Autonomous Councils in NE and Challenges in Good Governance

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By: Aashay Purandare

North East known as Ashtalakshmis was a flourishing economic corridor during British India. Abundance of   natural resources, biodiversity and the unique strategic location (almost 98 percent of the Northeast borders countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and China) are the strengths of Northeast India along with tribal diversity with states like Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya having more than 70-80% tribal population.

However, economic isolation and wide governance deficit has hampered the growth of Northeast currently leading to socio-economic backwardness, infrastructural and institutional (both social and public) deficit. This was coupled by persistent internal security issues.

Under the Sixth schedule of the Constitution, Autonomous District Councils, the institutions of self governance were established in tribal dominated areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to strengthen the decentralised governance.

However ADCs have failed miserably in their functioning, hampering the tribal welfare and empowerment. In recent years tribal autonomy and their existence is threatened by increased illegal migration from Bangladesh. According to census data in states like Tripura, tribal population has declined from 56% in 1951 to less than 30% in 2001.

In this context Good Governance which is visionary and inclusive development–oriented administration, focusing on transparency and accountability apart from decentralization and people’s participation is required in Northeast.

It envisions the improvement in quality of life of the masses. It assures that corruption is prevented, the voice of minorities is taken into account and the most vulnerable sections in society participate in decision-making.

It is effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It is also pro-responsive to the present and future needs of society.

Good governance should focus on structural and systematic changes to evolve most effective mechanisms for the redressal of citizen’s grievances.

Nurturing and strengthening the grassroots level democratic institutions below the ADCs and proper implementation of 73rd amendment in letter and spirit of cooperative federalism is critical.

In this context, All India services and especially lower level bureaucracy can act as a catalyst by forming healthy partnership with ADCs instead of perceiving the ADCs and other panchayat bodies as a threat.

Capacity building and training of the grassroots leadership and promoting the women leadership followed by the growth of vibrant civil society and social institutions has to be a priority.

Turning the Good Governance into the people’s movement and investment in 3fs i.e. fund, function and functionaries will secure the people’s participation.

The North East Region Vision Document 2020 sets up the goals, identifies the challenges and suggests implementation strategies to achieve peace and prosperity of the region.

Centre has been trying to integrate North East through the Act East Policy (AEP) with ASEAN countries. Assam has constituted “Act East Department”. AEP can succeed by strengthening the internal connectivity within Northeast.

Better coordination and cooperation between North-Eastern Development Council, MDONER, Ministry of Finance and Home apart from NITI Aayog and Finance Commission is important to maintain fiscal federalism and federal principles especially under the 6th schedule of the constitution.

Since North-East is a gateway to the ASEAN and East Asian markets, keeping the MEA in a loop and providing it a special Federal Diplomatic Status would be path breaking.

Good governance should instill a sense of self-belonging in the Northeast through not only protection but the projection of socio-cultural uniqueness of the Northeast and its tribal diversity.

Thus key for Good governance lies in self empowerment and socio-eco-cultural integration of the region both within and outside India bringing it back to its past glory.

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