Rural Democracy

Rural Democracy
By Ninglun Hanghal, Columnist


Six autonomous district councils of Manipur’s hill districts of Churachandpur Chandel, Sadar Hills, Senapati, Ukhrul and Tamenglong will go to the polls on 1 June. Parliament passed the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act 1971 and the first election was held in 1973. Each council had 18 elected members and two were nominated. Today, each comprises 24 elected and two nominated members.

In 1989, the people boycotted the elections demanding extension of the Sixth Schedule. In the 2010 election, the United Naga Council, a frontal organisation, boycotted proceedings. This time also it has renewed its call,maintaining that it has not mandated the ADC so any policies, programmes and activities of any political party/parties or individual/individuals, who either in speech, written statements, visual displays or actions oppose the established and registered political position of the Nagas will be treated as anti-Nagas. According to the UNC, its demand for an alternative arrangement for the Nagas of Manipur — independent of the Manipur government — is pending final settlement to the Indo-Naga political engagement and has reached a crucial stage, and, as such, “any situation that endangers or jeopardises the established position built up with blood and tears should not be allowed into the land of the Nagas”.

The UNC has warned the present members and those who contesting the polls by defying the Naga People’s Convention declaration of July 2010 that they will be banned from taking any social or political responsibilities in the future, adding that anyone who ignores the directive of peaceful and democratic appeal shall do so at their own risk.

Some militant groups have reportedly sought a ban on the 2015 ADC election and its candidates. The 1 June election assumes significance because it is being held after 20 years. Even as the ADCs were revived in 2010 under the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council 3rd Amendment Act 2008, elections, per se, as in exercising adult franchises, were not witnessed. Most of them were nominated. In June 2010, however, about 156 representatives took oath. The ADCs were revived in 2010 with renewed hope and aspirations, but the road to grassroots democracy has not been smooth. The ADC members became mere implementers of a few development projects —their activities confined to monitoring rural primary schools and overseeing welfare schemes.ADC members in their memorandums to the state and the Centre have expressed grievances over non-devolution of power.

According to the 2008 (amendment) Act, there were 26 subjects and a new section, 29 (A), listed in the Principal Act that provided the ADCs the power, functions and responsibilities. But members allege till today that these have not been acted upon in spirit and deed in violation of Article 371 (c) of the Hill Areas Committee.

In 1991, the state government said it had no objection to extension of the Sixth Schedule to the hill areas but it should be done with “certain local adjustments and amendments” but this was never clarified. The Centre has also been seeking an explanation on what these “local adjustments and amendments” are but so far no one knows what the state government has to say about it.

Besides political suppression of these grassroots representations, the basic infrastructures of the ADCs are minimal and absent.Many of them do not have proper offices. Most members have not been able to discharge their duties for security reasons and are mostly based in Imphal.

As a matter of fact, the functioning of the ADCs is weak and abysmal. As it stands, the implications of such a situation is indicative of a weak democracy, rather a non- existence of governance in the hill areas and Manipur as a whole.

The upcoming election is an opportunity for the state and the Centre to look into governance and administration of the hill areas.While the latter is equally responsible for the state of affairs of the local governing bodies, the key lies in the state government, as per Schedule 7 of the Constitution, the local government is a state subject. Moreover, according to the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments 1992, ratified by the state government, the latter is accountable for implementation,monitoring and reforming structure of the local self-government. This is also the time to review the several talks and “pending solutions” with the civil and traditional bodies as well as the rebel groups.

In a democratic country like India, the key to development of rural areas and subsequent progress of a nation lies in the vibrancy of local-self- governance,more commonly known as grassroots democracy. The unrest in the hill areas in Manipur is basically due to the non-functioning of this very basic structure of governance.

Ninglun Hanghal