Schedule VI to the Constitution and its Effect on Insurgency: A Case-study for Tripura

Abstract

The unity and integrity of India is under severe challenge due to the rise of separatist movements in different parts of the country. The North-Eastern part of the country has been traditionally prone to a large number of secessionist and separatist movements. Tripura, the smallest of the North East Indian states has been caught in a vortex of highly destructive militant violence, deadly ethnic conflicts and a planned destruction of the relations between the tribal and non-tribal population of the state. A large number of factors have been held responsible for the growth of insurgency in this region. The most important cause of rise of the secessionist movement has been the massive demographic changes and the consequent loss of land and livelihood the tribal used to enjoy earlier. The partition of the region and the following upheavals led to an unprecedented rise in the population which in turn led to social, economic and political problems. The lack of development among the tribal populace was identified as a key factor in the growth of tribal sense of alienation. In order to speed up the development of the tribal community and generate a sense of self-sufficiency and autonomy the state policy was directed towards the establishment of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council which came into being on 18th January, 1982. The Constitution (Forty-ninth Amendment) Act, passed by the Union Parliament provided for the said council under the Schedule VI to the Constitution. The present paper is aimed at studying the impact of Schedule VI on containingtribal disaffection in Tripura. Also, the author is set to explore other available alternative within the given system of governance.

THE BACKGROUND

Tripura, a small and hilly state of 10,486 sq. Km in the North- East region of India comprises beautiful hills, green valleys and dense forests. It is bounded by Bangladesh in the North, West, South and Assam and Mizoram in the East. Tripura has an international boundary of 832.20 Km with Bangladesh. In the pre- independence period Tripura enjoyed special status among the native princely states. It enjoyed an independent status subject to the recognition of British as paramount power by the Rulers of Tripura. After independence it formally acceded to the Union of India in October 1949 as part C state and subsequently became a union territory from 1st Nov. 1956 and attained statehood on 21st, January 1972.

In the late 19th and the early 20th century Tripura was a tribal majority state as can be seen from the census figures of 1881 and 1921 with tribal population at 52.19% and 56.37% of the total population respectively. Following the independence of the country and partition, the state witnessed large scale influx of refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan and subsequently from Bangladesh. Tripura’s tribal majority demography underwent a sea change as a result of this unhindered migration. The tribals were pushed to the hills and the politics and administration came to be dominated by Bengali speaking locals and migrants. In fact, the tribal population in Tripura constituted about 28.95 per cent of the total population in 1971. The expansion in the population of the non- tribals also led to large scale transfer of land from the tribals to the non tribals. This created a sense of fear and resentment among the tribal populace and it was precisely against this phenomenon that the tribal movement started in Tripura in the early 1950’s.

There is no doubt that the tribals were reduced to a position of insignificance in a place where they were once dominant. Tensions were inherent in a situation in which a relatively backward and mostly illiterate community consisting of 19 separate tribal groups found it not only out-numbered but also increasingly overwhelmed in many ways by a more cohesive community which comprised largely of Bengali immigrants. The disparity in life-styles of the two communities and their respective economic situations resulted in a growing rancour between the immigrant groups and the tribals of the state. All these resulted in a growing demand for tribal autonomy and also in the rise of a violent secessionist movement.  The present paper is an attempt to analyse the phenomenon of growing tribal alienation and the attempts by the government to tackle the situation by providing greater autonomy to the tribes under Schedule VI of the Indian Constitution. The paper will also examine the efficacy of the act in containing sense of dissatisfaction among the tribes of Tripura.

