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Constitutional Provisions for Accommodating Pluralism: The Indian Framework of Autonomy

In all 10 researchers are preparing their papers on different aspects of the autonomy question in India. Ranabir Samaddar is the head of the project. Samir Das and Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury are helping him in the administration of the project.


The researchers are:


Sanjay Borbora: ‘Experiences relating to autonomy in Bodoland and Karbi Anglong’

Pradip Kumar Bose: ‘Philosophical discussions on autonomy’

Samir Kumar Das: ‘Peace accords and the experiences on autonomy’

Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury: ‘Globalisation, international legal experiences and autonomy’

Paula Banerjee; ‘Political and cultural autonomy and experiences of gender justice’

Sanjay Chaturvedi: ‘Autonomy and experience on Jammu and Kashmir’

Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty; ‘Experiences of autonomy in the Darjeeling Hills’

Asutosh Kumar,: ‘Historical and legal evolution of autonomous arrangements and the constitutional thinking on norms of citizenship’

Subir Bhaumik: ‘Experiences of autonomy in Tripura and Mizoram’

Ratan Khasnobis: ‘Resources, resource control and the management and the fiscal basis of autonomy – experience of the panchayats’



Auditing Autonomy: Assessing Mitigation Capacities of Autonomous

Arrangements in Karbi Anglong and Boro[(land) Territorial Council] in Assam


Sanjoy Borbora

MASS, Guwahati


The autonomous district councils, formed under the auspices of the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, are a showpiece for the State’s capacity to address indigenous aspirations in the Northeast. On the face of it, these councils are meant to devolve judicial, legislative and executive powers to those upon whom it is conferred. The genesis of Sixth Schedule is itself a question that needs special attention. However, what one really wants to focus on here are the issues that they are supposed to deal with. The choices of the field area(s) are not coincidental. Both Karbi Anglong and the recently created Boro(land) Territorial Council offer a longitudinal contrast in their application to specific territories. At the same time, the administrative logic that decreed the creation of these “autonomous” entities/ territories, shows an almost naïve faith where complex (and contentious) issues centred on identity, are seen to be resolved.


This study seeks to locate these autonomy regimes within a particular framework that focuses on (a) construction of frontiers; (b) negotiating for political space within these frontiers and (c) the ability to redefine sovereignty, citizens and subjects in an “autonomous” space like Karbi Anglong and to an extent, Boro(land) Territorial Council. There is a need to spell out why it is important to understand autonomy regimes within the three areas mentioned above. Karbi Anglong and Boro(land) Territorial Council are in Northeast India, that truculent triangle beyond the populated Gangetic plains. Sanjib Baruah sees the work of colonial and commercial enterprise, in the conversion of the area into one administrative unit. In a sense, this is almost taken as granted when one discusses the Northeast. However, there are important considerations involved in the construction of frontiers that need to be broadened in their own right.



Autonomy: Conceptual Debates and Political Implications


Pradip Kumar Bose

Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata


The Role of Autonomy in Contemporary Debates

The concept of autonomy holds a central peace in contemporary philosophical debates, both those that address theoretical issues (such as the concept of personhood or moral responsibility) and those, which address practical questions of public policy.  Autonomy is often recognized as a central value in moral and political philosophy.  There are, however, fundamental disagreements over how autonomy should be understood, what its implications are for public policy, and even whether the concept itself is theoretically defensible.  In the domain of public policy the question of autonomy has been invoked to address a variety of issues, beginning from the right to privacy to right to freedom of association and freedom of religion. The notion of autonomy is also central to public policy debates concerning the public provision of opportunities for its exercise, such as minimum standards of welfare or subsidised cultural activities.  Autonomy has also become a central concept in medical ethics.  Indeed, so central has the notion of autonomy become in the medical context that some writers claim that the aim of medicine is no longer primarily concerned with patient well-being, but with restoring the autonomy of the patient.


The list can be further extended but the important question to ask at this stage is why autonomy plays such a major role in so many debates.  One possible reasons could be that in the contemporary world autonomy has become a concept upon which we structure the world around us, being a fundamental concept for our perception of the world and our place in it, once it is recognised as being central characteristic of persons.  It has been argued that if we view autonomy in this way, in order to treat persons as persons we must recognise that they are able to direct their own personal commitments – and that we must temper our actions towards them to respect this.  Thus, it is because we view ourselves as persons in a certain way, or in other words, because of the specific nature of personhood, that the autonomy is the prominent “super-value” that it is.  That is to say, autonomy is not simply one value among many other competing values. Rather, it is of such value that when it conflicts with other values autonomy has a prima facie dominating force.  Respecting autonomy, then comports well with the values of a democratic society which elevates individualism and freedom over community and authority. The other possible reason why invocation of autonomy and its value is so prevalent within so many contemporary debates concerns the recognition that modern society (at least in the West) is morally pluralistic.  Thus, even if one is suspicious of the claim that autonomy is a super value in itself, one may advocate treating it as such so as to ensure that certain groups within society do not try to impose their own views (be it moral or political) upon others.  This approach will also, of course, fit well with views that hold pluralism as such to be good in itself – although there are differences on this view.  However, the important thing is that in all such contexts the concept of autonomy is the focus of much controversy and debate, disputes which focus attention on the fundamental conception of the person more generally.  Hence a proper analytical framework on autonomy has to be selective in choosing certain key conceptual domains and also try to relate this with Indian experience and understanding of autonomy.  The areas that this paper will attempt to focus are the following: i) Conceptual Variations on Autonomy ii) Autonomy in Social and Political Philosophy, which will include: a) autonomy, identity and conceptions of the self; b) autonomy, liberalism and communitarianism, c) autonomy, justice and democracy and d) autonomy and Indian experience.  Let me briefly elucidate the conceptual framework.



