Dialogue July- September, 2005, Volume 7  No. 1

Autonomous District Councils and Panchayati Raj Institutions in North-East India

Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury

The North-East India, home to numerous diverse ethnic groups and located strategically with borders with Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, has seen much violence and bloodshed over the past few decades. These include insurgencies in Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram and growth of militant groups in Meghalaya. In addition there are conflicts and confrontations over land use and control as well as issues of language, identity formation, demographic change and minority and majoritarian relations. Alienation, mis-governance and corruption as well as underdevelopment are common frustrations in the region which is one of the richest regions in terms of natural and mineral resources in India.

To tackle the problems of this unique area and safeguard the democratic traditions and cultural diversity of its people, the framers of the Constitution conceived of the instrument of tribal self-rule. This stands embodied in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. This Schedule was drafted by a Sub-Committee on North-East Frontier (Assam Tribal and Excluded Areas) of the Constituent Assembly headed by Gopinath Bardoloi, the then Premier of Assam. The effort was to accommodate the collective aspirations of tribal communities within the broader framework of a democratic political system characterised by centralised powers, in a situation characterised by a mix of apprehension, confusion and hope in the days immediately preceding the adoption of the Indian Constitution.

The non-Sixth Schedule States in the North-East where 73rd and 74th amendments (Panchayati Raj Institutions) have been implemented are Assam (barring Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council and NC Hills Autonomous District Council), Manipur, Tripura (barring Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council), Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.

Between ancient, medieval and modern period of Indian history, the growth of Panchayats had ups and downs. The Mayo’s Resolution of 1870 gave impetus to the development of local institutions by enlarging their powers and responsibilities. In 1882 Lord Ripon provided democratic framework to these institutions. In 1907 the Royal Commission on Decentralisation was established which encouraged the ‘Local Self Government’. Thereafter, came a series of efforts in the form of committee, commission and Act. (The Govt. of India Act, 1911; the Govt. of India Act, 1935). However, the colonial rulers could not contribute significantly.

Panchayats were included in Article 40 under the Directive Principles of the Constitution of India. The Post- independence phase of Panchayat Raj is marked with significant developments. On the recommendation of the G.V.K. Rao (1985) and L.M Shinghvi (1986) committees, the Rajiv Gandhi Government in 1989 introduced a Bill for amending the constitution for giving constitutional status to Panchayats, But he failed to pass the Bill. It was P.V Narasimha Rao Government who could amend the constitution in 1992 by introducing 73rd Amendment to the constitution alongwith the Nagarpalika 74th Amendment Act. The Panchayati Raj institution then became a constitutional machinery for rural governance in India.

The tribal dominated states under 5th and 6th schedules of the Constitution were, however, given option either to introduce Panchayati Raj institutions or to continue with their traditional self-government institutions. All the states of India including 5th and 6th schedule states except Jammu & Kashmir, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram amended their Panchayati Raj Act to accommodate the provisions of the 73rd Amendment Act.

The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 mandates provisions for:

          1)   Establishment of a three-tier structure (Village Panchayat, Panchayat Samiti or intermediate level Panchayat and Zilla Parishad or district level Panchayat).

          2)   Establishment of Gram Sabhas at the village level. Regular elections to Panchayats every five years.

          3)   Proportionate seat reservation for SCs/STs.

          4)   Reservation of not less than 1/3 seats for women.

          5)   Constitution of State Finance Commissions to recommended measures to improve the finances of Panchayats.

The Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 vests power in the State Government to endow Panchayats with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of self-government such as: Preparation of plans and their execution for economic development and social justice in relation to 29 subjects listed in the XI schedule of the Constitution. Authority to Panchayat to levy, collect and appropriate taxes, duties, tolls and fees. Transfer of taxes, duties, tolls and fees collected by the States to Panchayats.

The North -East India consists of eight states - Assam. Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagland, Tripura and Sikkim covering more than eight percent of the total geographical area and 4 percent of the total population of the country. A large part of the North - East India is governed by the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Indian Constitution. The Panchayats (Extension to the schedule areas ) Act, 1996 extends the 73rd Amendment: to the Fifth Schedule areas. Three states viz. Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya are exempted from the purview of the 73rd Amendment.

The Sixth Schedule envisages establishment of Autonomous District Councils (ADCs). These councils have been given Legislative, Administrative and Judicial powers under the Sixth Schedule. No law of the Centre or the State in respect of the legislative powers conferred on the Autonomous District Councils could be extended to those areas without their prior approval. The district councils are also empowered to constitute Village councils and also Village courts.

While the ADCs have the advantage of legislative powers which the Panchayats do not have, the Councils unlike Panchayats do not have provision for reservation for women, and powers such as social forestry management.

Articles 244(2) and 275(1) - Sixth Schedule - Provisions for administration of Tribal Areas in the States of:

Assam: The North Cachar Hills District Council and The Karbi Anglong District Council. Elections to the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) also formed under Sixth Schedule have been held on May 13. Results are yet to be declared.

Meghalaya: Khasi Hills District Council, Jaintia Hills District Council and Garo Hills District Council.

Tripura: Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.

Mizoram: The Chakma District Council, The Mara District Council and The Lai District Council.

The District Councils comprise of 30 members for a term of five years. The Governor of the state is empowered to nominate not more than four members to the Council while the others are elected on the basis of adult suffrage. The Chief Executive Member (CEM), the Chairman and the deputy Chairman of the Council (equivalent of Speaker and Deputy Speaker) are elected from the members and the CEM selects the other executive members. There are different internal rules for different Autonomous District Councils. In some councils like Mara in Mizoram, the electorate are eligible adults (anyone above 18 years) but in others like Karbi Anglong right of access to traditional lands and length of stay in the region are regarded as as a qualifying criteria for being included in the voters list for the ADCs.

