Role of the K.H.A.D.C and its Constitutional Mandate
A glimpse into the past reveals that there exist a number of Khasi independent states in the Khasi Hills with elected Chiefs and Durbars who are running the affairs of state before the advent of the British era. Though the British did not subjugate the Khasi states in the strict sense of the term, they had however, some holds over them through treaties and agreements offering them protection and in return they were offered land to set up their administrative headquarters in the hills to oversee their administration of both the Brahmaputra valley in the north and Surma valley in the south.
Though the British remained in these hills for more than a century, they left the Khasi Chieftains, both hostile and neutral in un-interfered exercise of their authority in their respective territories. They abstained from imposing any taxation on the Khasis and for all practical purposes, the Khasi territories were held to be beyond the borders of British India except for a few pockets, particularly in southern parts of the Khasi Hills, declared as British Sirdarships. In these Sirdarships which in most cases comprising of one or two villages, the British appoint a Sirdar chosen from local residents as revenue officials.
Some peculiar systems exist in the Khasi Hills which had influenced the British rulers not to interfere with the Khasi States which were allowed to exist as semi-independent States. One of these peculiarities is with regards to land. Land does not belong to the Chief of the State. It is directly owned by the people as private property or Community property. Thus, though the British might have subjugated the Chiefs, they could not take away the land from the people. When the British made Shillong their headquarters in 1864 and later the Capital of undivided Assam, they had to acquire the land on lease from private landowners or in a few instances, made direct purchase from such owners.
At the time when India was at the threshold of independence, the Khasi States were offered an option to accede to the Indian Dominion or otherwise which after thorough deliberation, the majority placed their faith with the independent India and one after the other signed the Instrument of Accession in between 1947 and 1948 on condition that they will be guaranteed of autonomy in their administrations and safeguards to their traditions, customs, practices and usages through special mention in the Constitution that independent India would formally adopt. Hence, the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India found a place in the Constitution as a brain-Child of the Founding Fathers of whom the (L) Rev J. J. M Nichols Roy, a Khasi social, religious and political leader had a tremendous role to play as member of the Constituent Assembly.
Thus, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (ADC) came into being on June 27, 1952, a culmination of implementation of the provisions of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India to fulfill the aspiration of the Tribal people inhabiting the North-East under one composite state of Assam in recognition of their time-tested autonomous polity safeguarding their traditional heritage, customs, practices, usages and economic security while conferring in them Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers along with developmental and financial powers and functions.
The Khasi States therefore, is still functional today in their independent character under Constitutional sanction of the Sixth Schedule.
In Meghalaya, there are three Autonomous District Councils viz., Garo Hills Autonomous District Council, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council. Each ADC has 30 members, 29 of whom are elected by the people and one member each is nominated and holds office at the pleasure of Governor. All elected members and a nominated member shall have to subscribe an oath as provided in the Third Amendment of the Constitution of India before assuming their seats as members of the Council and the term of office is 5 years. The session of the ADC are summoned by the Chairman at least three times a year and all business transactions are conducted by the Chairman in accordance with the normal parliamentary practice and procedure envisaged in The Assam and Meghalaya Autonomous Districts (Constitution of District Councils) Rules, 1951. All laws, rules and regulations made by the ADC shall be published in the official Gazette of the State Government to have the force of law, according to paragraph 11 of the Sixth Schedule.
The Executive is headed by the Chief Executive Member, who is elected by the Council in Session and the Executive Committee is formed after such members are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the CEM.
Paragraph 3 to 10 of the Sixth Schedule envisage the powers of the ADCs within the autonomous areas, to make laws of land, management of forests, except reserved forests, regulation on trade by persons not being local Scheduled Tribes, appointment of traditional Chiefs and Headmen, inheritance of property, marriage, divorce, social customs, establishment and maintenance of Primary Schools, markets, taxation, issue of lease for extraction of minerals, etc.
Paragraph 7 of the same Schedule provides for the constitution of a District Fund for each autonomous district and all moneys received respectively by the District Council for that district shall be credited to the District Fund and the C.A.G. of India shall prescribe the manner in which the accounts shall be maintained and for auditing of the same. The financial rules of the ADCs are modeled in the lines of the financial rules of the State, for custody, payments and withdrawal of moneys from the consolidated fund as provided under Article 275 of the Constitution of India.
The Executive Committee runs the administration of the District Council and the Annual Budget of the Council is prepared and placed before the Council in session during each financial year.
The Judiciary of the ADC for administration of justice in Autonomous areas, finds its place in paragraph 4 and 5 of the Sixth Schedule. Under the above paragraphs, the ADCs are empowered to constitute Courts for trials of cases between parties belonging to Scheduled Tribe Communities.
