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A MODUS VIVENDI ON STATEHOOD FOR TELANGANA : The Assam- Meghalaya 1969-70 Pattern

By Anil Nauriya

That the case for the formation of a Telangana State is strong tends to be widely accepted. Many of the districts which make up Telangana have remained economically backward; undoubtedly their development requires special attention. While this is readily conceded, what worries many observers is the cascading effect that the creation of Telangana would have on similar demands for Statehood elsewhere. A new State can engender new social problems as well with the coming to the fore of new minorities and marginalised groups. Apart from this, the creation of a new State gives rise to an array of administrative issues which result in considerable dislocation. In the case of Telangana, political parties have been trimming their sails to the prevailing winds in the various regions of present-day Andhra Pradesh. Consequently, some parties find themselves committed to crosspurposes either directly or through their local units both to an undivided Andhra Pradesh and to the creation of Telangana. There is a way out of this tangle which could be not only politically acceptable to all concerned but also administratively preferable to the immediate creation of a full-fledged State. The solution, perhaps, lies in adopting a model similar to the one tried through the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act 1969 [ARMA, 69]. This legislation was made possible by the Constitution (Twenty-second Amendment) Act, 1969, which, by inserting Article 244A, introduced a rather original idea into the Constitution in relation to the State of Assam. This Article made it possible to establish an Autonomous State within the State of Assam. Not many may remember that before Meghalaya became a full-fledged State, it was constituted as an Autonomous State within Assam with its own Chief Minister, Cabinet and Legislative Assembly. Under ARMA 69, Meghalaya was constituted 40 years ago, in January 1970, as an autonomous state within the State of Assam. Fullfledged Statehood for Meghalaya, came somewhat later under the North-Eastern Areas

(Reorganisation) Act 1971, when the States of Manipur and Tripura were also established. As the 1969 law, which established Meghalaya as an autonomous state within Assam, was not worked for long, being overtaken by the 1971 legislation, the ARMA 69 approach in resolving some festering disputes has not received a full trial and has not been adequately explored. Under ARMA 69, a division of legislative responsibilities was made between the Legislative Assemblies of Assam and Meghalaya. The matters listed under the State List and Concurrent List of the Constitution of India were allocated as between the two Assemblies. Under this allocation, as many as 61 out of 66 entries in the State List were either wholly or substantively placed in what came to be called the Autonomous State List. This list included such matters as agriculture and land, including rights in land. In addition, four matters from the Concurrent List were also made available for legislation by the Autonomous State. A Concurrent List between the Autonomous State and the State of Assam was also drawn up. It was further provided that for several purposes, including those of the Finance Commission set up under Article 280 of the Constitution to recommend the criteria for the distribution of revenues to and among States, references to States would include the Autonomous State formed under ARMA, 69. There would be advantages in following this pattern, with appropriate modifications for Telangana, if it is similarly constituted as an Autonomous State within Andhra Pradesh. A constitutional amendment and also some variations of the ARMA 69 pattern will, of course, be necessary to bring this about. For example, by ARMA 69 some State subjects like public order and industry were retained by the Legislative Assembly of Assam and not transferred to Meghalaya. In the case of Telangana, industry would have to be included among the transferred subjects as lack of industrial development has been one of the principal grievances of the region. Interestingly, ARMA 69 did transfer matters relating to the regulation of mines and mineral development from Assam to the Autonomous State of Meghalaya. For obvious reasons, such a provision would be relevant also for resource-rich Telangana. But the transfer of public order to the Telangana legislature might be held over until there are adequate guarantees that the kind of demands that were made in Mulki Rules-style agitations some decades ago would not result in any deprivation of rights of any regional or other minorities in the Telangana area. Politically, an approach based on the ARMA 69 pattern would meet the twin objective of constituting a Telangana State without actually breaking up Andhra Pradesh. Administratively, it would provide time for the completion of certain necessary arrangements for an eventually complete separation of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh at a later stage, should an overall consensus evolve by then. This would also keep open the theoretical possibility of public opinion within the Telangana area opting a few years later to remain within Andhra Pradesh and make permanent the Autonomous State arrangement, based on the ARMA 69 model. This model could also help avoid

intractable disputes over such matters as the location of the capital city. At any rate, such disputes would, in this framework, probably not assume an irreconciliable character. Had the Centre not been in a tearing hurry in the year 2000, ARMA 69 might have been a suitable pattern to follow in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh when the legislation to reorganise Bihar and Madhya Pradesh was enacted. The administration in these two areas was ill-prepared when Statehood was suddenly thrust upon the two areas carved out as States. Even in the case of present-day Uttarakhand, which was also formed at the time by the re-organisation of Uttar Pradesh, it is well known that work in the new High Court established at Nainital was held up for months on end before cases and records could be transferred from the Allahabad High Court. Had the ARMA 69 model been adopted it would have provided sufficient time for administrative arrangements to be completed. But it is not simply as an interim arrangement that ARMA 69 can be useful. In the case of Meghalaya, the formation of the Autonomous State in 1969 was not originally conceived as a transitional arrangement though, of course, Meghalaya did attain full-fledged Statehood sometime later. The ARMA 69 pattern, which is essentially a devolution model, could help resolve other persistent demands such as those for the formation of Gorkhaland and Vidarbha. As time passes, there would be greater administrative and political constraints on the multiplication of the number of States in India. Alternative methods of devolution of power will, therefore, need to be explored. The cry for forming Gorkhaland by breaking up West Bengal poses a special dilemma. While the demand for Statehood has been increasingly pressing, re-organisation of Bengal has histori-cally been the cause for so much resentment that it would not fail to revive old wounds. The further division of Punjab, some 20 years after 1947, was a somewhat different case because the demand for a new and reconstituted Punjab in the mid-sixties had come from within the Punjabi heartland. For strategic reasons also, and particularly in the light of recent developments in neighbouring Nepal, the demand for full-fledged Statehood for Gorkhaland is not likely to be conceded by any Central Government in a hurry. This is the context in which the ARMA 69 pattern, with suitable variations, may be worth considering. It would preserve the unity of West Bengal while conceding to the Gorkha areas Statehood in substance. The case for an autonomous State of Vidarbha on the ARMA 69 pattern is irresistible on economic grounds. The misery of rural Vidarbha in particular has been underlined by the many peasants who have been driven to desperation during the past several years. Successive governments in Maharashtra do not appear to have done justice to the region and have failed in their primary duty towards the area and its people. As the ARMA 69 pattern would not involve the break-up of Maharashtra, it would probably not encounter resistance from sectarian groups within that State. At some stage, the ARMA 69 model may, perhaps, also be considered for certain regions of Jammu and Kashmir when proposals for greater autonomy for the State as a whole are considered.