Peace Accords as the basis of Autonomy in India


Samir Kumar Das

Department of Political Science

Calcutta University, Kolkata


Calcutta Research Group


Peace accords may be defined as those that are signed between the state and its adversaries involved in some form of discord in an attempt at bringing about ‘peace’ between them. The signing of accords therefore is based on a few assumptions: (a) Accords are necessarily preceded by discords. But the discords presumably reach a point where the discordant parties feel it expedient -- for whatever reasons, to sign them. (b) Accords are meant for bringing about peace between the otherwise discordant parties. As a result, they are necessarily premised on some form of a promise of peace. Whether peace achieved or sought to be achieved through accords is ‘war continued through other means’ is an altogether a different story. (c) While accords specify the mutual obligations, the parties are called upon to fulfill, they are also expected to provide some form of autonomy that the state evidently grants or promises to grant, as a means of accommodating its adversaries into its legal and political framework. Autonomy provided through the instrumentality of accords is first and foremost an acknowledgement that those who are provided with it were hitherto denied of it. It in short, is how newer players enter into the legal and political framework of the state and are encouraged to observe its rules of the game. Viewed in this light, our review of peace accords has at least two major limitations: First, it proposes to restrict itself only to those accords in which the state (whether the Government of India or the respective state governments or both) remains as one of the signatories. It obviously does not bring under its purview those accords that are signed between say, the rivaling community leaders (like, the Nagas and the Kukis in the hills of Manipur) in their bid to bring the internecine warfare to an end. Secondly, since we are more concerned with the constitutional and legal provisions of autonomy, we take only the intra-state peace accords signed between the state on the on one hand and its adversaries on the other into account. A comparison between the intra- and inter-state peace accords – although might have provided us with enormous insights, would definitely be beyond the scope of this study. 


In the existing literature on accords, autonomy and peace as we have argued, are seen as two divergent axes of peace accords. While promise of autonomy helps in restoring peace, peace has its own way of deferring autonomy. Militant organizations for example, are unwilling to be trapped in prolonged spell of ceasefire. Today it is no longer possible to view their relation in dichotomous terms. Peace is not the enemy of autonomy. For us on the other hand, it will be interesting to see how autonomy, peace and government form a triad in the sense that the government by the state today implies renegotiating the terms of original contract by way of selectively creating spaces and terrains of autonomy within the body politic. The states all over the world have learnt sometimes at great cost that they cannot operate with the early notion of indivisible sovereignty. The notion has undergone significant transformations in recent years: First, the state today has no difficulties in conducting negotiations with the rebel leaders in foreign countries. Secondly, the state too feels that the government depends on the success of the accords and not their failures. Success of accords in its turn depends not so much on handling the demands of autonomy from within the given federal structure but on some adventurous experimentation with our institutions. The debate has already begun. In other words, efforts are being made to break free from the institutional paradox in which consolidation of a particular ethnic community within a geopolitical space necessarily creates its minorities. The vicious circle in which a minority becomes a majority by way of getting the borders redrawn and thereby creates its own minority and the circle continues to roll with nauseating regularity is inherent in our established federal setup. Attempts are now being made to explore into the newer institutional alternatives. Thirdly, governmentality today does not necessarily exclude the people and civil society as it once did. The Shillong Accord (1975) for example, coincided with some of the worst repressive measures that sent the Naga civil society underground. Nowhere in the northeast is the civil society so much vigilant as it is in Nagaland. And it will not be an exaggeration to say that the civil society vigilantism is part and parcel of the Naga peace process. Governmentality in that sense also engulfs the civil society. While drawing a distinction between the old and new forms of power, Dean shows how the emergence of new ‘disciplinary’ power regards ‘the subjects, the forces and capacities as living individuals, as members of a population, as resources to be fostered, to be used and to be optimized’. If peace and autonomy are how we can harness, foster and optimize our resources, present-day peace accords may be cited as only one of their illustrations.        



