Updated: Apr 20, 2021
The Autonomous District Councils were established in North-East India to safeguard the interests of the indigenous population. Today there are demands for its expansion as the area continues to struggle with illegal immigration and demands for NRC.
On April 10, TIPRA, a first time political contender for Autonomous District Council elections, beat the BJP to win 18 out of 28 seats in Tripura. Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) is the umbrella organisation of regional political parties established by royal scion Pradyot Kishore Debbarman. The political alliance managed to bring indigenous people together after many decades and won the election despite low funds and power. BJP managed to win nine seats thereby becoming the lead opposition. It is, therefore, important to know what is the ADC and why this election was so important.
What is an Autonomous District Council?
There are many acts and laws governed by the Constitution of India. One of them is called the Sixth Schedule that provides for a separate administration of the tribal areas in some states of North-East India. In such areas, instead of the state government making all the decisions, the councils that have representatives of the indigenous population formulate policies that would best serve the needs of the people. This special provision is provided under Article 244(2) where Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) will be formed in these states, and under Article 275(1) these ADC areas will get special financial grants for the over-all development of the tribals and the region as per need. There are ten such areas—one in Tripura, and three each in Assam, Meghalaya, and Mizoram.
Why ADCs came to existence?
It was observed that the tribals or indigenous communities living in North-East India had different culture and customary laws than those of people living in other parts of the country. Therefore, it was decided that the tribals in these places should not be absorbed into the system and they should be allowed to develop their resources according to their needs under these special provisions.The Autonomous District Councils administer the areas under their jurisdiction and can make laws on matters like land, forests, water, shifting cultivation, village administration, property, social customs and so on.
ADC in the context of Tripura:
Tripura holds a unique position in the formulation of a local administrative council. It is one of the rare states of India where the original indigenous community became a minority in their own place. Today, the indigenous population forms just 31.8% of the total population due to the huge influx of Bangladeshi immigrants after the 1971 war. Whereas Autonomous District Councils were formed in Assam soon after Independence, the demand for such an establishment in Tripura started in the 1970s when young indigenous leaders began to realize that the influx of illegal migrants will soon wipe out their identity and land rights. Hence, after a sustained demand, the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) was constituted through vote by secret ballot on January 15, 1982 and the elected members were sworn in on January 18, 1982. Subsequently, the Constitution of India was amended by a Bill and it was unanimously passed at the floor of the Indian Parliament on August 23, 1984 for introduction of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in India.
TTAADC requires further strengthening:
According to the TTAADC website, the institution was made “to remove within a short time the material disparities between the advanced and backward sections of the societies, to strengthen the bonds of unity between the tribal and non-tribal masses, to emancipate not only tribal people but all the deprived people from all types of injustice and exploitation.” However, it is often felt that the institution suffers due to lack of infrastructure and funds. Almost four decades after its establishment, the indigenous communities remain underdeveloped, having little access to employment, proper healthcare, proper education, water and many more amenities.
In reality the ADC areas do not enjoy proper autonomy as one party after another have only used it as a political tool. The employment rates remain low and the ADC is unable to use the funds it receives. In addition, the area that is spread across 7,132.56 sq. kms does not have proper hospitals and colleges. The conditions of schools are not good either.
Can we hope for better days?
The lack of development in ADC areas has led to a situation where two regional indigenous parties of Tripura have suggested an increase in the scope of the institution. The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) and the TIPRA motha (group) under Maharaja Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma have demanded Tipraland and Greater Tipraland respectively to bring an end to the social-economic deprivation of Indigenous communities by carving out a separate state with all areas under the jurisdiction of ADC. The TIPRA motha has also iterated the requirement of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) to ensure the protection of the indigenous people.
It is very important to preserve the identity and culture of the tribals of Tripura who are under threat from immigration. One way to do so is by preserving land from illegal settlements and by providing educational and job opportunities to the people. Whether Tipraland or Greater Tipraland can be realized or not, only the future can tell, but people do continue to vote with the hopes that things will change for the better.
This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.