and legislative subjects that are exclusive to local governments.
  • There are frequent conflicts of interest between the District Councils and the state legislatures. For example, in Meghalaya, despite the formation of the State, the whole of the State continues to be under the Sixth Schedule causing frequent conflicts with the State Government.
  • Various tribal communities with different cultures and customs within one autonomous council for example Bodo Council and Chakma Council in Assam.
  • Inflow of migrants has caused demographic imbalances and increased social tensions.
  • The tribal elite have appropriated all the power and common citizens left helpless.
  • Competition among local officials, police and communities has chocked the development and has increased resentment among the people.
  • These areas lack political mobilization i.e. Mainstream parties having regionalism, localism and communism as political ideology which has drag down the developmental work. People here have low political participation.
  • In case of conflict between the District Councils and the State Legislature, the state enjoys the superiority, but then it is alleged that autonomous councils are mere platform for aspiring politicians who nurture ambitions to contest assembly polls in the future.
  • However, there are certain issues due to which the sixth schedule has ended up creating multiple power centers instead of bringing in a genuine process of democratization or autonomy in the region such as Conflict of Power, governor functioning and disparity among autonomous bodies and local bodies.
  • Thus, despite autonomy, development benefits have not reached the people and caused isolation in the region.
  • Newly created Union Territory like Ladakh is also demanding sixth schedule status on par with Bodoland Territorial council.

Though issues persist, the Sixth Schedule mandating the state to devolve certain political, administrative and fiscal powers to local governments elected by the communities due to which, it has been quite successful in countering the so-called Separatist movements, militancy etc, of which some have become active insurgencies, as a key issue in North-East. It ensures the tribal culture is protected upholding diversity.