Globalisation, Global Experiences and International Legal Thinking on Autonomy

Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury

Department of Political Science

Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata


In this paper we shall examine the global experiences and international legal thinking on autonomy in the context of the recent phase of globalisation. The rise of public and scholarly interest in globalisation and politics is a new phenomenon. As globalisation has emerged to become the new organising principle of society at large, the term post-national has been deployed to describe the new architecture of international law. Individuals no longer identify themselves primarily with a state, or at least not nearly to the extent that they have in the recent past. Nevertheless, the binding force of international law and the legal status are still in question. The international community, instead of a community governed by law, appears to be nothing else than a collection of States and other entities with certain international powers, living in a state of nature, where the most powerful are free to impose their own rules. In order to make this arrangement more acceptable, the most powerful might employ legal instruments to explain their conduct. In other words, international law is a very malleable system of rules, which can accommodate easily to the ambitions and desires of the most powerful States. The most important question regards the possibility of identifying an ultimate rule of recognition that can validate the procedural and institutional framework of an organised community. The rule of recognition would allow us to talk of international law as a real system of law, instead of a collection of ad hoc agreements of States living in a state of nature. Within national legal systems, the ultimate rule of recognition usually adopts the form of a constitution. In short, there is a close relation between the ultimate rule of recognition and the sense of community of the members of a particular society. Acceptance of the ultimate rule of recognition defines membership to a community, and therefore, the rule both requires and defines the community. In the international community of States, there is an ultimate rule of recognition composed of a rule pacta sunt servanda and of the obligation to comply with the rules of customary international law. These two rules should respect the communitys basic public policy of jus cogens.


Demands for autonomy or minority rights have given rise to conflicts, often violent, in every part of the world. It is believed that, a right of autonomy within international law might help resolve intra-state conflicts between ethnic groups before they escalate into civil war and demands for secession. With the end of the US-Soviet Cold War, ethnic conflict appears to be re-emerging as sub-national groups fight to be heard and represented. But the idea of autonomy is quite flexible and may encompass a wide range of constitutional relationships. The highest degree of autonomy may involve a wide range of economic, political and judicial powers – from a separate legislature and judiciary to fully independent financial authority. Autonomy may also be a means of responding successfully to concerns about minority rights, particularly when minorities are territorially concentrated in significant numbers. As the nature of state changes and its role as an economic mediator between individuals and trans-national actors wanes, creative autonomy arrangements may provide a more appropriate means of reflecting more accurately real power relationships. Complex autonomy arrangements diminish the traditional role of the state as holder of all important rights and de-emphasise the relevance of state boundaries. Since autonomy is potentially responsive to both majority concerns – preserving the integrity of the state – and minority demands – exercising a meaningful degree of self-government – it is often seen by outside mediators as inherently feasible politically and therefore useful as means of halting conflict. It provides an obvious compromise solution, as its precise definition is uncertain. Promoting autonomy also permits outsiders to be perceived as maintaining an impartial position between the minority and the central government, since autonomy rarely responds entirely to the wishes of the either side. But, the very vagueness of the idea of autonomy in international law is unlikely to encourage a meaningful dialogue. Autonomy is not a concept that can resolve all conflicts, prevent violence, or guarantee political and economic development. It cannot automatically ensure social justice or bring good things to all people. We need to examine the international legal thinking on autonomy against the backdrop of emerging rights discourse and that of the latest phase of globalisation.



Rights and Representation: Debates over Women's Autonomy in India

Paula Banerjee

Department of South and South-East Asian Studies,

Calcutta University, Kolkata


Calcutta Research Group

This paper will address questions of women's autonomy in India and analyse its location within the legal discourse.  Women's movement has tried to analyse questions of women's autonomy through exploring women's position in law.  Among other indicators women's position in society is often analysed through marriage, divorce and property acts.  This paper will analyse the evolution of these acts and whether that has led to women's autonomy or whether that has subsumed questions of autonomy leading to further marginalisation of women in polity.  The paper begins with the assumption that location matter and that laws affect different women differently.  Yet an understanding of the evolution of laws seems necessary because laws are considered as primary markers of autonomy.


In the first section a historical overview of the legal evolution of notions of autonomy in India will be discussed. Second section will look into how questions of women's autonomy had appeared in women's own discourses. Part of this section will be devoted to what women were saying in their speeches and memoirs on the issue of autonomy.  Speeches of women leaders such as Pandita Ramabai, Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, Sarojini Naidu and Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain will be considered.  Equally importantly, this section will see how different women's organisations such as the AIWC had viewed questions of autonomy in different times and perspectives. This section will be based on published sources including women's own writings published in different journals.  Relevant women's journals, records, and resolutions will be consulted for this section. Women's attitude towards suffrage will be one of the reference points for understanding their attitude towards autonomy. The third section will deal with post independence legal discourse on questions of women's rights and how such discourses may have slowly evolved into questions on autonomy. The fourth section of the essay will deal with the development of women's movement and how in that context the issue of autonomy became one of representation. The section will also reflect on how the government dealt with such questions in a framework of decentralisation, leading to the 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts. It will reflect on the mode of response of the post-colonial State to questions of women's autonomy.  It will discuss the demands of women's groups placed on the State in the last two decades and the response.  It will try to grapple with the question as to whether State responses have enhanced and increased women's autonomy or such measures have depoliticized the situation by transforming the issue of autonomy from one of justice and rights to one of law and legality.  It will also deal with in this context the significance of the way in which autonomy has figured as a result of the Sixth Schedule.  For this purpose we will study the impact of the 73rd and 74th amendments in a region where here are autonomous councils such as in Tripura.  The two amendments are of particular importance because they signify in a major way the response of the State to demands from below.



