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What is 6th Schedule & why it allows parts of Northeast to be exempt from citizenship bill

Sixth Schedule allows constitution of Autonomous District Councils in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura & Mizoram to safeguard the rights of tribal population.

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New Delhi: A copy of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which seeks to grant citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, was Friday  distributed among the members of Parliament for them to study. The bill will be tabled in the Lok Sabha next week.  

The new legislation aims to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains and Christians from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who sought shelter in India following religious persecution. Those seeking citizenship will have to prove that they entered India on or before 31 December 2014.   

The Union cabinet had Wednesday cleared CAB after a series of consultations led by Home Minister Amit Shah with chief ministers of the Northeastern states, along with representatives of student bodies, civil society and political leaders from the region. 

Shah had asserted that the legislation was tweaked so that states where the Inner Line Permit (ILP) is applicable, and tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram that are notified under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution would be kept out of its purview.

Barring the Central Young Mizo Association that claims to have no issues with the tweaked bill, various other Northeastern groups have offered a mixed response to the new provisions. 

Student unions and civil society groups from Nagaland, Tripura, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have claimed that the bill seeks to divide the people of the region.

Here is a look at the Constitution’s Sixth Schedule and what does its exemption from CAB mean for the tribal areas.

Also read: What is Inner Line Permit in Northeast and how it is linked to citizenship bill

What is the Sixth Schedule 

The Sixth Schedule consists of provisions for the administration of tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram, according to Article 244 of the Indian Constitution. 

Passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, it seeks to safeguard the rights of tribal population through the formation of Autonomous District Councils (ADC). ADCs are bodies representing a district to which the Constitution has given varying degrees of autonomy within the state legislature.   

The governors of these states are empowered to reorganise boundaries of the tribal areas. In simpler terms, she or he can choose to include or exclude any area, increase or decrease the boundaries and unite two or more autonomous districts into one. They can also alter or change the names of autonomous regions without a separate legislation.  

Autonomous districts and regional councils

Along with ADCs, the Sixth Schedule also provides for separate Regional Councils for each area constituted as an autonomous region. In all, there are 10 areas in the Northeast that are registered as autonomous districts – three in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram and one in Tripura. These regions are named as district council of (name of district) and regional council of (name of region).

Each autonomous district and regional council consists of not more than 30 members, of which four are nominated by the governor and the rest via elections. All of them remain in power for a term of five years.

The Bodoland Territorial Council, however, is an exception as it can constitute up to 46 members out of which 40 are elected. Of these 40 seats, 35 are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and non-tribal communities, five are unreserved and the rest six are nominated by the governor from unrepresented communities of the Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD). 

ADCs empowered with civil and judicial powers

The ADCs are empowered with civil and judicial powers, can constitute village courts within their jurisdiction to hear trial of cases involving the tribes. Governors of states that fall under the Sixth Schedule specifies the jurisdiction of high courts for each of these cases.

The councils are also empowered to make legislative laws on matters like land, forests, fisheries, social security, entertainment, public health, etc. with due approval from the governor. The roles of the central and state governments are restricted from the territorial jurisdiction of these autonomous regions.

Also, Acts passed by Parliament and state legislatures may or may not be levied in these regions unless the President and the governor gives her or his approval, with or without modifications in the laws for the autonomous regions.

What CAB exemption means for 6th Schedule areas 

The tweaked CAB states that areas under the Sixth Schedule are exempted from its purview, which means non-Muslim refugees from the three countries who are granted Indian citizenship will not have any land or trading rights in the autonomous regions.

If the bill is passed in both Houses of Parliament with all the provisions of exemption, the Sixth Schedule will play the primary role in these regions for safeguarding the rights of tribal population and preventing influx.

This essentially means the refugees can neither reside or settle in the 10 autonomous districts, nor enjoy benefits extended to the tribals, even if they are provided with Indian citizenship. Further, the laws made by ADCs with the powers bestowed upon them by the Sixth Schedule will not be scrapped by the CAB.  

(Edited by Myithili Hazarika)

Also read: PM Modi says Indian citizenship will ensure better lives for those being persecuted


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