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VAB 2014 – Not entirely faulty but inadequate

 

By Aristotle Lyngdoh

 

Under para 3 (1) (a) & of the Sixth Schedule Autonomous District Councils can make laws for Land regulation and preservation which is also the basic and primary objective that the architects of the sixth schedule had in mind, whereas land transfer and migrant work force are subject to further interpretation of the provisions and other related sections. Is Seventh schedule superior to the Sixth Schedule in the administration and protection of tribal areas? What is the logic in this move? By common sense, both have equal importance but as far as governance and protection of rights and customs of tribal people and tribal areas of Meghalaya are concerned, the Sixth schedule is constituted to be the primary and immediate constitutional remedy keeping in mind the overall welfare of the people at the grass roots through the system of inclusive governance – the ultimate objective that should be addressed and considered.

On the other hand, if one goes by the text of the current Village Administration Bill, the subject matter and content of the proposed Act does not spell out in any way the assurance to safeguard people’s interests, to build confidence and meet their expectations. Neither does it promote pro-active participation of people in the Dorbar process. It also does not give any hope to bring about concrete and meaningful changes in the system of village administration and management so as to make grass-roots village Dorbar a decision making body rather than a rubber stamp or puppet the executive committee which approves often without being informed about what they are doing. Once the declaration and notification is announced from P.A. system, the right to question and reason is suspended irrespective of what the condition and feelings are. You just have to agree and move along or are left alone. The atmosphere and environment is that of refilling the same old wine in old wine skins where those in positions of influence will continue to dominate and manipulate the process and operation.

The concept of accountability and transparency are mere statements not backed by concrete evidence or clause in order to perpetuate the entire ‘traditional’ operation and adjudication. A note worthy clause ‘Ka teh- rangbah’ or induction process of a male who has attained 18 years of age – a practice that a handful of rural Dorbar shnong follow and which is not practical in urban areas at all has found place in the VAB. It is highly objectionable and archaic where a male has been defined for induction into the Dorbar. So unless a male is inducted into the Dorbar officially he cannot attend the Dorbar meetings. And what about female involvement here? Gender equality should also be the criteria for governance. We have seen how female members of society have made key contributions especially when dealing with illegal sale of liquor in villages and towns. Besides, every year during the night of 24th & 31st of Dec their patrolling services are required to keep our localities safe and sound. Nevertheless, some village Dorbar do try to maintain a democratic collective decision making process but in only in discharge of executive mandates. Transparency is still a far cry.

The mechanism to determine the term of office is totally absent and unclear leaving the Rangbah Shnong and his immediate office bearers the liberty to preserve or destroy all the records without being punished or awarded appropriate penalty. The propose Bill empowers those holding fore-front positions in raising funds but does not define how and from where – a grey area which lies at the discretion of the executive committee. Proper guidelines for regulation of finance, accounting process and procedures should be in place to keep track in case of any misuse of funds by the Rangbah Shnong or his executive committee. Most Dorbar shnong in urban areas have reserve funds amounting to lakhs of rupees which is kept as fixed deposit and which accumulates every year. What will happen if in the near future corrupt people are elected and misuse such funds? What sort of action can the Dorbar or people can take if such things happen? The proposed Bill is silent and unclear about the punitive action which should have been a vital clause. Even though, the Bill laid the criteria for electing a chief or Rangbah Shnong and for his removal from office but he cannot be punished or sentenced by the Act in case he is found to have acted in breach of the powers vested in him.

A majority of the residents are under coercion to abide by the dictum of the Dorbar Shnong without the right of participation. This has created a feeling of dissatisfaction which is now being openly expressed. Boundaries should be drawn somewhere and changes should take place. Peoples’ empowerment is of paramount importance. If the Bill in its present form does not address these issues then as a people and community we are losing tremendous scope and benefit especially from the system of local self government and the benefits of the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution.

 

 

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