The Ethno-Geo-Politics of  ‘Autonomy’ in Jammu & Kashmir: Search for Alternatives


Sanjay Chaturvedi

Department of Political Science

Punjab University, Chandigarh


Apparently, growing contestations over the notion of ‘autonomy’ relate to both identity and territory. The overarching purpose of this study is two-fold. First, to revisit and reinterpret the experience(s) of ‘autonomy’ in different parts of the globe from the theoretical standpoint of what has come to be known as critical geopolitics. Second, to apply these insights to a spatial-temporal critique of competing ethno-geopolitical discourses shaping and steering the autonomy debate(s) on Jammu & Kashmir. Several attempts to critically redefine and rewrite the field of geopolitics are aimed at developing a more complex understanding of the ways in which power relations are established and asserted from time to time and structures of the nation-states normalized. Concepts of fixity, domination and entrenchment are now being increasingly questioned and replaced by notions of fluidity. An attempt to portray the world as inherently heterogeneous and amorphous requires nothing short of a ‘paradigm’ shift in the geopolitical imagination from place to flow, while recognizing social organization as essentially unfinished, in transition, or in motion towards a perpetually receding horizon. Once the taken for granted assumptions underlying the old prescriptive political geography of normative spatial structures of absolute state sovereignty are critiqued and questioned, the pursuit of alternative imagi(nations) of ‘autonomy’ may well be facilitated.


While doing so, however, there is a real danger, in my view, of not only losing sight of stubborn fixities but also of complex interlocking of continuity and change if one tends to restrict one’s analysis only to deconstruction of narratives on autonomy in the case of Jammu & Kashmir. Enough space needs to be created for the study of localized geopolitical narratives and their critical engagement with a politicized and politicizing agenda of top-down projects of autonomy at a variety of geographical scales. Such a relentless critical questioning might also facilitate decolonization of mind-landscapes, which in turn could question more effectively both the prevailing spatial bias toward the ‘national’ and ‘regional’ and trivialization of the local understandings of and aspirations for and against autonomy per se or a particular version of it. In other words, while it is important to identify the broad ways in which the meanings for ‘self-determination’ are produced, it is equally pertinent to thoroughly focus on the geographic and political-economic dimensions of self-determination. It appears that the autonomy project for Jammu & Kashmir, in its various avatars, has been a result of interplay among three broad factors (a) specific power relations, (b) the material existence of geopolitical realities and (c) the democratic yearnings and possibilities for self-rule. Kashmir to be sure shows the fascinating connection between history, geopolitics, and democracy that can exist only in form of ‘current’ history.* What constitutes the "critical" in critical geopolitics of the question(ing) of ‘autonomy’, for the purposes of this study in my view, is the persistent tension between the democratic impulses/aspirations emanating from socio-economic diversities/disparities, and the relentless targeting of cultural pluralism by the geopolitical reductionism inherent in the reasons of ‘sovereign-territorial’ nationalizing state. Having said that, it is equally critical to explore the extent to which the construction of ‘peoplehood’ in various conceptualizations of autonomy is pursued in the context of a territorial ambition or the extent to which such movements operate in the context of so-called nation-states, so the forces that seek to legitimate and sustain those states as political-geographic constructs are important to understand as well. Some of the key questions to be addressed, both in general and Kashmir-specific terms, in the proposed study, are as follows:  


Darjeeling: The Experience of Autonomy


Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty

Department of History

Presidency College, Kolkata


This paper takes a close look at the working of the autonomy granted to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988. It is divided into five sections. The first section will explore the early history of the district from 1835 when the district was  transferred to the East India Company by the Raja of Sikkim; section ii would trace the growth of the town and the district in the context of British commercial and strategic interests,  the flow of migration into the area and the evolution of the administrative structure of the district; the third section will deal with the emergence of a distinct identity among the peoples of Darjeeling and the articulation of this identity  and  the early demands of a separate and distinct structure for the district; section iv will explore the more overtly political efforts to assert the identity  after 1947; and the final section will examine the working of the autonomy over the last decade and a half. The DGHC, set up by the agreement of 1988 is now more than 15 years old. The GNLF swept the first three elections and the fourth elections are due in 2004. It is now possible to look back and take stock of the working of the council. This can be worked out from two different perspectives: a) the achievements of the council in developmental work and b) the perception of the DGHC as the embodiment of aspirations for autonomy.



