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Darjeeling Hills and the Project of Sixth Schedule

By Vimal Khawas on December 18,2007

Darjeeling Hills and the Project of Sixth Schedule

The Sixth Schedule to the Constitutional (Amendment) Bill, 2007 was tabled in the parliament in the last week of November 2007. The overall aim of the bill on paper is to protect the socio-cultural identity of the people residing in Darjeeling hills and speeding up the overall development in the region. Majority of the people of Darjeeling hills, are however, skeptical with regard to the long-term political objective of the West Bengal in expediting the process of Sixth Schedule.

What is Sixth Schedule?

Evidently, the provisions under the Sixth Schedule to the Constitutions were historically evolved to administer the tribal majority areas in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura through the district council or the regional councils. However, an exception was made in case of Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) located in the state of Assam when the area was accorded Sixth Schedule status even though the members of the Scheduled Tribe Communities were not in Majority and reportedly comprised only 38 per cent of the population of the area. Under the provisions of Sixth Schedule, the Councils are vested with legislative powers on specified subjects and are allotted certain sources of taxation. They are also given powers to set up and administer their system of justice and maintain administrative and welfare services in respect of land, revenue, forests, education, public health etc.

The application of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution has not been extended to any other State of India besides North-Eastern States. It is further clear that the whole concept of autonomous council has its root in the tribal dominated areas of North East where there historically existed tribal councils. Hence, its relevance in the non-tribal dominated areas like Darjeeling Hills is minimal. Darjeeling is a multi-ethnic region where people belonging to various caste, creed, and region have found places for themselves over the years. The region is a melting pot of ethnic diversity.

The Project of Sixth Schedule in Darjeeling Hills

As already highlighted above, Sixth Schedule was originally evolved by the framers of the Indian constitution for the socio-economic development of selected tribal dominated areas located in the North-East India. In this connection, a sample survey was conducted by the office of the Registrar General of India in October 2005. The survey found that the ST population constituted only 31.4 percent of the total population of the DGHC areas. Irrespective of such an uncongenial socio-cultural situation for Sixth Schedule provisions, the Government of West Bengal has been hell bent to get through its project of Sixth Schedule in the Darjeeling Hills in the last few months. The reasons behind the project may be debated in following lines-

First, provisions under the Sixth Schedule to be granted to Darjeeling Hills are the creation of West Bengal. The civil society members and intellectuals were not consulted during the time of its preparation. The lone representative of the people of Darjeeling hills was the care taker Subash Ghishing who has long been hypnotized by West Bengal and who has little ability to internalise the pros and cons of the anticipated Schedule. Consequently, West Bengal has evolved provisions under the said Schedule in such a way that the implementation of Sixth Schedule in Darjeeling hills will have little or no impact on its overall authority on the Darjeeling hills. Hence, if the Sixth Schedule gets through in the parliament, it is a win-win situation for West Bengal and a historic loss for the people of Darjeeling Hills.

Secondly, implementation of Sixth Schedule in Darjeeling Hills means opportunely obstructing the incoming way of a separate state of ‘Gorkhaland’ for at least 50 to 100 years. It will be a historic blunder that will bury the long cherished and aspired dream of the people of Darjeeling Hills. It will further go against the raison d’etre of the original Gorkhaland Movement that sacrificed several young souls and households of Darjeeling Hills. The people of Darjeeling hills should also take note of the fact that Sixth Schedule to the Bodo Territorial Council (BTC) has not ended the ethnic conflicts and development aspirations of the people of the said Council in Assam. It has not been able to fulfill the aspirations and requirements of the people so diverse in nature.

Parliamentary Standing Committee in Darjeeling

In view of the fragile situation in Darjeeling Hills and given the fact that there was a sizeable section in hills who were against inclusion of the areas there, under the Sixth Schedule of the constitution, several of the senior political leaders of West Bengal including the Chief Minister camped in New Delhi during the last week of November. They did this precisely to diplomatically and politically expedite the process of Sixth Schedule in the parliament. However, West Bengal had little knowledge that Darjeeling too has produced some of the intellectuals in the last 25 years with the ability to exercise diplomacy and can deal at the highest level of the country. Further, GNLF also knew that there are individuals produced by Darjeeling who can deal at a much higher level than its leaders.

As a result of the untiring effort of few farsighted and learned individuals of Darjeeling Hills, who dealt at the highest level of the country to convince the national political parties/leaders, policy planners and decision makers, the Centre decided to refer the Sixth Schedule Bill to the parliamentary standing committee. As expected, the decision came after the main Opposition BJP decided to oppose the bill if it was not referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee. The Parliamentary Standing Committee members will now visit the hills of Darjeeling in the near future, discuss the issue with the people, civil society organisations and political parties and then give their opinion on whether the Bill is appropriate to be passed. The visit is expected within the next two months. It is now entirely on the general mass of Darjeeling Hills to decide what do they want. It is important for them to internalise the situation collectively and scientifically decide their future. The iron is hot and the issue is on the fore front yet again. The need of the hour for Darjeeling Hills is unity. There are enough reasons for the people of Darjeeling to enlighten why should they not settle for Sixth Schedule.