The independence of the country and witnessed large scale influx of refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan and subsequently from Bangladesh and as a result Tripura’s tribal majority demography underwent a sea change because of this unhindered migration. The tribal populace was pushed to the hills and the politics and administration came to be dominated by Bengali speaking locals and migrants. The expansion in the population of the non- tribals led to large scale transfer of land of the tribals to the non-tribals. This created fear and resentment among the tribal populace. Another group of tribals who lost their land to the development initiatives of the state were the so-called ecological refugees. A classic example of this is furnished by the case of the Dumbur tribals. The reservoir of the Gumti Hydro-electric Project was created by inundating eight moujas. Many of the tribals who lived in these moujas were prosperous cultivators who were not given any rehabilitation after being driven out from their lands. They therefore, had no option but to take up the work of agricultural labourers in order to eke out a precarious living on the brink of starvation. In this way various factors contributed to land alienation among the tribes of Tripura and one of the most crucial factors was the influx of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan and Bangladesh which added fuel to fire and accentuated the process of tribal land alienation .[1] In fact the percentage of Tribal population came down from 50.9% in 1941 to 36.85% in 1951.The picture that emerges from existing literature on the alienation of tribal lands in Tripura is that private ownership in land did not exist among the tribals of the state in the past.[2] Land was held collectively by the tribal community. But with large scale migration of non-tribals, the tribals gradually lost control over their land resources. Tribal movement started as a protest against this phenomenon.

Transfer of land from tribals to non-tribals is the most crucial problem in Tripura. There was transaction- like ‘dhakal bikri‘ or sale of possession in which the tribal was given a receipt for the land though the price for land was nominal. The most despicable manner of transfer came about when non-tribal moneylenders and petty traders started going to the interior areas. The moneylenders gave tribals loans against land. The rates of interest charged in many cases were more than 100 per cent per annum. Default to pay back the loan in cash or kind resulted in most cases in forced transfer of land. How widespread and effective this method had been in alienating the tribals from their land can be gauged from the official reports of the Tripura government. In 1968 the Chief Commissioner asked an Additional District Magistrate of Tripura District to enquire into numerous complaints of such illegal transfers. According to investigations, 80 per cent of the land in Kanchanpur area in North Tripura had been grabbed by non-tribals through unscrupulous and fraudulent means. In almost all the tribal areas the non-tribals possessed disproportionately large areas of land.  The official records bear testimony to the fact how widespread and illegal the transfers of lands were.[3]

The first organized tribal movement Sengkrak[4]originated as a reaction to settling down of the non-tribal refugees in the tribal areas. Its leaders opposed the influx of refugees and its preaching was anti-Bengali. It carried out violent attacks on many refugee camps. Subsequently this organization was banned in 1949 when A.B. Chatterjee assumed office as the Chief Commissioner of Tripura. Following the ban on this organisation a number of other organisations were formed, the most prominent of which was the ‘Paharia Union’ in 1951 under the leadership of Chandra Sadhu Rupini a prominent leader of the Hallam community. The Tripura Rajya Adivasi Sangh was established in November 1953 at Agartala. Lalit Mohan Debbarman was its President and it was joined by a section of Tripuris, Jamatiyas and Hallams. All these organisations were formed with the similar objective and goal of securing the rights of the Tribals but the lack of cooperation and concerted efforts prevented them from realising their aims.

The demand for protecting the right of the aborigines reached a new level when on 14th August 1948; Regent Maharani Kanchanprabha Debi de-reserved 300 sq. Km of land to pave the way for refugee rehabilitation in the wake of the partition of the country. In fact in the National Conference of the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes, convened by the Prime-Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955, Dasharath Deb the Communist Party of India Member of Parliament submitted a memorandum and pointed out that: “some area or areas of Tripura should be set aside for the tribal’s alone and no other person’sbelonging to the non-tribal community should be allowed to settle there. In fact, such areas do prevail in Tripura since the Maharaja’s regime.”[5]Similarly on 19th March 1956 Dasharath Deb M.P. raised the demand in Lok Sabha that Government Khas lands in the tribal areas should be kept reserved for the tribals. It was also demanded that the tribal reserve area should not be further released and the emphasis was laid on the introduction of regional autonomy.