The Indian Constitutional Framework for Autonomy - Its Historical and Legal

Evolution and Its Impact on Norms of Citizenship


Ashutosh Kumar

Department of Political Science

Punjab University



That the constituent assembly finally adopted a constitution that in the famous words of Ambedkar could be ‘both unitary as well as federal according to the requirements of time and circumstances’ can be explained in terms of the then circumstances and historical conditions.  First of all, the communal bloodbath followed by the partition raised the concern about the critical need to have a dominant centre that could prevent the further dismemberment of the country. The highly centralized nature of the constitution and the lukewarm response to the questions of political decentralization can be explained in terms of an urgent need felt among the constitution makers to deal effectively with acute food crisis, to integrate more than 560 princely states in India, and to undertake the agenda of nation building by initiating and implementing the development planning model. Powerful all India presence of Congress as the one dominant party and the absence of strong regional or provincially based political parties especially after the departure of Muslim League can be termed as another plausible explanation.  However, all the above explains why the term ‘union’ substituted for ‘federal’ in the Indian constitution making it distinct from the ‘model’ federal constitutions. While drawing inference from the US federation Ambedkar emphasized that Indian federation essentially stood for a division for convenience of administration while the country remained one integrated whole. In his famous words explaining the usage of the term ‘union’ Ambedkar stated ‘though India was to be a federation, the federation was not the result of an agreement by the states to join in a federation, the federation was not the result of an agreement by the states to join in a federation, and that the federation not being the result of an agreement no state had a right to secede from it. Thus the 1950 constitution adopted a dual polity with a single citizenship. Constitution was to be much less rigid in nature. Under Article 249 the parliament was empowered to legislate on state subjects in the ‘national interest’ even during the ‘normal’ times if Rajya Sabha passed a resolution to that effect. The constitutional provisions relating to the division of subjects [which privileged the centre], imposition of emergency [national, state and financial vide articles. 352, 356 and 360 respectively], the appointments and tenures of governor, comptroller and auditor general of India, chief election commissioner of India and the functionaries of the all India services, taxation and revenue distribution between the centre and the states etc also contributed in making it difficult to promote the development of the federal idea in the first years of Indian Independence in the classic institutional sense.


Notwithstanding the above the Indian constitution did include provisions as an exceptional measures providing for certain degree of autonomy to certain states following the principle of asymmetric federalism. The states included the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the states of Northeast. Along with Jammu and Kashmir Indian constitution also envisaged autonomy, though in a different form vide its articles 371 A, B, C, D, F, G and H for the northeastern states namely Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh respectively. [The constitution of India (1996): Government of India Press, 78th edition, p.24-130]. Under the special protection clause of the article 371, tribal customary laws, procedures, and land rights have received protection. The Indian constitution also makes special provisions for the administrations of the tribal areas in the northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram under sixth schedule vide article 244(2). In the table appended to the sixth schedule the tribal areas in these states are mentioned namely the autonomous districts of North Kachar hills, Karbi Anglong, Khasi hills, Jaintia hills, Garo hills, Tripura tribal areas district and the Lai district. These districts are either under the popularly elected district councils or the regional councils who exercise certain legislative and judicial functions with regard to the management of unreserved forest, inheritance, marriage and social customs. [Para 4, sixth schedule]. Besides these the councils also have been given the power to assess and collect land revenue and to impose specified taxes. All these laws require receiving the assent of the Governor. The decline of Congress as a dominant party both in terms of its ideology and organization that started in the late 1960’s was evident in form of the promotion of a centralist leadership by Indira Gandhi while resorting to the use of plebiscitary mode of politics and in the process systemically eliminated actual and potential party rivals. As it applied to the regional party leadership of Congress as well what eventually emerged was an example of the ‘patrimonial federalism’. The overemphasis on the centralist character of the congress eroded the ability of the state-level leaders to effectively articulate regional sentiments and aspirations within the party, as was the case during Nehru when the regional leaders enjoyed autonomy within organization. The Constitution Order 1963 further enabled Union Parliament to make laws for the state in respect of matters in the concurrent list.  The subsequent Constitution Orders numbering 42 in all have resulted in curtailing the powers of legislature of the state whereas the powers of the Union Parliament have been extended. For instance, the financial provisions of the Constitution of India have been made applicable to the state.  Likewise, Article 356 relating to state emergency; Article 316 relating to All India Services, Article 324 relating to superintendence, direction and control of elections of the State Legislature; Article 249 empowering the Union Parliament to make laws on state subjects - all have been made applicable to the state now. In all out of 395 Articles of Indian Constitution, 260 Articles have been made applicable.  Out of 97 subjects mentioned in the Union List in the Seventh Schedule of Indian Constitution, 94 subjects are now applicable to the state.  Out of 47 subjects in the Concurrent List 26 subjects and out of 12 Schedules 7 Schedules are also applicable the state now due to these Constitution Orders [SAC, p. 68-78]. Besides above, the Sixth Amendment Act of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir effected a fundamental change in the nature of the Constitution in the sense that the term Governor substituted the term ‘Sadar-I-Riyasat’.  It also took away the legal right of the state legislature to elect the head of the state.  The term Prime Minister was also replaced by the term Chief Minister vide the same Constitution Order. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has been witness to the perennial demand for autonomy that has emanated from the two of its regions –Jammu and Ladakh since the state’s accession to India.  The simmering discontent has been a consequence of asymmetrical relations these two regions have always shared with the Kashmir valley. The popular feeling of deprivation and discrimination in these regions especially in Jammu has resulted in the periodic regional agitations dating back to early fifties.  It was in the above context that the state government in the past set up four Commissions to analyze the contentious regional issue.  These were the Gajendragadkar Commission [1967], the Qadri Commission [1972], the Sikri Commission [1979] and the Wazir Commission [1981]. While the Commissions appointed in 1972 and 1981 examined the demand for carving more districts in Jammu the other two commissions were to recommend measures, which could rectify the regional imbalances and harmonise inter-regional relations. The Gajendragadkar Commission in its report recognized the widely held feeling of regional discrimination in the two regions of the state by stating that ‘even if all the matters were equally settled, we feel that there would still be a measure of discontent unless the political aspirations would still be a measure of discontent unless the political aspirations of the different regions of the state were satisfied.  In fact, we consider that the main cause of irritation and tension is the feeling of political neglect and discrimination, real or imaginary from which certain regions of the state suffer. [RAC, p. 73]. A reading of the constitutional provisions related to the special constitutional status granted to Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states lead us to think of other commonalties as well. The two regions do have similarity in terms of geographical, historical and sociological elements. [James Manor (2001): ‘Centre-state relations’ in Atul Kohli (ed) The success of Indian democracy, Cambridge University press, Cambridge, p.100]. Kashmir as well as the Northeastern states are the border regions and share boundaries with the hostile neighbouring countries who have been keen on extending help to the separatist forces in these states. Both the regions were not the part of the mainstream polity of British India. The colonial regime adopted the policy of ‘least interference’ and allowed remote regions to be governed by the traditional institutions. The state of Jammu and Kashmir was the last princely state to be annexed with India. In sociological terms the northeastern states have had tribal communities as majority communities that have been minorities in rest of India. Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim majority state. There is another commonality between the two regions and that is the breach of contract on the part of the Indian State. The autonomy promised under the constitutional articles mentioned above has not been honoured. Then the Indian Kashmir and Northeast ‘policy’ (if there has been one) has shown commonality also in the form of the adoption of the politics of coercion [deployment of armed forces and repression of the autonomist and the secessionist forces], economic populism [in the form of economic packages), adhocism [in the form of having short term security centric policy] and cooperation [with the local discredited ‘nationalist’ leadership].