The Sixth Schedule contains provisions as to the administration of tribal areas in the state of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. The aim of the Sixth Schedule was to protect hill and other tribal communities from the control and power of the groups and the plains. The process of protection began with the formation of the first District Councils in Assam, as far back as 1951. The Sixth Schedule provisions are regarded as a mini-Constitution within the main Constitution but the whole Schedule needs a close look to remove flaws, contradictions and shortcomings. Earlier, Arunachal Pradesh (earlier known as North-Eastern Frontier Agency) was also part of the Sixth Schedule and administered by the Governor of Assam as the agent of the President.

The North-East with its large number of tribal groups and newly emerging educated elites has a peculiar political history. Most of these communities had self-governing village councils and tribal chiefdoms even during late British period. Nation and state formation was absent and even in the most advanced area of the region, then Assam, the economy was run by the British. But the effort should be to give all States the opportunities provided by the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. This should be done by safeguarding their traditions, without tampering with their essential rights and giving each state the chance ton use its own nomenclature for such systems of governance, with local acceptance.

Over the past decades, the systems of local-governance promoted under the Sixth Schedule have been seeking to guarantee political dominance for backward groups, better local governance at the community level, better economic development and ethnic security for those who feel threatened by large scale influx of illegal migrants and even shelters from other parts of India. The Sixth Schedule provisions are regarded as a mini-Constitution within the main Constitution but the whole Schedule needs a close look to remove flaws, contradictions and shortcomings. There is a long list of subjects and powers as far as District Councils in the four states under the Sixth Schedule under Articles 244 (2) and 275 (I). The list includes allotment, occupation or use, or setting apart, of land, the regulation of jhum (shifting cultivation), establishment of village or town committees or councils and their powers as well as administration, flood control, trade and commerce, town and village police.


Historically Assam had a mosaic of tribal and non-tribal institutions. It was principally the system prevailing under the Ahoms which provided the background to the evolution of Panchayati Raj Institutions in the state.

British Period

The promulgation of the Assam Local Self-Government Act, 1915 brought about a change of approach. The act provided for the establishment of the Village Panchayat, for the first time on a formal and legal basis. It also provided for an elective non-official majority in the Panchayat and for the election of non-Officials as Chairpersons and Vice-chairpersons. The act delegated powers and functions to the Village authorities relating to Village sanitation and village works, etc. In 1926 another act was passed as a Panchayat Act because of the failure of the Panchayat scheme under the 1915 Act. The functions of the Village authority under the act of 1926 were listed as water supply, medical relief and sanitation. However, Panchayat institutions under the British proved to be a failure, because these measurers were more of gestures rather than efforts to genuinely empower the local bodies.

Post Independence Period

In the post-independence period, Assam was one of the pioneering states to introduce Panchayati Raj by enacting Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1948. It provided for the division of rural Assam into Panchayat areas, with each area consisting of a number of villages and each village having a primary Panchayat. All adults were voters. The act provided that primary Panchayats would have executive bodies. This was a notable improvement on the earlier position.

On the recommendation of Balwant Rai Mehta Committee, the Panchayati Rai system was introduced in the country and Assam was one of the states which framed a new Panchayati Raj Act, 1959, replacing the earlier Act, and a three-tier Panchayati system consisting of the Gram Panchayat at the Village level, Anchalic Panchayat at the intermediate level (co-terminus with the CD block) and Mahkuma Parishad at the Taluka or Sub-divisional level were constituted.

The Assam Panchayati Raj Act only covered the plain districts of the state and the Hill Autonomous Districts and villages located in the tea garden areas were excluded from the purview of the Act. The act of 1959, amended in 1964, was repealed after the adoption of the Assam Panchayati Raj Act, 1972. Through this Act, the PR system in Assam was reverted back to the two-tier system, the Goan Panchayat (GP) at the village level with the population size ranging from 15,000-20,000 and Mahkum Parishad (MP) at the apex level. The act also brought under its coverage the villages located in the Tea-garden areas.

The state government once again introduced a new Act in 1986 replacing the 1972 Act. The new Act became operative with effect from 5th September 1990 only. With this new act the state again reverted to a three-tier set up - Gaon Panchayat with 6000 - 10,000 Population; Anchalik Panchayat (at the block level) and Mahkuma Parishad at the sub-divisional level. In February 1992, the first elections under the act of 1986 were held. For the earlier elections, the electoral rolls of the Assam Legislative assembly had served as the voters list for Gaon Panchayat and Mahkuma Parsihads. Due to various reasons, most importantly, the controversy over an acceptable electoral roll in the wake of the movement against the presence of foreign nationals in Assam, Panchayat elections had been stalled for more than a decade.

Present Position

Following the 73rd Amendment, the Assam Government enacted the Panchayat Act, 1994 which covers almost all the features of the 73rd Amendment. The PR system continues to be the three-tier with a modification i.e. in place of Mahkuma Parishad there shall be Zilla Parishad at the District level. The reservation for women was increased from 30 % (as per the 1986 Act) to 33.3 percent in the 1994 Act. Reservation for the SCS/STs in non Autonomous district council (ADC) area shall be in proportion to their population.

The Act provides all the 29 items as per the eleventh schedule to be transferred to PRIs. At the Gaon Panchayat and Anchalik Panchayat levels there shall be three standing committees. The three standing committees at the GP level shall be - a). Development Committee; b). Social Justice Committee; and c). Social Welfare Committee. At AP level, the three committees shall be a). General Standing Committee; b). Finance, Audit and Planning Committee; and c). Social Justice Committee. The Zilla Parishad shall have four Committees a). General Standing Committees; b). Financial and Audit Committee; c). Social Justice Committee; and d). Planning and Development Committee. After a long pending Panchayat election was held in 2002 and Panchayat has been constituted all over the state except in the Hill Autonomous District Council Areas.