The District Council Court for each district consists of qualified Judicial Officers, designated as Judges and Magistrates who are appointed by the Executive Committee with the approval of the Governor.
Paragraph 5 of the Sixth Schedule provides conferment of powers on the District Council Courts suits or cases under the CPC and Cr. PC and these Courts have been exercising judicial authority, which have been of great service to the people, where delivery of justice is concerned.
The District Councils in Khasi and Jaintia Hills have their own Rules for the administration of justice, known as the United Khasi-Jaintia Hills Autonomous District (Administration of Justice) Rules 1953, under which, three classes of Courts have been provided, namely :-
i. Village Courts
ii. Subordinate District Council Courts and the Additional Subordinate District Council Courts.
iii. District Council Court and Additional District Council Court
The above mentioned courts try all cases at different level when litigation is within the tribal areas and party or parties involved are tribals. They disperse justice in line with the traditional customs and usages at a very speedy, simple and inexpensive manner. As a result they have benefited the poor people. The District Council stands to continue administering of speedy, cheap and fair justice to the people under its jurisdiction.
It is worth mentioning that, in the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council Courts, the Judicial Officers are all law graduates having experiences in legal profession as Advocates. Separation of powers really exists for all practical purposes. Since, the Constitution of these Courts, not a single Judicial Officers were ever appointed from the officials in the helm of administration (Executive). The Judicial Officers of the Courts of the District Council function independently and free from interference by the Executive. The Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary are separate entities.
The Judge and Additional Judge of the Courts of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council are conferred with powers for the trial of offences punishable with death and transportation for life under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law applicable.
It is also further worth mentioning that the District Council Courts are under the direct supervision by the Hon’ble High Court of Assam, Meghalaya etc.
The Autonomous District Councils as the local self Governing bodies are not a parallel administration, for the ADCs administer within the confines of the Sixth Schedule, in which the powers and jurisdiction have been clearly spelt out. This can be compared to the pattern of division of powers between the Union Government and the State under Article 246. These institutions are tribal-oriented, formed and recognised with the sole objective of uplifting and protecting the minority tribals, their varied cultures, traditions, customs, dialects, faith and other forms of life. These institutions can be compared with the Darjeeling Hills Council in West Bengal, the Bodo Council in Assam and the Panchayat Bodies. All these are like beads of the same necklace. Thus their future is as important as yesterday and today and they are very relevant to their own needs and existence even tomorrow. The debates in the Sessions of the ADCs are conducted in the local tribal languages and dialects.
Of late, there have been serious debates about introduction of Panchayati Raj system in the ADCs which has even snowballed into questioning the relevance and existence of the present structure of the ADCs or otherwise the advisability of abolishing the said ADCs.
Formally it began with the correspondence from the Union Home Ministry in the year 1999 to the ADCs, proposing to initiate several amendments of the Sixth Schedule. All the ADCs of the North East, namely from Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram held several joint meetings to deliberate on the said proposals of the Home Ministry and finally sent their views and comments to the Ministry.
Subsequently a meeting of all the ADCs with the officials of the Home Ministry was held in the month of December 1999 at Delhi, where representatives of the ADCs presented their respective cases.
As for Meghalaya, particularly for Khasi and Jaintia Hills, where the traditional Durbars are deeply rooted, we highlighted our system in detail, especially the quadruplex-tier system of Durbar Dong, Durbar Shnong, Durbar Raid and Durbar Hima. Implementation of our traditional customs and usages are normally routed through these Durbars, among other powers and functions that these institutions perform.
After hearing the submissions, the Home Ministry expressed finally that there was no intention for any dissolution or dilution of the powers and functions of the ADCs.
In conclusion, it is befitting to refer to the report of the committee of members of Parliament and experts, constituted to make recommendation on law concerning extension of provision of the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 to scheduled areas of the Ministry of Rural Development of January 1995, headed by Shri D. S. Bhuria, MP as Chairman where the committee noted in its report, “The Sixth Schedule was conceived by the framers of the Constitution to be an instrument of socio-economic development and self management of the hill tribal communities inhabiting the districts. The self management was expected to satisfy ethnic aspiration of the tribal community ..........” Further, a commission of enquiry headed by Chief Justice (retd.) S. K. Dutta of the Gauhati High Court in its report remarked, “It may also be noted that the institutions of local government play a prominent part in all democratically governed countries. The smaller units of administration are called local Governments because they imply the management of local affairs generally by representatives of the local people....”. The ADCs of Meghalaya have been excluded from Panchayati Raj Act 1993 under Article 243.