By Nishit Dholabhai
New Delhi, Sep 20 : The Centre is unlikely to accept the demand of Mizoram autonomous district councils for direct funding.
The Lai, Mara and Chakma autonomous district councils of Mizoram had approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh early this month with the request to fulfil the UPA government’s promise of direct funding and amending the Sixth Schedule made eight years ago by chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
“Rajivji gave you enhanced powers and more money by amending the Sixth Schedule in 1988. We are pledged to complete what was left incomplete by Rajivji — to further amend the Sixth Schedule and enhance your district council powers, including direct finance. But you too have to work hard and strengthen the party,” Sonia had written to Mizoram Congress workers in a Christmas message in December 2004.
Members of Direct Funding Demand Committee, led by Hmun Hre, recently reminded the UPA government of the promise.
A home ministry official, however, said, “It (direct funding) may not be possible”.
The Sixth Schedule grants autonomy to the hill districts in the Northeast but giving funds to autonomous councils remains under state control.
The Centre’s argument is that if it gives funds directly to the council, the existence of states would be rendered redundant. Citing the example of Meghalaya, home ministry officials pointed out that direct funding would create an abnormal situation as the entire state, except Shillong town, falls under Sixth Schedule areas.
Hre, the indefatigable septuagenarian leader from Lai council, however, is not willing to give up. “We have to complete several works, including linking the Kaladan project (an Indo-Myanmar joint project which will connect land-locked Mizoram with Sittwe port in Myanmar) and we are hopeful,” he said. For the Rangoon-educated leader, if the councils are not empowered and development brought about, the state of affairs would be similar to pre-Independence days.
Besides direct funding, the councils, which have a population of about 1.5 lakh, want to be re-christened autonomous territorial councils, want powers to decide on more subjects and want all centrally-sponsored schemes to be directly sanctioned and released by concerned ministries.
Asked if the government was in the process of amending the Sixth Schedule, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde did not rule out action. “Not yet,” he told this correspondent.
Sources said if and when the Sixth Schedule comes up for amendment, several issues would be clubbed before bringing an amendment. “We can’t go to Parliament time and again,” one of them said.
Unlike opposition to direct funding by the Assam government, the Mizoram government is in favour of changes. In July 2009, chief minister Lalthanhawla had written to Sonia, acknowledging financial problems in the three councils that lie ensconced in the hills between Bangladesh and Mizoram.
“You may recall that you have even written to the Mara people before the district council election a few years ago that if we are voted to power in the council we shall take action for direct funding,” Lalthanhawla wrote in his July 8, 2004 letter.
The same month, Mizoram MP C.L. Ruala had also written a letter of support to the Prime Minister for direct funding to the councils.
Leaders of Mizoram’s autonomous councils have stepped up their campaign. Besides meeting Singh, they also called upon President Pranab Mukherjee and Shinde to press for their demand.
“Since Mizoram has been functioning as a full state…the three autonomous district councils have no option but to fall under their hegemony whether they like it or not,” the memorandum to Singh stated. It was signed by C. Ngunlianchunga, R.T. Zachono and Kali Kumar Tongchongya, the chief executive members of Lai, Mara and Chakma autonomous district councils, among others.