Towards Autonomy

            In 1960-61 the Government of India appointed a commission called the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission under U.N. Dhebar to deal with the issue of growing tribal dissatisfaction. The Commission looked into the causes leading to tribal land alienation and concluded that there was an immediate need to look into the laws governing transfer of tribal land. An Administrative Reform Commission appointed around the same time under K. Hanumanthaiah also recommended the setting up of Tribal Councils with well-defined administrative power.[6]Meanwhile the influx of the refugees continued unabated upsetting the local economy and furthering the sense of tribal alienation. The opposition parties in Tripura particularly the Communist Party of India began clamouring for the declaration of scheduled area in Tripura. But instead of scheduled areas Tribal Development Blocks were created which utterly failed to protect the interest of Tribals.[7] Whatever land was given to the Tribals went out of their hands. It was also reported that a large number of Tribals had to leave Tripura and seek refuge in the Mainama Forest area of East Pakistan or in different forest areas of Assam where they eked out a precarious existence. It was very much obvious that that the Tribal Development Blocks had very much failed to solve the problem.[8]It is interesting to note that the government all along rebuffed the demand for the introduction of Fifth Schedule as in its view the demography of Tripura had undergone a change and Tripura has become a state with a mixed population.

In 1960 the Union Parliament passed the Tripura Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act. Under Article 186 and 187 of the said Act, certain conditions were laid down which made the process of transfer of Tribal land more difficult and complicated.[9]Meanwhile in 1967 a younger section of the Tribals in Tripura organised themselves under the banner of Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS). It put forward the following demands-

  1. Restoration of Tribal lands alienated to the non-tribals since 1960.
  2. Formation of a Tribal Autonomous District Council.
  3. Reservation in Government jobs for the tribals.
  4. Recognition of Kok-Borak as an official Language.

In January 1972 Tripura became a full-fledged state under the Indian Union. TheTripura Land Revenue and Land Reforms Act of 1960 were further amended in 1974 by laying down more rigorous conditions in respect of the transference of tribal holdings. It laid down the restoration of tribal land alienated on or after 1st January 1969 in contravention of the Act. However a serious flaw of this provision was that in effect it virtually legalised all transfers that had taken place before the cut-off date. A third amendment of the said Act of 1960 was made in 1975. It incorporated a new chapter to the parent Act which provided preferential right to the Scheduled Tribes in case of purchase of land from any intending ST seller in certain areas which were specified in Schedule II of the Act. The amendment provided that if the member of a tribal community intends to sell his land, the first offer would have to be made to his co-sharer and failing that the offer may be made to the adjoining tribal land-holder. It they both fail to purchase, the competent authority then will find a landless tribal in the village or Tehsil who would be willing to purchase the land. The law further provided that if the selected tribal purchaser was not in a position to pay for the land immediately the state government would purchase it and subsequently transfer the title of the land to him on payment of price.[10]All these amendments to a certain extent did succeed in providing a few safe-guards against the illegal transfer of land-holdings. However there were too many shortcomings in the law as it failed to recognise the rights two other class of Raiyats- the under-Raiyat and the Bargadars- though they were the actual tillers of the land.

In spite of all these legal provisions they proved singularly inadequate to protect the interests of the indigenous communities of Tripura. This was because the issue of land-ownership cannot be seen in isolation from other economic aspects. One of the major reasons for the inability of the tribal community to retain the land either owned by him or restored to him by legal means is that the that often lacked economic wherewithal to maintain their hold over the land. Moreover, whenever any settlement of land was introduced the autochthons hardly found their land registered accordingly. Although some have blamed it on the illiteracy of the tribes but the apathetic attitude of the government is also to be blamed. It has been pointed out by various experts on Tripura that despite plethora of acts the act of restoration of tribal land to those who had been dispossessed proved to be a non-starter mainly due to lackadaisical attitude of the government. In fact Manas Paul a leading authority on recent political developments in the trouble-torn state observes that up to 31st March 1990 only 43,000 petitions from dispossessed tribals for land restoration were dispensed with in favour of them as against more than one Lakh petition received by the government.[11] If this was not enough the tribal community in Tripura received a body blow when whatever land was still kept as Tribal reserves were abrogated by an ordinance of 28th February 1974 in order to accommodate the fresh influx of refugees caused by the liberation war in Bangladesh. This action on the part of the Tripura Government immensely hurt tribal sentiments and the tribal autonomy movement now entered a new crucial phase.