Strategies for Pluralism: The Autonomous Councils of Mizoram and Tripura


Subir Bhaumik

Bureau Chief

East India, BBC


The sixth schedule of the Indian constitution has been used in tribal-dominated hill regions of the country's northeastern region to satisfy the aspirations of autonomy and self-rule amongst the tribespeople. Mizoram and Tripura have autonomous councils functioning under the Sixth Schedule, but the dispensation varies, as does the circumstances in which these constitutional provisions were extended to the two states. A close examination of how this key constitutional provision has shaped up in two different states may useful to assess whether the Sixth Schedule, by itself, can meet the aspirations for autonomy and self-rule or whether it needs major modifications or substitution by a new constitutional provision. This study will examine (a) the different context in which the Sixth Schedule was extended to Mizoram and Tripura (b) the way it affected the power equations (political, economic, social) in the respective states after the autonomy arrangements were effected(c) the way it impacted on ethnic equations and helped or undermined the cause of ethnic and political pluralism (d) whether autonomy helped promote economic development in the respective states and whether it helped empower the "underdogs".


The study will also examine (a) the areas of tension and cooperation between the state government and the district councils and assess whether such tensions are part of the larger tension between the dominant and smaller ethnic groups (b) the weaknesses of the functioning of the district councils (c) the impact of the autonomy arrangement on the leadership formation process amongst the "underdog" communities and the levels of co-option it helped achieve, if it did. It will also try to assess the "beneficiary" perception - how communities who are supposed to benefit from the autonomy arrangement view it and whether they feel it has been able to fulfil their aspirations. The sources proposed to be used for the study are (a) proceedings of the autonomous district councils (b) correspondence between the council and the state government (c) budgets of the councils (d) any other report and secondary material regarding the performance of the council. In addition to these documents, I propose to undertake select sample surveys among (a) Chakmas, Pawis and Lakhers in Mizoram (b) tribals in Tripura. I will target three income groups --  those earning less than Rs. 1000 a month, those earning between 1000-5000 a month and those earning more than 5000 rupees a month. 40 percent of the interviews will be done in urban and semi-urban locations, 40 percent in villages and 20 percent amongst the jhumias (shifting cultivators). The format of the questionnaire can be discussed and settled. The purpose of the survey would be to ascertain (a) perception of the tribals about district council (b) do they feel it has contributed to development in their area (c) do they feel this has helped in political empowerment (d) their views about the state government  (e) what kind of constitutional up gradation do they want in the autonomy structure to make it more meaningful.



