BY DR. MAHENDRA P. LAMA
The Article 244A (Part X) was amended and used in 1969 in Meghalaya when it was a part of Assam. The All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC) under the leadership of Capt Williamson Sangma and others had been demanding separation from Assam.
Please note when the 22nd Constitution Amendment bill was brought to the Parliament and unanimously passed on 24 December 1969 by both the houses of Parliament on the same day, there were apprehensions and reservations by some members. However the Home Minister SB Chavan discarded all of them just mentioning the “the area is very important”.
This is one of the reasons as why we have been mentioning, writing and deliberating on the criticality of Gorkhaland region as a geo-politically vital area and need to be protected directly by the Union Government. Besides the four international borders, the crucial Chicken Neck that connects the North East Region of India with the rest of India is located in this geography. Therefore, our demand for 244 fits this crucial national security pre-requisites too.
Once Article 244 was amended adding clause A in Article 244, clause IA in article 275 and clause B in Article 371, the Government of India passed “The Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act, 1969 [ Central Government Act NO. 55 OF 1969 ( 29th December, 1969). As a sequel to this Government of India created “Autonomous State of Meghalaya”. It was launched on 2nd April 1970 by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Shillong.
It was done something in the line of “state within a state” framework. However it was a full feldged state in every sense of the term. For instance, for this to happen it under Clause 76. it amended the Act 37 of 1956 . In section 16 of the States Reorganisation Act, 1956 (37 of 1956 ), in sub- section 1, for clause (d), the following clause shall be substituted, namely:–” (d) in the case of the Eastern Zone,–
(i) the Chief Minister and another Minister of the autonomous State of Meghalaya to be nominated by the Governor of Assam and if there is no Council of Ministers therein, not more than two members from the autonomous State of Meghalaya to be nominated by the President; …….”.
In order to make the Autonomous State of Meghalaya a powerful governance institution, Government of India made several amendments across various institutions in the country. For instance, Clause 75 of this Act also amended the RBI Act and mentioned “Amendment of Act 2 of 1934 . In section 21A of the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 (2 of 1934 ), in sub- section 1, after the words” any State”, the brackets and words” (including the autonomous State of Meghalaya)”, shall be inserted.
This shows the height and depth of this exercise in providing real autonomy to Meghalaya state. On ther other hand, while creating both DGHC and GTA, there were neither height nor depth in both legislative and constitutional actions. It was a simple and cleverly manipulated Gazette Notification of the Government of West Bengal. And our leaders fell into this literally a ‘death trap’ and ‘irretrievable crevice’ for full 25 years. We lost two generations of children and youth, besides other colossal losses including destruction of tea gardens, cinchona plantation, institutions, heritage sites, systems and natural resources.
This Autonomous State of Meghalaya had all the provisions of a full fledged Separate State under India’s federal structure. These included.
i) Full fledged State Assembly with MLAs and the Speaker
ii) Chief Minister and the Council of Minsters sworn by the Governor
iii) All the elections conducted by the Election Commission
iv) Separate Advocate General
v) All the power, functions, departments etc that are given to a separate state under the Seventh Schedule of the constitution of India (57 out of 65 subjects) were extended to this Autonomous State also.
vi) Finance from the Consolidated Fund of India .
vii) Without being a state also, it was made the member of the North Eastern Council.
viii) Audit to be done by the CAG.
ix) All the legislative powers and functions
x) All the assets and properties both movable and immovable belonged to the autonomous state
Please note that Meghalaya as a region within Assam already had the 6th Schedule status yet the APHLC had been demanding a full fledged statehood.
More critically, within two years of the Autonomous State status, Meghalaya was declared the full-fledged 21st state of India on 21 January 1972.
Besides the direct involvement of the Government of India both in terms of constitutional safeguard and governance parameters, this article 244 A provides us the following advantageous.
On the other hand, please note that in both DGHC and GTA, Government of India was involved only to the extent of signing a tripartite agreement and there was no other commitment and obligations including legal, constitutional , financial by the Government of India. Operationalisation of 244 A in proposed geography of Gorkhaland :
a) gives us the quickest, surest and most effective option and pathway to achieve a separate state.
b) It will be legally called as the “Government of Gorkhaland” in all its correspondence and functioning even before it is given the full fledged statehood status.
c) Provides all the critical institutions, functions and wherewithal of a separate state.
d) extends comprehensive , whole-sum and rather independent development model.
e) separates the critical governance organs of West Bengal from Gorkhaland in terms of legislative, executive and judicial functions
f) provides an absolute freedom in terms of resource mobilisation, revenue generation, tax management and expenditure planning
g) bestows the freedom to bring development funds/projects/ programmes from the Government of India directly and also from any well recognised multilateral development agencies including the UN, World Bank, Asian Development Bank. It could also bring funds from bilateral donors like Japan, Germany, US, UK and Canada and philanthropic institutions like Bill Gates Foundation,Mac Arthur and Ford Foundations and our own Infosys, Tatas, Ambanis and Adanis.
h) has the total constitutional safeguards unlike DGHC and GTA which were like larger municipalities.
i) inject decentralisation through three tier panachyati raj system
In her remarks during the first bilateral talks on 29 August 2017, West Bengal Chief Minister Madame Mamata Banerji has already said that the demand of statehood and its fulfillment is not within “the state government jurisdiction”and it is a subject of the Union Government of India. In her subsequent bilateral talks she also mentioned that she is only interested in development and even asked for suggestions from public at large on the modalities of development .
Therefore , our proposal on the 21st November meeting at Pintel Village in Siliguri, would be only one i.e. implement and operationalise Article 244 A of the constitution of India as the new development model. Both the DGHC and GTA model have miserably failed.
For the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland, we shall all speak and negotiate with the Union Government only. This is more so after the process followed in the formation of Telengana as the 29th state of India, the concerned and affected state government (Andhra Pradesh) did not have to pass any resolution to carve out another state.
Therefore, in order to spearhead the demand for Gorkhaland, the formation of a National Committee is very vital. We have already widely circulated the draft proposal / framework of the same to all the stakeholders including political parties, community leaders, social, cultural and political organisations, professionals, youth and students, intellectuals and literary figures and sports-persons and private sector, industrialists and traders and women leaders and media too. Let us come together to form a credible, solid, nationally representative and sustainably resourceful National Committee that will finally strive and achieve the goal of the state of Gorkhaland.