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Sixth Schedule – Instrument Serving the Political Class

Patricia Mukhim

Beginning Monday, things will be back to normal, hopefully, and we will not be groggy- eyed after repeated late nights watching the World Cup Football. By then we would have known who is taking the CUP home. And that’s when we will start getting to brass tacks about the goings-on in our backyards, because by then the football aficionados (influencers) too would have returned from Russia and get back to smelling the home brand of coffee or tea. And yes there is the election in Ranikor to look forward too. It looks like Ranikor is set to be the battle royale what with PN Syiem jumping into the fray. He has, after all, become persona-non-grata in the Khasi Hills District Council, after his unwillingness to answer how the amount of Rs 33 crore meant for development schemes has been used. Look at the irony here! When PN Syiem challenged the, “One Man, One Post,” legislation (which I think to be a good practice because there is a definite conflict of interest in an MDC being also an MLA), initiated by former CM Mukul Sangma, a section of Syiem’s cohorts likened him to Tirot Sing the Syiem of Hima Nongkhlaw, for defying Sangma. Some even called him “Nongpynim ka Jaidbynriew (saviour of the Khasi race). Now that Mukul Sangma is out of power and there is no enemy to challenge, PN Syiem has suddenly fallen from grace, having to resign as Chief Executive Member, KHADC. With the credentials that Syiem carried then like a badge of honour one would have thought that he would have easily retained the Mawsynram seat. But that is not what happened. The people of Mawsynram are not easily humoured by populist utterances and the media blitzkrieg their MLA was scoring. They wanted development and they wanted an MLA who would serve their interests – not his own ego. So they voted for change! And now that Syiem is planning to shift constituency, the people of Mawsynram must be thanking their stars.  

Like everything else in Meghalaya, the Sixth Schedule too is an emotive issue. Seen as an instrument of empowering the tribals of Meghalaya when they were ruled by the non-tribal elite of Assam, Mr JJM Nichols Roy, a visionary, envisaged this important legislation to be a sheet anchor for the Khasi-Jaintia people of whom he was the spokesperson in the Constitution making body headed by Dr BR Ambedkar. Today politicians use the Sixth Schedule to counter some of the enlightened legislations in this country such as the centrally legislated Mines and Minerals  Act. They want Meghalaya to be exempted from this Act because it is a Sixth Schedule State. Does 5the Sixth Schedule also sanction wanton destruction of the environment? The Central Act lays down specific directives on how mining is to be conducted without disturbing the fragile ecological balance that continues to provide clean air and water to the people of Meghalaya. But this has been systemically violated by those mining coal and limestone and also the powerful sand mining lobby which continues to destruct the river systems despite warnings from the Supreme Court.

If the state is rich in natural resources it also has the responsibility to ensure a sustainable form of mining (although sustainable and mining are incompatible). Individual ownership of mines does not give people the absolute right to “exploit” everything that is under the earth or above it that will cause permanent environmental damage and affect the next generation and those coming after them. It is the mandate of the District Councils as the custodians of usufruct rights over land, forests, rivers etc., to ensure that the environmental norms are followed. Instead the opposite is happening. The Sixth Schedule Rights are meant to be enjoyed by all and not by the affluent land owners only. In fact the District Councils are expected to stand with the marginalised and the oppressed among the tribals and to ensure that they get a fair price as land compensation when they cede those lands for road construction or other infrastructural development. The Councils are supposed to be the arbiters for the tribals and not to be selling off their rights to coal miners and to cement companies. Alas! That is what the Councils have done over decades.

Little wonder that many feel that the continued existence of the District Councils might endanger them even more than if they were not there. For, what is the source of income of the Councils? They collect cess from cut timber being exported through their jurisdiction without exercising their mandate to check such felling of trees at the cost of the environment. They continue to allocate more land for mining purposes; they collect huge amounts from granting trading licenses to non-tribals and for their renewals. The Trading by Non-Tribals Act of the Council clearly says that non-tribals are allowed to conduct trade in areas where the tribals do not yet have expertise. But is that happening? Is the tribal still a stranger to trade and commerce? Is it not true that trading is also hereditary with one generation of non-tribals handing down that trade to the next generation and the next generation? Are the Councils seized of this matter? Of course they are but if the income from granting trading licenses is what sustains them then there is a conflict of interests here. This is a self defeating agenda and I wonder why those who shout the loudest about saving this Jaidbynriew don’t see through this ruse.  

And then of course you have rabble rousers like PN Syiem who run the Council like a “Hima,” where he is accountable to no one. Syiem believes he is making loads of sacrifice for his “people.” But which ‘people’ really? This word “people” is an idiom that lends itself to all kinds of misinterpretation for there is really no “people” unless someone takes a call and does a referendum as to who stands for and with a particular issue and who will sign up for a particular agenda. Anything short of that is a tall claim. And this goes for all the so-called NGOs and pressure groups who repeatedly claim that they stand for the “people” but are never really able to get those people to sign up for anything. Gradually PN Syiem is being exposed. He made the first mistake of issuing a threat to the ruling MDA Government that his MLAs (of which two out of the four are ministers) would pull out of the Government if the KHADC goes into tremors and he is removed. Syiem must be shocked that his MLAs are determined to stay put with the MDA Government.    

But what never fails to surprise me is the naivety of our people and their strange proclivity to turn heroes out of ordinary men whose penchant is to garner power and wealth. For what is politics today? It is another job opportunity but it’s a job that guarantees quick bucks. Once elected it becomes a continuous fight to remain in power by making regular investments every five years.  Sometimes our simplistic mindset makes us believe that this or that political group will lead us out of darkness into light. People who themselves grope in darkness cannot be expected to lead us out of the encircling gloom. Am I sounding pessimistic? If I am, can anyone please show us what is there to be hopeful about?

The first yardstick to gauge the Government with, is its sincerity in what it claims to be doing for the public good. Take a look at the proposed Education Policy. Does it have among its members, school and college teachers who know exactly what ails the education system? Why on earth have a Vice Chancellor as a member when higher education in a central university is not even a state subject? Why are researchers and educationist from the North East Regional Institute of Education (NERIE) not on the Committee? The Vision itself is a hyperbole. It says, “To provide stimulating and equitable education of the highest quality that will foster innovation, transformation and facilitate inclusive growth and development in the State. To attain this vision and to contribute to the prosperity of the Nation, the education system will be qualitatively transformed to ensure all round development and prepare learners for the changing world by inculcating in them original thinking, creativity and problem solving.”Firstly the Policy is statist; it is long on ideals but short on how to deliver those platitudes.

I was gratified to read an article by a young entrepreneur – Samran Sing Syiem who knows the strangle-hold that is choking entrepreneurship in Meghalaya when it could be a job-creating engine. Instead Governments are creating more civil sub divisions to create more government jobs. Sigh..Someone correctly observed that the more things change the more they remain the same .

 

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