Autonomous District Councils of Assam

The division of the composite state of Assam led to the redrawing of new administrative boundaries. The North Cachar Hills sub-division of the United Mikir and Cachar Hills district was upgraded to district in 1970. The Mikir Hills District section was renamed as Karbi Anglong in 1976. Both districts have Autonomous Councils. These two Councils are much more powerful than their counterparts in other states of the region after an MoU was signed between State government and Autonomous State Demand Committee in the presence of Union Home Ministry officials.

The Bodo Tribal Council (BTC) was constituted under Sixth Schedule as a result of the tripartite accord between the Centre, Assam government and Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) in February 2003. The ceasefire agreement between the Centre, Assam government and National Democratic Front of Bodoland on May 24, 2005 is expected to strengthen the Council and usher in peace in the border state. Apart from the Kokrajhar district, three new district have been created in the Bodoland Territorial Area Distrcit - Udalguri, Bagsa and Chirang. Thirtynine Departments have already been transferred to BTC by the State government.

Elections to BTC were held in May, 2005. All the 38 members of the newly created Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) took oath of office on June 2, 2005, heralding a new chapter in the Bodo political history. In the 46-member council, 30 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes, 5 for non-tribal communities, 5 open for all communities and 6 to be nominated by Governor of Assam from the unrepresented communities of BTC area of which atleast two should be women. Elections to two remaining seats will be held later.

Under the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council; there are thirty subjects including industry, Forest, Agriculture, PWD, Education, Cooperative, Health and Family Welfare, Irrigation, Town and Country Planning, Excise and Finance including Sales Tax, excise and professional tax etc.

Other Councils of Assam

The Mishing Autonomous Council Act, 1995 provides that there shall be a village council for each block of villages or village having 50 per cent or more Mishing population. The other two Acts - Tiwa Autonomous Council Act, 1995 and the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council Act, 1995 also stipulated similar ethnic criterion in favour of respective ethnic group.

Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh was created out of the frontier tribal areas of Assam. It was formerly known as North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). It was made an union territory in 1972 and given its present name - Arunachal Pradesh (Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains) . In 1987, it became a state. The state is surrounded on three sides by the international border with Bhutan to the west, China to the north and Burma to the east and Assam to the South. It is the only hill state in North-Eastern Region which introduced a Panchayat system as early as in 1969, under the NEFA Panchayati Raj Regulation 1967.

The state has 26 tribes including Adi, Nishi, Apatani, Tagin, Mishimi, Khampti, Nocte, Wancho, Tangsha, Singpho, Monpa, Sherdukpen and Aka and nearly 126 sub-tribes. Traditionally, the tribal people had been managing their affairs through Village Councils, certain tribes even developed into some sort of Anchal councils (for example in Bango Kebang and the Bogum Bokang Kebang of the Adis) operating above the Village level. Under the NEFA Panchayati Raj Regulation 1967, a three-tier structure was constituted on 2nd October 1968. It comprised Gram Panchayats at the Village level, Anchal Samities at the anchal level and Zilla Parishad at district level.

The Gram Panchayat consisted of one to ten members directly elected by the villagers. Each Gram Panchayat was to have a minimum of three hundred electors. There was no provision for a Chairman of a Gram Panchayat. Each Gram Panchayat in the Anchal elected one of its members to the Anchal Samiti, which had a maximum of twenty-five members. These members elect their vice- president from amongst themselves. Besides the elected members, the Anchal Samiti could have a maximum of five members nominated by the Deputy Commissioner from among the tribes not represented by the elected members. The Deputy Commissioner of the district could appoint the Sub-divisional Officer or any other Officer of the same rank as the President of the Anchal Samiti, and another Junior Officer, not below the rank of a circle Officer, as its executive Officer.

The Zilla Parshads consisted of all the Vice -Presidents of the Anchal samities, one elected representative each from the Anchal Samities and not more than six members nominated by the Deputy Commissioner of the district form among the tribes who have not secured representation in the Zilla Parishad. The Deputy Commissioner of the District is the ex-officio Chairman of the Zilla Parishad. The term of Office of the panchayat were three years. The Zilla Parishad was mainly an advisory body and had no executive function.

In view of the dominant position that officials continued to occupy in the Panchayati Raj bodies at all the three levels and the influence they exercised in these councils, it would be unrealistic to call them self-governing institutions in the real sense of the term. Arunachal Pradesh has a population below twenty lakh. Therefore, it had the option of constituting only two tiers under the constitution 73rd amendment Act, 1992, but an ordinance framed on 18th April 1994, that is, the Arunachal Pradesh Panchayat Raj ordinance, included the constitution of three tiers in the state.

The passage of the 73rd constitutional Amendment Act 1992 created a unique situation in Arunachal Pradesh. To meet the requirement of the 73rd Amendment Act, the Arunachal Pradesh Government issued the Arunachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj ordinance 1994 replacing the NEFA Panchayati Raj Regulation 1967 to meet the requirements of Act. The ordinance was sought to be replaced by the Arunachal Pradesh Panchayati Raj Bill 1994 passed by the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly in September 1994. It contained the same provisions as in the Panchayati Raj Ordinance. However, the Bill could not become an Act as the Govenor of Arunachal Pradesh reserved it for the assent of the President of India.

