The centre has decided to give more power and funds to 10 autonomous councils in the northeast - a move seen as an attempt to please tribal voters ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections. A cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday approved a constitutional amendment bill that would increase the powers of autonomous councils, the government said.
The bill is expected to be passed in the budget session of parliament, which will be held from January 31 to February 13. The interim budget will be presented on February 1 ahead of the national elections, which are due by May.
The BJP currently rules all seven states in the northeast by itself or with allies. But parts of the region, especially Assam, have witnessed widespread protests over the Citizenship Bill, which proposes that illegal migrants from minority communities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan be eligible for citizenship after six years of stay in India. The BJP has lost a couple of important regional allies in Assam over the bill.
The draft citizens' register also triggered huge protests in Assam after a staggering number of people were left out of it.
Home Ministry officials denied allegations that the timing of the move is linked to the elections. "We sent this to Cabinet in 2015 and were trying to get all state governments and councils on board. It took time to reconcile all issues and to get everyone on board," an official said.
A senior official said financial conditions of the autonomous councils in the northeast is not good.
"Till now, they used to get money from ministries under various schemes only, but now funds would be regular so that would help them," a senior functionary in ministry explained it to NDTV.
The government's move, he said, will increase the funds available to these local government institutions for development work in these tribal areas.
The amendment will also provide for the transfer of 30 additional subjects - including Public Works Department, Forests, Public Health Engineering, Health and Family Welfare, Urban Development and Food and Civil Supply -- to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council and Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council in Assam. The proposed amendments will provide for elected village municipal councils.
This move is also expected to empower women, as there will be reservations of at least one-third of seats for women in the village and municipal councils in parts of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura. Meghalaya has for the time being kept out of the purview of these provisions because officials say they had taken consent of tribals was taken before amending law and tribals wanted to continue with prevailing laws.