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The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Tribal Affairs, recommending that the Union Territory of Ladakh be declared a tribal area under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The Sixth Schedule provides for the administration of tribal areas after setting up autonomous district and regional councils in the four northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. RACE IAS Page 16 of 62 The NCST feels this will help in - 1. Democratic devolution of powers, 2. Preserve and promote the distinct culture of the region, 3. Protect agrarian rights including rights on land and 4. Enhance the transfer of funds for speedy development of the region. Background The NCST’s recommendation comes against the backdrop of growing demand from a predominantly tribal population and political leaders of Ladakh for according “tribal area” status to the region. The total tribal population in Ladakh region is more than 97%. The Home Ministry is the central authority for declaring an area as a “tribal area”. The Commission discussed the issue of including Ladakh under the Fifth or Sixth Schedule of the Constitution at a meeting held in August. The NCST also consulted the Home, Law and Tribal Affairs Ministries in this regard. After discussing the issue in detail, the Commission decided to recommend ‘tribal area’ status for Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. RELATED BILL The Constitution (125th Amendment) Bill The government introduced Constitution (125th Amendment) Bill to increase the financial and executive powers of the 10 Autonomous Councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of the northeastern region. The amendment will impact one crore tribal people in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Key Facts: ● The proposed amendments provide for elected village municipal councils, ensuring democracy at the grassroot level. ● The village councils will be empowered to prepare plans for economic development and social justice including those related to agriculture, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, minor irrigation, water management, animal husbandry, rural electrification, small scale industries and social forestry. ● The Finance Commission will be mandated to recommend devolution of financial resources to them. ● The Autonomous Councils now depend on grants from Central ministries and the State government for specific projects. At least one-third of the seats will be reserved for women in the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura after the amendment is approved. Key Provisions: Autonomous Districts RACE IAS Page 17 of 62 The governor is empowered to organise and re-organise the autonomous districts. Thus, he can increase or decrease their areas or change their names or define their boundaries and so on. If there are different tribes in an autonomous district, the governor can divide the district into several autonomous regions. Composition: Each autonomous district has a district council consisting of 30 members, of whom four are nominated by the governor and the remaining 26 are elected on the basis of adult franchise. Term: The elected members hold office for a term of five years (unless the council is dissolved earlier) and nominated members hold office during the pleasure of the governor. Each autonomous region also has a separate regional council. The district and regional councils administer the areas under their jurisdiction. They can make laws on certain specified matters like land, forests, canal water, shifting cultivation, village administration, inheritance of property, marriage and divorce, social customs and so on. But all such laws require the assent of the governor. Village Councils: The district and regional councils within their territorial jurisdictions can constitute village councils or courts for trial of suits and cases between the tribes. They hear appeals from them. The jurisdiction of the high court over these suits and cases is specified by the governor. Powers and Functions: ● The district council can establish, construct or manage primary schools, dispensaries, markets, ferries, fisheries, roads and so on in the district. ● It can also make regulations for the control of money lending and trading by non-tribals. But, such regulations require the assent of the governor. ● The district and regional councils are empowered to assess and collect land revenue and to impose certain specified taxes. The acts of Parliament or the state legislature do not apply to autonomous districts and autonomous regions or apply with specified modifications and exceptions. The governor can appoint a commission to examine and report on any matter relating to the administration of the autonomous districts or regions. He may dissolve a district or regional council on the recommendation of the commission.