Meghalaya government opposes, resolution on Article 371 withdrawn

Shillong: A resolution moved in the Meghalaya assembly to seek extension of Article 371 of the Constitution in the state was withdrawn after the state government opposed and said it had already taken up with the Centre to invoke para 12A (b) of Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

Opposition Hill State People’s Democratic Party legislator Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit moved the private member’s resolution on Tuesday, which was later withdrawn after Chief Minister Mukul Sangma’s reply.

Moving the resolution, Basaiawmoit said his intention was to remove the constant fear in the minds of indigenous people over the existence of multiple institutions and laws related to their special rights.

If Article 371 was made applicable, the HSPDP legislator said, advantages for Meghalaya would include doing away with excessive bureaucratic functioning, bringing governance closer to people and preventing unnecessary and wasteful expenditure.

“Article 371 will provide no room for the central government to intervene and interfere with laws made by the Meghalaya government in matters related to their customs, practices and tradition, ownership and transfer of land and its resources, administration of criminal justice as per the customary laws, and religious or social practices,” Basaiawmoit said.

“When Article 371 is extended to the state, a question of this subject or that subject falling under the jurisdiction of Autonomous District Councils will not arise anymore and the state government will be bound to ensure that the rights of the indigenous people are protected through legislation,” the HSPDP legislator said.

Leader of Opposition and United Democratic Party legislator Donkupar Roy, who was not in favour of extension of Article 371 to Meghalaya, said the best option for Meghalaya was to put pressure on the central government to invoke Para 12A (b) of the Sixth Schedule to exempt implementation of central laws in Meghalaya.

Stating that the spirit behind the application of Article 371 might be good, another United Democratic Party legislator, Paul Lyngdoh, however, stressed on the need for further debate on the issue.

However, the UDP legislator feared that if Article 371 was extended to Meghalaya, it might influence the use of money power and upset the electoral politics if the entire power to legislate laws was left with the state assembly.

“Meghalaya has an area of around 23,000 sq. km, and population of 30 lakh. One multinational company can buy the entire state within a week. If that happens, democracy will be converted into plutocracy,” he argued.

Replying to the resolution, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma denied there was confusion in the implementation of laws and existence of multiple authorities related to the rights of the indigenous people in the state.

“If there is any conflict in the implementation of laws by the state government and the autonomous district councils, Para 12A of the Sixth Schedule gives us clarity. If the district councils have not passed certain legislations in the interest of the people, the government cannot remain a silent spectator. There has to be a mutual trust between the two constitutional bodies (government and autonomous district councils),” Sangma said.

“What message are we sending to the people and the central government if we adopt Article 371 since the state government has already taken up the matter with the Centre to invoke Para 12A (b) of the Sixth Schedule to rescind certain central legislations, especially those related to mining rights. Therefore, if we mix up, it will not serve the interest of the people,” Sangma said.

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