The President of India did not give assent to the Bill remitted it to the Legislative Assembly with the observation that (1). It does not provide for Gram Sabha, and that (2). It does not provide for reservation for scheduled castes. The State Legislative assembly reconsidered the Bill in March 1997 and modified it to provide for a Gram Sabha at the lowest level of Panchayats but it did not agree to make a provision for reservation for Scheduled Castes on the plea that Arunachal Pradesh does not have any Scheduled Caste population. The negligible Scheduled Caste population in the state is only floating population and is mainly concentrated in urban areas. The bill was sent again to the President of India in April 1997. It is now awaiting the President’s assent. Therefore no elections have so far been held to the Panchayat bodies.

Meanwhile the Arunachal Pradesh Governor thrice extended the life of the Panchayat bodies elected in 1992 under the NEFA Panchayat Raj Regulation 1967, first time in August 1995 for one year and then in September 1996 and in March 1997 extending it for six months each time. The original term of Panchayats were three years. It was extended upto five years with the plea that the 73rd Amendment Act, 1992 makes an uniform 5 years term for the Panchayats, throughout the country, overlooking the fact that it does not allow any extension of terms of the Panchayats elected under the existing Acts. It only allows them to complete the term if it extends beyond 1994.

Hence, on 14th September 1997 on completion of the two-year term of the Panchayats, the state government ordered their dissolution. Thus, the 73rd Amendment Act has created an entirely opposite impact of its intended objectives of strengthening and ensuring introduction of Panchayats in every state. In Arunachal Pradesh, it had led to a situation where existing Panchayats are also eliminated. There are frequent and ever increasing demand from the people to restore the Panchayats in the state as soon as possible.

In Arunachal Pradesh, there is also a traditional gathering of villagers known as Kebang, which meets to sort out local problems. Members of the Kebang must be encouraged to contest elections.

The Arunachal Pradesh Assembly had passed a bill to create four Autonomous District Councils in the state in 2003 but the Parliament is yet to approve it.


In Sikkim during the Kazi-Thikadari Raj, any influential Khardar, Amaldar, village Mandal or even a village elder can call the Panchayat composed of the village elders in order to hear and decide petty disputes among the villagers. Thus all the petty cases would be decided in the village Panchayat.

Later from 1940s, the Sikkim Government constituted some Panchayats in Sumbuk, Turuk, Rhenock and Pakyong. A literate village elder would be appointed as the Chairman with four or five members to assist him to discharge functions. Even here the responsibilities of the Panchayats were confined to settle petty cases of the villagers.In 1949, when J.S. Lall was appointed as the Dewan of Sikkim, he tried to introduce the Panchyat Raj in Sikkim. During Narbahadur Bhandari’s regime, the partyless Panchayat system was introduced. But all the elected Panchayats functioned as the village cadre of the Sikkim Sangram Parishad. These Panchayats were responsible to implement village development projects like construction of log bridges, village irrigation channels and water supply schemes. But the cost of every development project being implemented by the Panchayat contractors should not exceed Rs 5 lakhs.

When Pawan Kumar Chamling’s SDF party formed the government in 1994, he introduced the Panchayat elections on party basis. Mr. Chamling reiterated that the Panchayati Raj is the stepping-stone to Vidhan Sabha and Parliamentary elections. Panchyati Raj is “the soul of democratic governance.”

Chief Minister Chamling had declared, “We have reserved 33 percent seats for women. We have also made reservation for Other Backward lasses. We have now started transferring funds so that the Panchayts would be able to function more effectively.”


Manipur came under British rule as a princely state in 1891. The Manipur Constitution Act, 1947, established a democratic form of government with the ‘Maharajah’ (King) as the executive head and a legislature constituted by election based on adult franchise. The Legislative Assembly so constituted was dissolved after the integration of the state with the Dominion of India in October 1949. It became as a part ‘C’ state under the Indian constitution with effect from 26-1-1950. Manipur achieved full statehood on January 21, 1972.

Manipur is geographically divided into the hills and valley. The Hill areas are inhabited predominantly by the Nagas, Kukis, Paites, Gangtes etc with a sprinkling of the Nepalese in the immediate neighborhood of the valley. The valley is inhabited by Meiteis, (Manipuri Hindus), Pangals (Manipuri Muslims), the Nepalese, and the Business communities like Marwaris, Punjabis, Biharis and so on. The Barak basin is inhabited by the Meiteis and the Bengalis.

The Panchayati Raj institutions were functioning only in the valley districts and Jiribam sub-division. In the hill districts, there were village authorities, almost similar to village Panchayats, functioning under the provisions of the 1956 Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act.

Evolution of Panchayats in Manipur

Traditional form of Panchayats had been existing both in the valley and hill areas of Manipur from time immemorial. In the villages of valley there were institution viz, Singlup or wood clubs, resembling the Panchayats of Bengal, under the ‘Sardar’ or head of village. Besides generally controlling village affairs, these singlups used to adjudicate petty disputes in the villages. In December 1896, the singlups were replaced by Panchayats. These Panchayats were constituted with five members. These Panchayats had the power to impose fines up to fifty rupees, and of deciding civil suits upto value of fifty rupees or less.

The apex Panchayat at Imphal, known as Sadar Panchayat, adjudicated in civil cases of appeals from the village Panchayats besides looking after the civil cases of the Imphal area. Under the Manipur State Courts Act, 1947, Vilalge Panchayats were conferred powers of the lowest court for the administration of Justice in criminal and civil cases.

Modern Panchayat System in Manipur

The Panchayat system in Manipur was introduced in 1960 under the provisions of the United Provinces Panchayat Raj Act 1947, which was extended to the state. Under the Act, a two-tier system was introduced in the state. The state government enacted the Manipur Panchayati Raj Act in 1975 which provided a three tier system of Panchayat in the state comprising Gram Panchayats at the Gram Sabha level, Panchayat Samities at the block level and Zilla Parishads at the district levels, besides Nyaya Panchayats for judicial purposes.

