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Corruption has appeared to be the root cause of many woes in Meghalaya. It has penetrated into the system so deep that even institutions like the autonomous district councils (ADCs) are not spared. ADCs, created with the objective of protecting tribal rights, in the state are infamous for their political volatility. They are also accused of compromising with their core responsibility by allowing outsiders to settle and aggress into tribal lands.

The latest revelation is about how the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council (JHADC) chief Madonbai Rymbai allegedly embezzled crores of rupees in the name of granting aid to beneficiaries. One of the beneficiaries, Coming Pyrtuh, reportedly confessed to receiving Rs 5,000 from Rymbai, who took the pain of visiting the villager in the latter’s house to deliver the money. On paper, the JHADC chief withdrew Rs 43.50 lakh in his name! In a bizarre clarification, Rymbai termed false all the information given by his own office in reply to the RTI query. The next day, another revelation came wherein the JHADC chief allegedly forged land documents of an area, turning it into a football ground in his own name and sold it to the government to claim land compensation for construction of the Jowai bypass.

Powers of the district councils in Mehgalaya has been a matter of debate. While district councils rue lack of power to function, the state government cites the existence of ADCs for not acting on certain vital matters. The conflict of interest between two bodies of governance has even led activists demand abolishment of the councils. RTI movement pioneer Michael Syiem recently asserted that the ADCs had relevance till Meghalaya was under erstwhile Assam, and not after 1972 when the state came to existence. Moreover, there is resentment from political aspirants, who are facing a ‘huge challenge’ from incumbent MLAs vying for space also in the councils. The Sixth Schedule does not prevent legislators in the state assembly from contesting and retaining seats in the district councils. There are at least six such politicians in Khasi-Jaintia Hills holding duel positions in assembly and council at the same time. If such things like glaring acts of corruption and conflict of interests among state government and ADCs are allowed to continue, the common people will remain the ultimate sufferers. The very objective of establishing the ADCs will continue to be defeated. The councils, at present, are protecting the interest of only a select group of tribals and not all of them as the Constitution had mandated them.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 12, 2014)