Shades of truth

Amit Chanda

A major poll plank of the BJP, in the run up to 2018 assembly election, to woo the tribal voters of the state, who were more or less disillusioned with the 25 years of Left rule, had been the promise of converting the tribal district council to a "state council" with a provision for direct funding from the center. On the other hand, the lesser said about its alliance partner – IPFT – the better. "Twipraland" demand, which always had been nothing more than a castle in the air, it seems, was only a way of arousing the sentiments of the tribal, in so far as the issue does not seem to be on top of their agenda for now. No wonder then, the credibility of both the parties in the tribal areas seems to be shrinking faster than anticipated.

It is in this backdrop, the BJP – master of headline management – has come up with another grand yet much hollow announcement. The union government, just days prior to polls, has announced its intention to amend the 6th schedule as well as Article 280 of the constitution. The proposed amendment, as usual, has been touted as "Historic" and "Game changer".

The 6th schedule of the Indian constitution contains provision pertaining to the administration of Tribal Areas of the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram; whereas Article 280 deals with the Finance Commission of India. The 6th Schedule provides for autonomous governance – in certain subjects – in the tribal areas of the aforementioned states. These Autonomous Councils are headed by a chief executive officer and aided by other executive members, much like councils of ministers headed by a chief minister.

Though declared autonomous, these councils are dependent on their respective state governments for funds in addition to occasional special packages from the center. The self-sufficiency in governance of these autonomous councils, therefore, remains largely elusive. No wonder then, the councils often alleges the state governments of not releasing enough funds and on time, thereby undermining their autonomy. 

The union government, to mark an end to the dependence of councils on the devolution of funds from the higher level governments, has decided, in its latest announcement, to amend Art 280 of the constitution so as to enlarge the ToR of the Finance Commission – which according to the proposed amendment would now "recommend the devolution of financial resources" to the autonomous councils. What it means in effect is that, the FC will now have a say in state's allocation of funds to the Councils.

Now comes the headline management part. The touted "Historic move" falls short of being a "game changer" since the funds, even after the proposed amendment, has to be routed through the state government only. The only difference is that, now the FC can recommend the state government to "allocate certain amount of funds", whereas earlier it had no say at all.However, the recommendations of FC, as is known, are advisory in nature and therefore are not binding on the government.

Very conveniently the BJP choose to stay silent insofar as its promise of direct central funding of Autonomous Councils is concerned. Also, the disillusionment among the tribal population and the resulting separatist tendencies could have been more decisively addressed should the center have amended the 6th schedule to grant/transfer to the councils authority over more Subjects, which currently are under the control of state governments.

The move, it can be said, was one last attempt before the poll to woo and allay the growing disenchantment among the indigenous tribal voters of the states, who already are unhappy with the center's decision of amending the controversial citizenship bill.

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