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State Within a State: Curious Case of Representation in Assam’s Autonomous District Constituency

In Assam, the micro-governance of ADC’s in three autonomous districts of Assam and their collective representation in the Lok Sabha as the Autonomous District constituency stands as an interesting example of the depth of democracy to protect marginalised tribes from a volatile, violent region.

Aditya Sharma | News18.com

Updated:March 14, 2019, 12:04 PM IST
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State Within a State: Curious Case of Representation in Assam’s Autonomous District Constituency
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New Delhi: The micro-management of the world’s largest democratic exercise – the Lok Sabha Elections 2019, which is all set to commence on April 11, is no easy task in a country of 90 crore registered voters. India’s heterogenous population offers a diverse electorate across the markers of ethnicity, caste, tribe and religion from all corners of the country.

One such section of the electorate are Scheduled Tribes who, according to the 2011 Census, comprise 8.6% of the country’s population. This section of society is governed under the Fifth and Sixth Schedule – the most enigmatic segment of the Constitution of India.

The Sixth Scheduled gives Autonomous District Councils (ADC) in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram the freedom to protect their language and culture by exercising legislative and executive power to govern themselves differently than the rest of India.

In Assam, the micro-governance of ADC’s in three autonomous districts of Assam and their collective representation in the Lok Sabha as the Autonomous District constituency stands as an interesting example of the depth of democracy to protect marginalised tribes from a volatile, violent region.

Ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections, News18 explains the case of the Autonomous District – one of the Assam’s 14 Lok Sabha constituencies – which votes to elect its own, represents its own to govern but unites under one political representative to voice multiple ethnic concerns.


What is the Autonomous District Lok Sabha constituency?

The constituency includes two Autonomous District’s – Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong. The district are governed by their own ADC, but represent multiple tribal groups like the Karbi, Dimasa, Kuki, Biate etc.

Both Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong fall under the greater autonomous administrative division of Assam which also includes the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD).

Similar to Dima Hasao and the Karbi Anglong, the BTAD also conducts its own ADC elections. However, as much of Bodoland area falls under the Kokrajhar Lok Sabha constituency, the candidate elect from the constituency represents them in the Lower House.

What is an Autonomous Administrative Division?

It is a subdivision or dependent territory of a country that has a degree of self-governance, or autonomy, from an external authority. India has six such divisions: Assam, Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, and West Bengal.

What is an Autonomous District Council?

The ADC is a corporate body representing the district within a state to which the Constitution has given varying degrees of autonomy within the state legislature. The body administers land, forest rights, agriculture, planning, appointment of chief/headman, social customs etc of the region.

The Sixth Schedule allows the Governor to include any other area, exclude any area, increase, decrease, diminish these areas, unite two districts/regions, and alter the names and boundaries of these autonomous districts.

What is the difference between an ADC member, state MLA and an MP from the Autonomous District?

A Council consists a maximum of 30 members with the exception of BTAD which has 46 members. The Governor nominates maximum 4 members to the Council, while the rest are elected on the basis of adult suffrage. These members, who hold a term of five years, have the power to make local laws on subjects such as roads, animal husbandry, education, fisheries, flood control, entertainment, public health, irrigation etc. However, these laws require the assent of the Governor.

Each of the three ADC’s in Assam have their own elections, members and jurisdiction.

In contrast, the MP from Autonomous District constituency, composed of five assembly constituencies, represents the collective of tribes across the three ADC’s. He/she represents the interests of the districts in the House, while mediating between the Centre, state and the Council.

Between the ADC and the Lok Sabha, the five Assembly constituencies within the Autonomous District Lok Sabha constituency elect their own MLAs to the state government.

What is the history of political representation from the Autonomous District constituency?

Since its establishment in 1952, the constituency has been represented majorly by two political parties: the Congress and the CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha.

Since the BJP entered this political space in 1999, the vote share in constituency has seen a different pattern. Percentage vote share for Congress has seen a slow growth of only 8 percent since 2004, while the BJP’s grew by 15 percent during the same period.

Congress candidates were elected in the constituency between: 1952 to 1962, 1977 to 1991 and 2004 to 2014. The CPI(M) had a short stint between 1999-2004.

Biren Singh Engti of the Congress has been the elected representative of the constituency since 2004. He has previously held the same office between 1977-84.

What entails an ADC’s jurisdiction?

Councils under the Sixth Schedule have been given more power than the local governments under the 73rd (Panchayati System) and 74th (Municipalities) Amendments in the rest of the country. They have power to decide if a State or Union legislation on subject matters under the autonomous councils should apply to their territories. The Council may also create its own laws.

Laws of parliament may be applied in an autonomous district with specific adaptation assented by the Governor.

Certain types of criminal and civil cases are also settled by the judicial powers given to Village Councils/Courts by these Councils.
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