In order to register a strong note of protest against the ordinance of 28th February 1974, an all-party convention was called at the capital Agartala on 7th April 1974. The convention was attended by almost all the major tribal organisations including the Tripura Rajya Upajati Gana Mukti Parishad (backed by the CPM). The convention demanded the revocation of the ordinance of 1974 and preservation of tribal compact area and the introduction of an Autonomous District council therein. It also demanded the restoration of tribal lands transferred to non-tribals after 1960. A Joint Action Committee was formed to act as a pressure group on the government. It was because of all these efforts that ultimately the government decided to proclaim a ‘Tribal Schedule Area’ in February 1975. However this proclamation failed to satisfy the tribal people as they criticised the post-independent policy of both the central and the state government as singularly responsible for the abject poverty and the backwardness of indigenous communities of Tripura. Meanwhile the Tripura Upajati Juba Parishad (TUJS) continued its agitation in support of the demands raised during the all-party convention organised in April 1974. But a section of the younger cadres of the TUJS lost faith in the democratic agitation and formed an underground secret organisation called the Tripura National Volunteer (TNV) in July 1979 under the leadership of Bijoy Kumar Hrankhwal. The later part of the 1970’s were tumultuous times for the entire North-east as the largest state Assam was caught in the midst of violent student agitation against ‘foreigners’ in Assam. The Tripura National Volunteer (TNV) picked up the emotive issue and demanded that all those who had settled in Tripura after 15th October 1949, the date of princely Tripura’s merger with the Indian Union should leave the state and demanded their deportation. On the other handsome Bengalis living in the hills strongly opposed to such measures set up an organization called Amra Bangali in 1978. All these politics along ethnic lines sharply polarised the tribal and the non-tribal population of the state and prepared the background for a violent confrontation.

Grant of Autonomy

            The first communal riot erupted in Tripura in the district of West Tripura in 1979. It was a minor conflict and contained by the timely intervention of the security forces. However, despite being a brief skirmish it succeeded in tearing down the fragile thread of trust between the tribal and non-tribal communities and paved the way for the infamous Mandai massacre of 6th June 1980 when hundreds of non-tribals were butchered in a single day. It was clear that pent-up feelings of deprivation and perceived injustice resulted in such a violent outburst which led to the killing of hundreds of innocent men and women. The state was also jolted out to of its stupor and took hasty steps for the establishment of Autonomous District Councils. The Left Government in Tripura decided to set up a Tribal Autonomous District Council under Schedule VI of the constitution but as the central government did not agree, the Tripura Government introduced in the Legislative Assembly “The Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council Bill, 1979”- a bill in terms of Schedule V of the Indian Constitution. The Bill was passed unanimously in the House on 23rd March 1979 and received the assent of the President of India on 20th July 1979. In fact, administration of Tribal areas in the country are divided into two categories- the first group consists of areas declared as scheduled areas under Schedule V of the Constitution and the second group comprises areas covered by Schedule VI of the constitution. Although no specific criteria has been laid down for declaring the Fifth and Sixth Scheduled areas but in practise areas considered as “Partially Excluded” under the Government of India Act, 1935 were declared as Fifth Schedule areas while “wholly Excluded Areas” mostly became Sixth Schedule areas.

In any case the Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council under the Fifth Schedule came into being on 18th January 1982, thus ensuring for the first time a semblance of tribal self-government. The Schedule V of the Constitution has two principle provisions regarding the governance of Tribal areas. Firstly, the governor can amend any law passed by Parliament or State Legislature to define its applicability in the concerned Scheduled areas. The Schedule also provides for the creation of a Tribes Advisory Council of whom 3/4th should be ST members of State Legislature to advice on matters pertaining to the welfare and advancement of Schedule Tribes.[12]A 28-member council was established having authority over 164 revenue villages and 47 Tehsils to protect Tribal right to land and ensure development. But it failed to satisfy the aspirations of the tribal people who wanted an Autonomous District council under the Schedule VI of the Indian Constitution. The Tripura Legislative Assembly adopted unanimous resolutions twice- the first time on 10th March 1978 and the second time on 16thDecember 1983 requesting the central government to introduce the provisions of the Schedule VI. The Sixth Schedule of the constitution provides for two broad mechanism for the administration of Tribal areas- the Autonomous District Council and the Autonomous Regions. It provides that there shall be District Council for each autonomous district consisting of not more than 30 members and a regional council for the Autonomous region. The District and the Regional Councils have the power to make laws with respect to land other than reserved forests, management of forests (other than reserved forests), regulate Jhum or any form of shifting cultivation and make laws regarding inheritance of property, marriage and divorce with the approval of the concerned authority. In view of persistent demands, the Central Government at last agreed to introduce the Sixth Schedule in Tripura and a bill was introduced in Parliament proposing an amendment of the constitution for the introduction of Sixth Schedule in the tribal areas of Tripura. The Autonomous District Council (ADC) was introduced on 1st April 1985 replacing the 39-months old Tribal Council under the Fifth Schedule.