Post 73rd Amendment Developments

In conformity with the 73rd constitution Amendment Act of 1992, the Manipur Panchayati Raj Act 1994 was passed on 23rd April 1994 by repealing the Act of 1975. The new Act has provided for the constitution of a two-tier Panchayati Raj in the valley areas, the Gram Sabha at the village level and Zilla Parishad at the district level. The Act of 1994 was amended substantially in 1996 to accommodate gram sabha at the village level having population of not less than 3,000 and not more than 6,000. The last elections took place in 2001. The state government has not devolved a number of the subjects to the Pachayats and elected members went on strike, demanding reinstatement of their rights.

District Autonomous Councils are in existence in the hill areas of Manipur. However, they have few real powers. They have several regulatory powers subject to state control. In the exercise of development functions, they are at the mercy of the state government, since their incomes are unstable,

The state is seeking Sixth Schedule status for its hill areas for decades and nothing much has come of it, leading to opinion that the demand was not really serious. The population in the hills is one-third of the total population. While the Centre should seriously conisder the request to extend the Sixth Schedule provisions to the Manipur Hill areas, it should also consider invoking and involving the traditional tribal institutions of the various hill tribes as a tier of the Autonomous District Council. The issue needs to be viewed in the light of the complications arising out of the Naga demand of a Nagalim.

Earlier, the Manipur government had passed a resolution asking the Centre to confer Sixth Schedule status on the hills. But now some of the ethnic groups in the hills do not seek a Sixth Schedule status. Certain Naga groups want to be part of ‘’Nagalim’’ or Greater Nagaland comprising existing Nagaland and contiguous Naga inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.


Tripura is the second smallest state in India. It was formally declared a Union Territory on November 1, 1957 and elevated to the status of a full-fledged state on January 21, 1972. The Panchayati Raj system in Tripura was initially guided by the United Province Panchayat Raj Act, 1947, and ‘Gaon Sabhas’ in development blocks were constituted in a phased manner. The Tripura Panchayats Act, 1983, was brought into force in January 1984, replacing the United Provinces Panchayat Raj Act, 1947.

Tripura has a long history of good local self governance. Where a single tier system of Panchayati Raj was started at the village level. The Gram Panchayat is the executive body of the Goan Sabhas constituted through open election by raising hands. Naya Panchayat was also formed at circle level by comprising several Goan Sabhas. The Tripura Panchayat Act, 1993 established a three-tier structure in the state with the Gram Panchayat as the lowest tier, the Panchayat Samitis at the block level and Zilla Parshad at the district level. The Act also provides for a Gram Sabha which shall meet annually to consider matters relating to accounts, budget, and report of development works in the Gram Panchayat.

Gram Sabhas are there irrespective of schedule or non-schedule area. Hence, Tripura’s local self-governance is quiet unique. The members of Gram Sabha in Tripura have never been silent observer. They actively participate in almost all the village affairs like crime and punishment, guarding the villages and forests, resolving community conflicts, land alienation and management matters, general cleanliness of the village and other service areas like cleaning the local health centre. Gram Sabhas are capable of determining and analyzing the resources they have including opportunities as well as problems and obstacles to development.

The Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) was set up in 1985 under the sixth schedule of the constitution and it provides for separate elections to village councils. It was a successor to a an earlier Council formed in 1982 under the Fifith Schedule. The Council has its own rules, regulations for performing activities within its domain. These include, settling private disputes, administrative job including market, water supply, judicial — murder, theft and divorce.

The TTAADC passed a resolution in September 1991 seeking the enforcement of Inner Line Permit System. In 1997, a bill was passed to set up its own police force. TTAADC has 28 elected members The rest two are nominated by the Governor and they must be tribals too. The Council comprises two-third of the State’s geographical size, however, the population structure is two-third non-tribals and other one-third tribal.

An area of confrontation exists between the TTAADC and the State government in relation to devolution of power and functions. The Council has demanded for devolution of more powers and direct funding by the Centre under Article 244A of the Constitution.


Meghalaya, literally ‘the abode of the clouds’ was inaugurated as an autonomous state on April 2, 1970. It was declared as state on January 21, 1972. Khasi, Jaintia and Garo are the three major tribes and other smaller tribes are Hajong, Rabha, Delu, Babai and Mann. There are three District councils under the sixth schedule of the constitution covering the seven districts of the state. The District Councils are among the oldest in the country and began at the time of undivided Assam. Essentially created to protect the hill groups from domination by the plains, there is a distinctly anomalous situation in Meghalaya today. The District Councils as well as the state Assembly are dominated by the three major tribes. So certain questions arise: whose interests are the Autonomous District Councils protecting? Have they been effective in taking self-governance to the grassroots? If not, where have they fallen short?

In Meghalaya, specially in the recent years, political instability, floor crossings combined with abrupt changes of leadership have disrupted functioning of the Councils. There is a overlap of authority in the state. Given its small size, a conflict of interest is bound to arise between the Assembly and District Councils. There are three competing systems of authority each of which is seeking to serve or represent the same constituency. The result has been confusion and confrontation expecially at the local level on a number of issues.

Garo Hills District Council

In Garo Hills, below the level of District Council there is an institution called Lasker which is recognised by the District Council as a traditional body. During the colonial rule they were under the control of the Deputy Commissioner. They have both Executive and Judiciary functions within their area. In Garo Hills, there is another institution at the village level called Nokma. Nokma who holds control over clan land is called A’king Nokma and there are village level ‘Sardars’ to assist the Nokmas in day to day village administration. The Nokmas and Sardars to are under the administrative control of the District council. Nokmanship is inherited by the clan members under the District council administration.