Posted by vimal khawas
A geographer and development planner by training, he has recently joined the newly established Central University, 'Sikkim University' Gangtok as Associate Fellow. Besides, he is also pursuing his PhD from JNU, New Delhi. His doctoral research focuses on environmental challenges and human security concerns in the Himalayas. While his research interest covers the whole of South Asia and he has an inherent inclination to write and work on the Himalayan environment and development issues.


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comment Comments (22 posted)
  • image Vimal, here is something that I had prepared for an organisation after reading the report of the Standing Committee that studied the bill for 6th Schedule. (The section cited in brackets refer to the page number and sections of the Standing Committee's report). 6.1 From the transcripts as well as the report that the Standing Committee submitted to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on February 28, 2008, it is patently clear that extending 6th Schedule status to Darjeeling was not designed to meet the aspirations of the Gorkhas. From various presentations made before the committee, including by Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh, it was clear even then that the 6th Schedule status would fall short of the democratic recognition of Gorkha identity through the creation of a state within the Union of India that was intrinsically linked to the Gorkhas. The Standing Committee reports does admit, on the basis of its sittings with the highest bureaucrats of the West Bengal government, including its chief secretary, that “the hill areas of Darjeeling are different from the rest of Bengal” (Section 5.11). In fact the chief secretary admits that there is a history of treating Darjeeling and its Gorkhas differently (Section 5.20). But while admitting this, it does not take any cognizance of the fact that the demand for a separate state is not just a demand made by the people of Darjeeling, but by Gorkhas across India. At no point does the Standing Committee even consider the demand for a separate state vis a vis 6th Schedule as being a political demand of Gorkhas across India. A close reading of the report makes it clear that the Standing Committee looked at both the issue of 6th Schedule and separate state as relevant only to Darjeeling. 6.2 It can also be inferred clearly from the report of the Standing Committee that 6th Schedule status for Darjeeling does not meet the aspirations that delineate the demand for a separate state, which is the recognition and protection of the Indian identity of Gorkhas. In fact, on page 38 of the report, in section 5.19, the then chief secretary of West Bengal is quoted as telling the Standing Committee that “In fact, the proposed Sixth Schedule will not make much of a difference between the present DGHC and the Sixth Schedule so far as exercise of powers and functions is concerned.” From this it is evident that Sixth Schedule status only grants constitutional sanctity to what is essentially a development agency, much like DGHC. 6.3 The 6th Schedule status was evidently meant to suppress the movement for a separate state. It was not conceived to meet the aspirations of the Gorkhas but to ensure they didn’t demand statehood. The Standing Committee has especially noted this imperative of the Chief Secretary of West Bengal in Section 5.12 (page 36), where he is quoted as saying: “The point is that supposing Sixth Schedule status could not be conferred and the Bills are not passed, then what would the situation be like? Then, either we have to go back to the current DGHC Act, hold elections and run it … But our assessment is, the fallout will be something else. There will be a united decision; their agitation for a separate statehood. That is the assessment of the State Government… Because they will say that despite all our demands, DGHC could not function and Sixth Schedule status could not come; so, the only way out is to go for an agitation to have a separate State.” The Standing Committee report does not comment on the correctness or otherwise of this stand of the West Bengal government, therefore making it clear that is in favour of letting the state government decide. 6.4 The Standing Committee has noted that under the prospective Gorkha Hill Council to be formed under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution, the autonomous body was to be constituted in such a manner as to render many constitutional obligations void. These included no reservation for Schedule Castes and women, as is now mandatory under constitutional provisions. The committee, therefore notes that under the 6th Schedule, the proposed autonomous council under 6th Schedule would be “in the nature of a local body” (Section 8.7.2, page 51) 6.5 While the Standing Committee regularly tells the political parties and organisation that discussing a separate state was not under its ambit, and that it had a limited mandate only to discuss the bills granting 6th Schedule status to Darjeeling, it does recognise that there has been a movement for a separate state for a long time in Darjeeling. However, it does not link the demand or the agitation to the greater Gorkha community resident in India outside Darjeeling. In fact, the Standing Committee looks at the demand and its repercussions as having the potential to create law and order problems in Darjeeling. 