Resource, Resource Control and Management and Fiscal Basis of Autonomy -

Experience of Panchayats in India


Ratan Khasnabis


Department of Business Management

University of Calcutta


The best means of promoting the participation of the people is decentralised governance. The traditional logic of decentralised governance is based on the understanding that a nation is essentially a community of communities and that the problem which are specific to the small community are better solved not by the community of communities but by the community itself. The new wisdom is that decentralisation is expected to increase efficiency of a system. In a decentralised system, the problems are identified as local in their possible incidence and therefore the people find it urgent to participate in the decision making process. Consequently, the use of human capabilities is maximised and hence the efficiency is increased. Local involvement also opens up the opportunity for people to add voluntary contributions to amplify a programme for project’s impact. As the Human Development Report (1993) observes, some of the most effective contributions as a result of decentralisation came from local labour and materials. Again, a decentralisation that ensures local services for running and maintaining a project may produce better results. The second important point is that there must exist on institutional back-up which would facilitate the participation of the people in the decision making process. For this, the institutions must enjoy autonomy so that ‘the decision can be taken at the place and by the persons where and by whom the incidence is most deeply felt’, without the administrative and political hassles imposed by higher level authority. Functions, functionaries and finance are the three building blocks of an institution. Autonomy at the third tier of the government can hardly be realised unless the power and authority with respect to functions, functionaries and finance are devolved to the local bodies. The experience of Indian local bodies with the first two of these institutional components is rather unhappy. The Amendment Acts of the Constitution have listed the subjects on which the third tier of the government can exercise power and enjoy authority, but unlike the autonomy that the provincial governments enjoy in regard to List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the local bodies have no such exclusive authority over any subject listed in the Eleventh and the Twelve Schedule. The extent of power that the local bodies might enjoy with respect to the functionaries also depends on the discretion of the concerned State governments. It is true that the 73rd and the 74th amendment of the Constitution has not ignored the issue of fiscal devolution. It has incorporated relevant changes in Article 280 of the Constitution so that the issue of fiscal devolution to the local bodies from the Consolidated Fund of the State can be given due consideration. The Union Finance Commission has now the constitutional obligation to suggest ‘the measures needed to argument the consolidated fund of a State to supplement the resources for the Panchayats in the State on the basis of the recommendations made by the Finance Commission of the State’. The Eleventh Finance Commission (EFC), in meeting the constitutional obligation has recommended a yearly sum of Rs.1600 crores for PRI (and Rs.400 crores for the Urban Local Bodies) for the period 2000–2005. The criterion for disbursement of such funds among the States has also been set by the EFC.


In this study we propose to study the fiscal Basis of Autonomy through a quantitative analysis. As in case of other tiers of the government, there are four source of fund for the Panchayats, viz., tax revenue collected by the Panchayats, tax revenue collected by higher tiers and devolved to the PRI, non-tax revenue mobilised by the PRI and grants and loans received from higher tires of the state. In order to discuss the theme of the fiscal basis of autonomy, the project plans to consider first the status of the PRI with respect to each of these four sources of fund. There is wide variation in the performance of the PRI in this regard, among the States of India. Thus, in Maharastra, the tax revenue of the local bodies as percentage of the tax revenue collected by the state Government is as high as 21.29 per cent. In Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, the comparable percentage  is as low as 0.57 per cent. If the ratio of tax revenue of the PRI with the tax revenue of the concerned State is noted as Tax Revenue Decentralisation Index, the first exercise that one may take up while studying the problem of financial autonomy is developing a state-specific quantitative measure of the extent of decentralisation with respect to the most powerful fiscal instrument of a government, namely, the instrument of tax revenue. The EFC has done this exercise for two selected years in 1990’s. On the basis of the State level data, some scholars have also discussed this issue for various States and also for the country as a whole (See, for example, Oommen, M.A., and Datta, A., Panchayats and Their Finance). As a part of our work in this project we propose to review such studies and plan to take up such an exercise on the basis of the latest available data. As a logical follow-up, we also plan to discuss the extent of interstate variation in Tax Revenue Decentralisation Index. Such a study is expected to reveal the intensity of variation that might exist among the Indian States, with respect to a crucial instrument that provides the foundation of fiscal autonomy for the local bodies. The extent of financial autonomy that the PRI enjoys can be measured not in terms of the index of Revenue Decentralisation, but in terms of the strength of the local body in managing its expenses out of the locally raised revenue (and statutory devolution). As the EFC observes, the village Panchayats in India can meet only 10.60 per cent of its expenses out of the locally raised funds (tax and non-tax). Given that the extent of statutory devolution is still very poor, it is unlikely that the Panchayats in this country can enjoy financial autonomy to a remarkable extent. However, here again, there exists wide variation among the States of India. Thus, according to the EFC, in Gujarat the village panchayats can meet 53.45 per cent of its expenses from the locally raised revenue (as in 1997-98). In West Bengal, on the other hand, the percentage is as low as 4.11. The present project proposes to discuss this issue at length by taking up a quantitative exercise on the basis of the State-specific data on PRI Revenue and organising such data as percentage of PRI expenditure. Considering this ratio as the Financial Autonomy Ratio, the analysis is expected to lay bare the extent of success that the Panchayats have attained in gaining financial autonomy in various States in India. Depending on the availability of data, we further propose to take up intertemporal analysis on Revenue Decentralisation Index and Financial Autonomy Ratio for the PRI at each tier (Gram Panchayat, Panchayat Samity and Zila Parishad) for all the states for a considerable period (may be ten years) of time. The quantitative information would then be utilised to check whether there is a discernable trend of convergence (b-convergence and s-convergence) among the states with respect to these ratios. The results would be utilised to study the major contours of the political economy of the Panchayat finance in the States of India. There are some apparent contradictions that the study on the political economy of Panchayat finance might resolve. For example, EFC data indicate that the Financial Autonomy Ratio for the Panchayats in Kerala has, in fact declined significantly between 1992-93 and 1997-1998. Kerala, however, is the state where as many as 44 state legislation have been amended to broaden the entitlement of the local bodies. Again, the rank of Kerala is the 12the in terms of the decentralisation index that the EFC has formulated for distributing grants to local bodies among the States. Bihar, on the other hand, has been assigned the sixth place in the decetralisation index of the EFC, even though apparently the village Panchayats in Bihar have been endowed with very little autonomy under the present dispensation. An in depth study on the political economy of decentralisation is expected to resolve this apparent contradiction. Following the discussion on interstate variation in Revenue Decentralisation Index and Financial Autonomy Ratio, the present project plans to take up this exercise. Provisions of the relevant State Level Acts, the official reports and the field-based studies would be utilised for developing the theme in this part of our study.


