Editorial

Invoke Article 371 for Meghalaya’s advancement, stability

It is necessary for inclusion of Meghalaya under Article 371 J of the Constitution of India to uphold the Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement. Meghalaya which was formed as an autonomous state April 2, 1970 and as a full-fledged state Jan 21, 1972, after being carved out of Assam, is covered by Sixth Schedule provisions of the constitution.

Under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, Meghalaya has three district councils – the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills.

The inclusion of Meghalaya under Article 371 J of the Constitution is crucial for the coordination of three regions.

The federal spirit provided by our constitution is sui-generis – it takes into account the unique history and needs of the States of the Union. Accordingly, special provisions in the constitution were inserted in order to accommodate these needs, that we see in Article 371 of constitution to protect the best interest of the residents of the state of Meghalaya.

It is necessary to recall the signing of the Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement. On December 12, 1947 between the 25 Khasi States and the then Dominion of India. There were some Khasi States which executed the agreement in 1948.

On August 17, 1948, the conditional treaty – Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement – was accepted and signed by C. Rajagopalachari, the last Governor-General of India. But the commitment of incorporating the agreement in the Constitution is yet to see the light of day.

An official authenticating the signing of the accession treaties of over 565 Princely States including the Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement, which was agreed “until new modified arrangements have been arrived at between the respective authorities concerned.

In the Annexed Agreement of the Instrument of Accession, the Khasi States agreed in principle that all existing administrative arrangement between the Dominion of India and Province of Assam, on the one hand, and the Khasi States, on the other, would become operative provided that these states would continue to be given rights in certain subjects.

These subjects include judicial authority, administrative powers of Excise, Forest, Land; Water Rights and the revenue derived there from revenue, assistance in unification of all Khasi Territory in the Province, and legislation.

There is merit to substantiate for the inclusion of Meghalaya under Article 371 (J) of the Constitution as it was clear that Meghalaya now is no longer protected by the Constitutional provisions of the Sixth Schedule.

India have seen that the Sixth Schedule has been compromised – not even Para 12 A (b) could be defended in recent times. The MMDR Act on coal mining was operationalised and Article 244 (2) of the Sixth Schedule was set aside and ignored. The MMDR Act 1957 is a serious threat to our customary rights and practices especially in context of the Sixth Schedule.

There was an urgent need to create a new space for ourselves backed by the Instrument Of Accession; Annexed Agreement.

There is merit in the resolution for the inclusion of Meghalaya in Article 371 as was done in the case of 371 A – with respect with the State of Nagaland, 371 B – the special provision with respect to the then undivided State of Assam, 371 G- special provision with respect to the State of Mizoram.

Our country today is vulnerable to a political tyranny from a Government which will subvert Constitutional provisions to ignore existing Constitutional provisions – if we re-visits the IOA; AA – we could find a permanent solution.”

Will India constitute a committee to consider a possibility of taking forward the IOA AA.

It has come at a very important juncture where as a country we are witnessing parliamentary practices that defy convention. The wounds of the repeal of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir stands witness to how the rights of a state and its people can be crushed overnight without the consent of the state legislature.

There should be a special provision in Article 371 wherein notwithstanding anything in the Constitution, no Act of Parliament, if it is in conflict with the religious, customary laws, natural resources, employment, and others, should apply in Meghalaya without a unanimous resolution by the state legislature.

There should be reinforcement of constitutional safeguards for the state and its people while the Sixth Schedule and the district councils should continue to remain in force.

The Government of Meghalaya is of the opinion to proceed with a mechanisms to protect the people. Inclusion Meghalaya in Article 371 is as much necessary as necessary for people democratic stand. This debate would continue, to avoid unnecessary paranoia as the Centre is acting in arbitrary manner. In fact, now, we have various Union ministers visiting the Northeast regularly to address the issue.