6.6 In the entire report, in fact also during the entire question/answer sessions with various parties, organisations, individuals and the government representatives, there is no question asked about why the demand for a separate state cannot be considered. Neither the government representatives nor members of the Standing Committee are forthcoming on why the government could not consider a separate state when a majority of the representations made before them were not in favour of 6th Schedule status for Darjeeling. There is no insight into Parliamentarians’ thinking about a separate state as demanded by the Gorkhas. 6.7 The limits of the 6th Schedule are proved by the circumstances and the geographical area under which it was conceived. The Standing Committee takes cognizance of the fact that the people’s wish has not been ascertained through a referendum and Shri Subhas Ghisingh’s claim to be the people’s representative was questionable given that no election had been held prior to 2007. It even questioned the West Bengal officials about the locus standi of Shri Ghisingh who, the committee felt, had signed the memorandum of settlement not as a representative of the people, but as “merely an appointee of the State Government (Section 5.2). 6.8 The Standing Committee has also discussed why Siliguri has been left out and only 18 mouzas included under the prospective council. Its stand was that if 6th Schedule was being sought, Siliguri, besides having a large Gorkha population, also had a substantial non-Gorkha tribal population for whom the 6th Schedule status would have proved appropriate. 6.9 The Standing Committee members have noted emphatically that the DGHC and its elected members, during all its sittings from 1988 till 2004, when the last elected body sat, had not passed a single resolution passed in favour of a separate state. This, the Standing Committee comprising seasoned politicians, saw as a lacunae in the argument for a separate state as being the wish of the people. While Shri Ghisingh, in his answers to specific questions by Standing Committee members on whether the DGHC passed any such resolution, was unconvincing, the West Bengal government officials told the panel that there was no record with the government of DGHC having passed any motion on a separate state. CONCLUSIONS ON RE-READING THE REPORT: 7.1 Extension of 6th Schedule to Darjeeling does not resolve the Gorkha desire for the country to recognise their identity as Indians because the implementation of 6th Schedule does not make much of a difference except to grant constitutional status to a development agency. Only “perceptions” might change, as the chief secretary of West Bengal admitted to the Standing Committee. In other words, 6th Schedule status only endorses the local nature of any administrative body that might be set up under its ambit. 7.2 The Standing Committee report has noted so many loopholes as to make the entire argument for 6th Schedule status for Darjeeling a misguided exercise that does not meet the intrinsic aspirations of the people. 7.3 Extension of 6th Schedule status to Darjeeling was seen by the government of West Bengal mainly as a means to suppress the demand for statehood. 7.3 The 6th Schedule, even if granted, would recognise the needs of only the people of Darjeeling, not of Gorkhas across India.
    (Posted by Joel Rai, October 1, 2015, 12:32 PM)
  • image A nice instructive read. But sorry, it was not dispassionate.
    (Posted by jaibir, January 20, 2011, 10:19 PM)
  • image we must extend our thanks to those who helped surreptitiously in getting the bill put in the deep freeze.I am very thakful to u people who are through their esteem articles make people aware of the facts. Keep ur efforts on in enlightening the people.
    (Posted by ratomakay, June 5, 2009, 7:04 AM)
  • image thanks again Vimal and best regards....Hopfully we will get to c Gorkhaland very sun....
    (Posted by rubin, February 20, 2008, 1:02 PM)
  • image Dear rubin, both draft (signed by Mr. Ghising and ours i.e. prepared under the supervision of Prof lama) mentioned by you is available with Darjeelingtimes. The latest version i.e. presented in the parliament is yet to be made public. It will take sometime. But let me mention some 23 departments of our updated draft (prepared under prof lama) has been added to the latest draft. The one signed by ghising had only 19 departments. The same departments of the old council were mentioned in that documents. So all together there are about 45 departments in the latest draft. the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution doesnt mention about 50-100 years. That was my personal obervation about consulting several documents, research papers and news reports. Best Vimal Khawas
    (Posted by Vimal Khawas, February 4, 2008, 1:22 PM)
  • image email- [email protected]
    (Posted by rubin, February 1, 2008, 6:31 PM)
  • image Dear Vimal..once again...:)...read some of ur blogs and it was interesting..just adding to my earlier request..can you share me the draft signed by Subhash Ghishing and the other proposed by M.P lama...this would be of great help ..
    (Posted by rubin, February 1, 2008, 6:13 PM)
  • image Dear Vimal...sorri got to bother u again...do u have a copy of the draft 6th schedule bill for including Darjeeling ? or where can i find them?..also i did get the 6th schedule details from the government site...http://india.gov.in/govt.php..also the details wherein it states we cannot demand for state after getting 6th schedule for more than 50-100 years..i was not able to find it in the doc...thanks again and gud day...
    (Posted by rubin, February 1, 2008, 4:13 PM)
  • image Thanks a lot Vimal..realli appreciate it..and kip up the gud work...
    (Posted by Rubin, February 1, 2008, 3:27 PM)
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