Research Papers

The Following publications are a part of the Research and Discussion programme on Autonomy and Justice. The support of the Ford Foundation is kindly acknowledged. More>>


1. Resources for Autonomy - Financing the Local Bodies by Ratan Khasnobis

2. Peace Accords as the Basis of Autonomy by Samir Kumar Das

3. Debates Over Women Autonomy by Paula Banerjee

4. Autonomies in the North and the North East by Sanjay Barbora

5. Examining Autonomy: The 73rd Constitutional Amendment in Assam by Sujata Dutta Hazarika

6. Democracy, Autonomy, and the Community Media by Abhilaksh Likhi



1. The Politics of Autonomy: Indian Experiences
At a time when movements by women, indigenous people, dalits, various minority groups, and other sections are rising to prominence, what will the future of politics be like? How will autonomy-the efforts of various sections of society to resist the power of the state-change the way we understand democracy?


As this volume tells us, a critical inquiry into the idea of autonomy suggests that the politics of the future will be the politics of autonomies: an engagement that combines notions like self-government, women's autonomy, devolution of power, the rights of minorities, greater popular access to resources, and legal pluralism, and where different autonomies must learn to negotiate and co-exist. Viewing democratic theory through the lens of autonomy, the contributors:



In the process, the contributors traverse a wide range of issues relating to women's autonomy, peace accords, the nature of federalism in the Indian Constitution, autonomy in international law, and fiscal decentralization. These debates are then supported by case studies on the autonomy experiments in Kashmir, Darjeeling, and the entire Northeast, and on fiscal devolution.


Rich with empirical findings and combining research with dialogue, The Politics of Autonomy represents cutting-edge research on democracy. It will be widely welcomed by scholars of nationalism, democratic theory, federalism, law, women's rights, and multiculturalism.


To procure the book, please contact Sage Publications, which has published it on behalf of CRG. / Edited by Ranabir Samaddar



2. Indian Autonomies – Key Words and Key Texts
This compendium of keywords and key texts addresses predominantly – though not exclusively - the varied experiences with autonomy in India. Growing out of a two-year research work by a collective, it reflects the rainbow nature of the enterprise and findings. The keywords in particular reflect on the philosophical, social, legal and political dimensions of the notion and experiences of autonomy. The compendium will be a valuable sourcebook for students, researchers, activists in the autonomy movements and lay readers. The keywords selected here cut across the immediate experiential horizons and utmost care has been taken to tease out their deeper philosophical and praxiological implications in a direct and simple way that does not unduly repel the interested yet untrained readers. While documents issued by governmental sources have their own ways of publicising themselves, those relating to popular mobilisations and popular politics find it difficult – if not impossible - to reach wider readership. Most of the documents have been included here keeping this in view and they represent a wide variety of experiences from Kashmir to Kohima and from Lund Conference to Ladakh.


To procure the book, please contact SAMPARK, which has published it on behalf of CRG. / Edited by Sabyasachi Basu Roy Chowdhury, Samir Kumar Das and Ranabir Samaddar