The A’king Nokmas have been reduced to mere custodians and supervisors of their A’kings on behalf of their wives and their clans. However, the Garo Hills District (Jhum) Regulation Act, 1954, conferred on the A’king Nokmas the right to allot land for jhumming to each family within his A’king in consultation with the residents thereof. But in the event of any dispute with regard to the land so allotted by the A’king Nokma to any particular person or a family, the matter has to be referred to the village council, a power which was earlier exercised by the A’king Nokma.

The Garo Hills Autonomous District Council passed the Constitution of Village Council Act in 1958 in order to establish and develop local self government in the rural areas and to make better provisions for rural administration and to develop them as self-sufficient units. A village council was constituted for each village and group of villages. There was a President and a Secretary for each village council. The duties and functioned allocated to the Village Council included: cleaning and lighting of village roads and paths; sanitation, construction, maintenance and improvement of public wells and tanks; preventive measures in case of epidemic, opening and regulation of burial and cremaation ground and places for disposal of dead animals, construction and maintenance of places for the storage of cow-dung and other manures, maintenance of record of population census, primary school education. Registration of births and deaths etc.

Khasi and Jaintia Hills District Councils

In the Khasi Hills, the Syiem (King) is recognized as traditional institution who holds office usually for life but in some cases for short period of five years. The Syiem is elected in accordance with the customary law and practice by traditional executive called Myntris. The institution is under the administrative control of the District Councils.

In the Jaintia Hills District also there is a traditional authority called Doloi who functions more or less on the same pattern of syiems among the Khasis. A district council for the then Khasi and Jaintia Hills District was inaugurated in 1952. The United Khasi Jaintia Hills Autonomous District (Appointment and Succession of Chiefs and Headman) Act, 1959 (hereafter referred to as the Principal Act), made provision not only for its authority to appoint the chiefs and headmen, but also that of the removal and suspension of the same by the executive committee of the district council, if in its opinion, these incumbents violated, the terms and conditions of their appointment. This act not only brought radical changes in the pattern and procedure of the election and appointment of chiefs, but also reduced their position and status.

According to Article 243 M of the constitution, the provisions relating to Panchayati Raj institution are not applicable to Meghalaya. Hence, 73rd Amendment of Indian Constitutio does not apply to Meghalaya.


Mizoram, in the local language, means the land of Mizos. ‘Mizo’ itself means highlander. Under the British administration, Mizoram was know as Lushai Hills District. In 1954 by an Act of Parliament the name was changed to Mizo Hills District. In 1972, when it was made a Union Territory, it was named Mizoram. Mizoram became 23rd state of Indian Union on 20.2.1987.

The Mizos have various tribes including Lushais, Pawis, Paites, Raltes, Hmars, Kukis, Maras and Lakhers. Mizoram has democratically elected Village Councils since 1954 which have been set up by the enactments of the District Council as per sub-clause (e) of the clause (3) of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India with a very limited functions and powers mostly administrative and judicial of petty nature. The Lushai Hills District (Village Councils) Act 1953 and the Pawi-Lakher Autonomous Region (Village Council) Act 1994 have been adopted by the Mizoram government and the District Councils (Mara District Council, Lai District Council and Chakma District Council) since 1972. The provisions of the Acts are amended by an executive/ administrative orders of the government and District Councils.

The three District Councils of Mizoram handle 18 subjects each, similar to those of Meghalaya. The Chakma Council have 13 elected posts and three nominated. The Lai ADC has 23 elected members and four more are nominated by the Governor. The Mara ADC has 19 elected and four nominated members. There are demands from Paites in Western Mizoram, the Hmars (they already have a Hill Development Council) and the Brus (Reangs) for Autonomous District Councils.The 73rd Constitutional Amendments Act does not apply to Mizoram.


Village Councils of Nagaland

The Nagaland state comprises of the former Naga Hills district of Assam and the former Tuensang Frontier division of the North East Frontier Agency. These were made a Centrally Administered Area in 1957. In January 1961, it became the state of Nagaland. The state of Nagaland was officially inaugurated on 1st December 1963. The population of Nagaland is entirely tribal. There are as many as 16 major Naga tribes with their own distinctive languages and cultural features. The major tribes are Angami, Rengma, Sema, Lotha, Zeliang, Ao, Chakesang, Chang, Sangtam, Khemnungan, Yimchunger, Phom and Konyak.

Village level institutions have been strong in Nagaland. Since time immemorial Naga villages were independent in nature. There had been two major forms of village governments in Naga society, viz. democratic and chieftain ships. For instance, the Angamis, the Aos and the Chakhesangs had democratic form of government whereas the Semas, and the Konyaks practiced chieftainship type of village government. The governments were run the customary laws and usages. Even today customary laws are considered as the guiding principles of life in society.

Traditionally, life in every village in Nagland is managed by a council of elders - village council. Village organization in Nagaland is primarily based on institution of clan. A clan is a group of families amongst whom inter-marriage is strictly prohibited. Geographically a Naga village is divided into Khels (wards or sectors) which indicates a cluster of families.

The history records that Naga villages were organized as independent small states or republics. However, there was no uniform legal system of village government in Naga society till 1970. After realizing the importance of village government, the state government of Nagaland passed an Act known as Nagaland Village, Area and Regional Council Act, 1970. Thereafter, it was further amended in 1973 and 1978 as Nagaland Village and Area Council Act with a view to bring uniformity in Village Council structure all over Nagaland. A Village Council consists of members chosen by villagers in accordance with the prevailing customary practices and usages, the same being approved by the state government, provided that hereditary village chiefs, Goan Booras (GBs) and Angs shall be e-officio members of such councils and shall have voting rights. The village council will choose a member as Chairman of the council. The Village council may select and appoint a Secretary who may or may not be a member of the council. If the Secretary is not a member of the council, he shall have no voting power.