Initially, theAutonomous District Council (ADC) which came into being covered an area of 7, 132, 56 Sq. Km which included 462 revenue villages and a population of 6, 26,173 out of which 4, 46,149 were tribals. A unique feature of the ADC in Tripura was that it accommodated 19 tribes in the same Autonomous Regional Council because the three other North-Eastern states of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland have separate autonomous bodies for different tribes. In any case the first elections to the ADC under the Sixth Schedule were held on 30th June 1985 and the new body was constituted on 19th July 1985. The establishment of the Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) under the Sixth Schedule of the constitution is believed to have fulfilled the long cherished dreams of the indigenous people who have been demanding autonomy in order to fulfil their goals of socio-economic upliftment and preserve their unique culture and identity amidst fears of demographic marginalisation. The main objective behind the formation of an Autonomous Council was to handover certain administrative and legal authority to the council and to pay special attention to the socio-cultural and economic improvement of the indigenous communities of the state. In fact, the TTAADC has been a land-mark achievement in realising the united demands of the Tripura Tribes.

Assessment

            The ADC was established to ensure a better life for the indigenous tribes of Tripura. Funds were allotted for undertaking various development projects. The ADC mainly aimed at reforming the land problems in the state, especially restoration of tribal land which had been transferred by various fraudulent means. The ADC has a Land Records and Settlement Department to distribute land to the landless tribals for construction of dwelling houses as well as agricultural land. The “Achievement Report” of the TTAADC reveals that during the initial years 35,718 landless were allotted land of which 2,678 belonged to the category of ‘non-tribals’.[13] The ADC also undertook several projects to wean away the Jhumias or shifting cultivators to other jobs such as forestry, animal husbandry and pisciculture as in view of ever-increasing scarcity of land shifting cultivation was becoming increasingly unviable. The ADC has also set up 25 colonies under the Principal Officer (Welfare) where 1,759 Jhumias were settled.[14] The ADC on the behalf of the state has also implemented the National Rural Employment schemes to help the poor tribals during lean months by providing gainful employment. Out of a total area of 7,132 Sq. Km about 2,050 Sq. Km were unreserved forests. The ADC is able to manage forests which are un-reserved as per section 3 (b) of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Steps were undertaken for establishing rubber plantation and also bamboo and teak by the Forest Department of ADC so that they could augment the income of the indigenous folk.

The ADC which was the outcome of a long struggle by the tribal communities of Tripura seemed to achieve something worthwhile for the hitherto deprived sections of society. However, soon the mechanism ran into rough weather. The immigrant non-tribal population soon discovered that almost three-fourth of the state’s land resources were reserved for only one-fourth of its population.[15] The non-tribals who had “possessed” these lands had reclaimed them and made it suitable for cultivation but with the establishment of Autonomous District Council (ADC) they had to surrender the same. Thus, instead of healing the ethnic divide in the state the ADC divided the state population into two ethnically opposed groups the- Tribals and Non-Tribals. Moreover the ADC was formed in areas having a tribal population of 60 percent or more but all the tribals did not live in the areas covered by ADC and were left out of the development bandwagon. In this context the most pertinent question how much “autonomy” has the TTAADC been able to provide ever since its inception. It is beyond question that ADC has done considerable work in way of land reclamation, soil conservation and rehabilitation of the Jhumias. But reports from the ground level suggest that ADC which was supposed to have been a “Beacon of Hope” has failed to make much of a headway.

