The row over village administration is not going to end in Meghalaya very soon. With a number of rules under various forms being placed from various quarters, the hardship of the people, end beneficiary of the norms, is likely to continue for months, if not years. The people will not only face the trouble of not getting their certificates signed, but also continue to be misled by the vested interests. With their different views, the government, the district council and the political parties are not certainly thinking primarily about people’s benefit, but mainly as to how they can get political or other mileage out of it.
It all started with an order of the Meghalaya High Court last year preventing the traditional chiefs (or headmen) from issuing any kind of no objection certificates (NOCs) or other certificates to the people. The judge SR Sen then based the order on the contention that headmen are not authorised to do so under any rule of law. It came as a jolt to the entire establishment since all these years the headmen’s certificates were accepted as official documents by banks, state government departments or any other establishments operating in the state. Political parties and pressure groups jumped in to rescue the headmen to from being stripped off their “customary right”. The streets of Shillong have seen a lot of protests and a lot of meetings held with government to solve this issue. The headmen had a massive show of strength creating a bandh-like situation in the whole city a few months ago. Now that the headmen are quiet after the state government brought an ordinance to quell them, the political parties and pressure groups have changed stand and wanted to hold on to the issue.
The autonomous district councils (ADCs) in Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills already passed their own village administration bills (VABs) and they are awaiting the assent of the governor. While some parties are lamenting the delay in the assent to the VAB, some parties are demanding a recall of the Bill terming it as toothless. Recently the ADC in Khasi Hills passed another Bill defining powers of the headmen, in the wake of the high court order, and demanded the government to withdraw the ordinance. Moreover, the opposition parties are not together on the whole issue. Everyone wants to fight it alone with a little twist in the demand and take the credit of fighting for “indigenous right”. The pressure groups and political parties might get their share of limelight in the process, but how long would it take to bring the matter to its logical end is quite uncertain.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on August 22, 2015)