The Village Council has the following powers and duties:

         ²   to formulate village development schemes , to supervise proper maintenance of water supply, roads, forest, education and other welfare activities,

         ²   to help various govt. agencies in carrying out development works in the village,

         ²   to take development works on its own initiative or on request by the government.

         ²   to borrow money from the government, Banks or financial institution for application in the development and welfare work of the village and to repay the same with or without interest;

         ²   to apply for and receive grants-in-aid, donations, susidies from the government or any agency, etc and to control &disposal of immovable property, etc.

In accordance with the Nagaland Village Area and Regional Council Act 1970(Amended in 1973 and 1978) VDB came into existence in 1980,as a subsidiary to Village Council. At present Nagaland has 1,045 recognized villages and each village has a Village Council to look after law and order situation of the village and a VDB to undertake developmental activities of the village. VDB deliver developmental works to the village through centrally sponsored Schemes as well as State govt. Schemes.

The constitution 73rd Amendment Act does not apply to the state of Nagaland.

Constitutionally, Nagaland is a case apart, even from the other North-Eastern states, with the passage of Article 371A which specifies that no Act of Parliament in respect of (i) religious or social practices of the Nagas, (ii) Naga customary law and procedure, (iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law and (iv) ownership and transfer of land and its resources shall apply to state unless its Legislative Assembly by a resolution so decides. This provision gives such powers including the right to deny the Centre’s mining rights which few other States have in India. In addition, the Governor of Nagaland has special powers to act with regard to internal disturbances, powers which are virtually unchallengeable.

Comparison between Panchayats, Districts Council and traditional Institutions

Making Phanchayat institutions of self governance is the mandate of the constitution. The 73rd constitution Amendment Act ushers in a new era of participatory governance towards realizing Gandhiji’s dream and his ideas of Gram Swaraj. The objective of the 73rd Amendment Act to the Constitution is the devolution of power, where as Village Council Acts do not stipulate the same. The village Councils thus have no comparison with constitutional provisions relating to Panchayats.

When all the provisions of the 73rd Amendment about the powers, scope of function and financial support for the exercises of the powers and discharge of the responsibilities by the Panchayat bodies are compared with those attached to the District Councils under the Sixth Schedule, it is found that while the District Councils have several regulatory powers subject to state government control, the Panchayats are in more advantageous position in respect of developmental functions. The sources of income of district councils are less stable. Infact, they are solely at the mercy of the state government, whereas the Panchayat bodies are entitled to get funds from the state and central government under several schemes, in addition, to their own regular sources of income by taxation, mobilisation of locally available resources, and the like.

To prevent the Panchayat bodies from falling into financial Starvation Financial Commission has been established. In case the Panchayat bodies are dissolved, the 73rd Amendment to the constitution stipulates that they must be reconstituted within a period of six months from the date of their dissolution. In the case of district councils, fresh elections can be held subject to the approval of the state legislature within a period not exceeding twelve months. Moreover, where as there is a provision of reservation of seats for women in Panchayat bodies, their representation is neglected in the traditional institutions and in the District Council. One of the major drawbacks of the District Councils vis-a-vis Panchayats is that while in Panchayats power percolates down to the village level in Councils it is concentrated at the District level. This often do not lead to empowerment of people at the grass root level. It has also been argued that District Councils would be more effective if villages under such Councils are empowered.

The overriding issue of corruption has emerged as a major problem. It is now being accepted all over that one of the major drawbacks of the process of development planning has been corruption in rural development works, and even at the high levels of bureaucracy and political leadership. In the North-Eastern states the pace of development is comparatively slower in case of District Councils in comparison to the Panchayat areas, largely due to rampant corruption. In tribal areas the elites or the local leaders take the largest share of benefits depriving the poorest section of the society. Panchayats are party based and it is the ruling party that dominates. However, since the members are from different political parties there is scope to take meticulous measures to prevent or reduce corruption. Efforts must made be to develop these instruments (Panchayats and District Councils) of political development through the framework of the Constitution which brings self-governance to the region and confront the false hopes and angers generated by forces proposing disintegration. The future of the North-Eastern states, in political terms, hinges on those seeking and choosing self-governance over those seeking seperation.

Critical Review

The relevance of the Sixth Schedule in the present context needs a serious review. The Schedule was specifically created to ensure the protection of the minor tribes from the threat of marginalization, domination and homogenisation by the major tribal group under the jurisdictional area of the Autonomous District Councils (ADCs).

While the Schedule succeeded to a great extent to preserve the distinct identity and autonomy of tribal population, yet the same provision has become subject to controversies. The former excluded areas which the Schedule was supposed to protect have graduated from districts into full-fledged States such as Meghalaya and Mizoram. Therefore, the District Councils in these States are now an anachronism as they overlap the normal district administration and have tended to duplicate the former and become a rival focus of power and financial burden.

Further, the Sixth Schedule has an inherent tendency to promote ethnic polarisation and sub-nationalism. At one level, the Schedule has brought out the clash of interests between the non-tribal valley dwellers and tribal hill dwellers. Further, the Schedule has problem so far as issue of representation is concerned. For instance, the Legislative Assemblies of Arunachal, Mizoram and Nagaland have all but one seats reserved for STs. This was justified when the tribals were in majority. But a sea change has undergone in the demography of the region. In a way, the Schedule promotes a de-facto regime of two-tired citizenship. Unless reviewed comprehensively, the Schedule could become chief source of future conflicts in the region.