The main reason is that many of the enterprises of the ADC are as usual caught in red-tape. The matters dealing with the issue of land in the tribal autonomous areas are disposed of in a time-consuming and cumbersome manner. First of all the ADC receives applications from the Tribal landless who seek land allotment in the region. These applications are then sorted out according to mouja, tehsil and sub-division. The sub-divisional officer then makes land allotment among the applicants according to the land rules of 1980.[16] The State Government collects land revenue in the Autonomous District Council Area. This also hampers the ADC from taking up any development projects. Further, the council is not able to encompass all the tribal populace of the state as the benefits are cornered by a small section within the tribal society, thereby creating a new elite within the tribal society. The council also lacks an appropriate mechanism to implement projects and has to depend on the state government for everything project formulation, finances and subsequent implementation. The Reangs who constitute the second largest tribe of Tripura met at a conference in December 1991 and resolved to set up a parallel autonomous Regional Council for the Reangs.[17] Similar demands were raised by the Lushai’s of the Jampui Hills. This shows that the demand for separate autonomous status for each tribe is gathering momentum and can very well lead to the conclusion that the demands are the result of failure of the ADC to achieve the desired results.

The initial years of the establishment of the ADC were quite beneficial but the soon the process lost its momentum and vigour. The creation of Autonomous council has not been able to solve the problems confronting the indigenous populace as is proved by the menace of insurgency which assumed alarming proportions in the 1990’s. The socio-economic disparities which are the root cause insurgency still persist in society. Identifying the grievances of the people is a major step forward in dealing with the problem. Cautious steps should be undertaken to combat tribal insurgency such as creation of gainful employment opportunities. However, the most significant deciding factor in Tripura is the population pressure. Population of the state has increased by leaps and bounds due to illegal migration from Bangladesh and this must be checked to solve the problems confronting the state.

Summing-up

Autonomy in the proper sense of the term must be given to the indigenous people of Tripura. The state must come forward and remove the roadblocks which lead to delay or funding problems in the implementation of the programmes. An entirely new approach is required to materialise a new strategy of development and bring the tribal population into national mainstream. Literacy programmes, vocational training should be encouraged which would remove the hindrances in the path of development process and enable the indigenous people to exercise their free will.


This Article is written by Asst. Prof. Gourishwar Choudhuri Assistant Professor of Islamic History, Maulana Azad College Kolkata.


References:

[1] Ganguly J B (1983) The Benign Hills’. A Study in Tripura’s Population Growth and Problems, Agartala, pp. 60-62.

[2] Ganguly J B (1987) The Problem of Tribal Landlessness in Tripura in BB Dutta and MN Kama (eds), Land Relations in North- East India, New Delhi,  pp. 221-33.

[3] Press Release of the Tripura Administration, dated 20th July 1950. Published in Janakalyan (Bengali Bi-Weekly) July 1950.

[4] It means Clenched-Fist in the Kokborok language.

[5] Memorandum of the Tripura Rajya Ganamukti Parishad: Sept. 10, 1955 submitted by D. Deb to Prime Minister J.L. Nehru.

[6] Administrative Reforms Committee: Report of the Study Team on the Union Territories and NEFA, Delhi 1968, para 691.

[7] Tripura Legislative Assembly Proceedings 15.03.1967. Amendment moved by Aghore Debbarman, pp 27-28.

[8] Tripura Legislative Assembly Proceedings 15.12.1967, Private Members Resolution by A. Debbarman. pp. 28-33.

[9] Tripura Land Revenue and Land Reform Act of 1960 (No. 43 of 1960) Govt. of Tripura, Directorate of Land Records and Settlement, Agartala.

[10] Das J.N. (1990), A Study of the Land System of Tripura, Law Research Institute, Gauhati High-Court.

[11] Paul Manas (2009) The Eyewitness, New Delhi, p. 47.

[12] Basu D.D. (2004) Introduction to the Constitution of India, Agra, p. 285.

[13] Annual Report of the TTAADC- Three Years of Work 1982-85, Agartala, p.12.

[14] Report Published by the TTAADC of their work in the last ten years, p.36.

[15] Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous Council Act, 1979, pp. 3-13.

[16] An article in Syndan Patrika, Tripura 12th Dec. 1991.

[17] Ibid. 20th January 1992.

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