There is also a need to re-look at the way Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are working in the North-East. The PRIs which devolves the powers to the people and promotes self-reliant and self-sufficient local institutions has remained defunct in the region largely due to overlapping laws and institutions. The PRIs are entrusted with a wide range of functions that exceeds what is available to the District Councils under the Sixth Schedule. As a result, these parallel institutions often clash and duplicating each others works. In other words, there is an urgent need to re-look at existing arrangements that would make decentralised governance a reality.

The time is also ripe to look afresh on the relevance of ‘special packages’ for the states in the region in the existing scenario. While not undervaluing the importance of special economic packages for the development of the region, generous economic aid has been poured without making proper assessment of institutional capacity and its utili-sation in productive terms. Most of these States have very few revenue sources, they are special category states that primarily rely on central government’s assistance - 90 per cent grants and 10 per cent loans.

Without independent sources of tax revenue, the autonomy of such units is compromised. Consequently, this form of financing state budgets has provided the local politicians an added incentive to engage in rent seeking activities encouraging fiscal irresponsibility. The overwhelming dependence on the central government for funds also means that most development projects are both funded and designed far away from the region and with little likelihood of reflecting local visions of the future. Besides, the major fallout of this is the leakage of development funds is the emergence of a large new rent seeking class consisting of bureaucrats, politicians and contractors. This has led to increasingly corrupt regimes in the North-East. Though stopping the aid could not be an answer, but its time to rethink how such generous grants are efficiently utilised. Working of much neglected grassroots institutions both in terms of capacity and freedom to implement development programmes must be reviewed.

The genesis of the movements for greater autonomy by different ethnic groups in the North-East lay in the British policy of administration for the region. The system of administration established under colonial rule was effective in the plains of the region. But the hills, inhabited mostly by tribal people, were virtually left out from that system of administration. In fact the hills were classified as ‘excluded’ or ‘partially excluded’ areas and tribal communities living in such areas were allowed to continue with their traditional arrangements of self- governance’.

After independence, in an attempt to integrate these areas while preserving the tradition of self-governance of the tribal communities, the Sixth Schedule was incorporated in the Constitution of India. The Sixth Schedule provided for District and Regional Councils for the erstwhile ‘excluded’ and ‘partially excluded’ areas and these institutions were expected to integrate such areas with the modem system of administration while preserving the traditional autonomy and self-governance of the tribal people. But these arrangements failed to meet the aspirations of the newly emerging political leadership of some of the tribal groups.

Nagas demanded independence. Other groups also followed by launching movements demanding autonomy of various degrees. The Central Government responded to these demands by carrying out several rounds of reorganisations of the region and carving out new states. But instead of settling the issue, creation of the new states encouraged other ethnic groups to organise movements and agitations demanding greater autonomy, separate states and so on.

Sixth Schedule and Ethnicity in North-East

The prolonged turmoil in the North-East is rooted in two causes; (a) the question of ethnic/cultural identity, which is perceived to be threatened by encroachment/infiltration by people of other ethnic/cultural groups from within and outside the region and the country; and (2) the persistence of economic backwardness.

Creation of smaller & ethnic states does not seem to have led towards elimination of either of these causes. In any case the viability of more new states in the region is extremely doubtful. The experiments with Autonomous District Councils have also not yielded the desired results. Such a step has so far not received the favour of either the ruling politicians or the agitation leaders demanding greater autonomy or separate states. Some kind of competitive ethnicity, real and contrived, is frittering away the energy of people, besides encouraging fragmentation and social distancing. There is a need for relook. There is no justification now of ADC in Meghalaya and Mizoram. Its waste of resources.

The problem of encroachment and infiltration will also he easier to handle with closer monitoring at the local level, a task that can he easily and legitimately taken up by the elected local bodies. Thus democratic decentralisation of power to the grassroots can lead to an ultimate solution to the twin problems of persistent underdevelopment and ethno-cultural insecurity of the people of the region. It is therefore necessary to ensure through constitutional or other provisions that politicians are not able to prevent such a process of democratic decentralisation from setting in.

While the provisions like the Sixth Schedule and the PRIs require a thorough review, the existing federal arrangements and the power sharing demands new thinking. It is necessary to explore new dimensions of power sharing in the region which may address the long-standing demands of various ethnic groups to have genuine autonomy and self-rule. Should we hesitate in terms of asymmetrical federal arrangements with whatever modifications in the manner that it has been experimented in Quebec and Switzerland with success to quell bitter ethnic conflicts? And there can be no better time than this when negotiations are being held with the various rebel groups of the region.

                                            Gram           Panchayat       Zilla           Total

                                        Panchayat          Samiti       Parishad

Arunachal Pradesh              1747                 150                 15               1912

Assam                                    2489                 203                 20               2712

Manipur                                   166                     0                   4                 170

Sikkim                                       159                     0                   4                 163

Tripura                                     537                   23                   4                 564

Sixth Schedule & Insurgency

While Sixth Schedule was incorporated in the Constitution to give Greater Autonomy to the Tribal Areas of the North-East to counter insurgency, the ADCs in Autonomous District Councils in Karbi Anglong district and North Cachar Hills district have been witnessing separatist movements in the last decade. This underlines the fact that Councils have not been able to fulfil the aspirations and address the grievances of the people of the area. Ceasefire agreements with the key insurgent groups have helped to reduce violence in the area.

Groups active in the two Autonomous Councils—United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), Dima Halim Daogah (DHD), and also Hmar People’s Convention- Democracy.

    Tripura too has been witnessing insurgency despite the formation of TTAADC. The two principal seccessionist groups in the state are National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), which mostly operate from their bases in Bangladesh. Peace Accords have been signed with two factions of the NLFT— Montu Koloi and Nayanbasi Jamatiya and they have laid down arms last year.



Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

              Astha Bharati