The Government of Meghalaya has landed in hot water! Of the constitutional kind. Our learned state government has passed an order for reimbursing the income tax at the rate of 95 per cent of all non-tribal IAS officers serving in the state. No doubt this will place a huge burden on Meghalaya’s already strained financial resources. This reflects the deplorable state of affairs in the state under the MDA regime of Conrad Sangma.
Members of the Scheduled Tribes are exempted from paying income tax under Section 10 (26) of the Income Tax Act, 1961. The exemption is applicable only to members of the Scheduled Tribes in their home state. The Constitution of India provides for the definition of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.
The term ‘Scheduled Tribes’ is a creation of the Constitution of India. Article 366 (25) defines Scheduled Tribes as “such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under Article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this constitution”. Article 342 prescribes procedure to be followed in the matter of specification of Scheduled Tribes. Under this Article, the President may, with respect to any State or Union territory, and where it is a state, after consultation with the Governor there of by public notification, specify the tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall, for the purposes of this constitution, is deemed to be scheduled tribes in relation to that state or Union Territory, as the case may be. Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Tribes specified in a notification issued under clause(1) any tribe or tribal community or part of or group within any tribe or tribal community, but save as aforesaid, a notification issued under the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification. The first specification of Scheduled Tribes in relation to a particular State/ Union Territory is by a notified order of the President, after consultation with the State governments concerned. These orders can be modified subsequently only through an Act of Parliament. The above Article also provides for listing of scheduled tribes State/Union Territory wise and not on an all India basis.
The MDA government, it appears, burdened by allegations of corruption, charged with using the bureaucracy for its own business and political ends, is trying to keep the officers placated, especially the non-tribal bureaucrats. The MDA government now crosses another Rubicon. This decision is bad in law and practice. It also now opens the MDA government to many other serious allegations of manipulation, anti-people and anti-Constitution in the coming days. The decision smacks of nepotism and gross illegality and sets a trend which will not go down well with the people under the MDA government and will definitely irk if not spur the Government of India into some serious action. As it is, the exemption of income tax for Scheduled Tribes is a cause of bad resentment amongst majority communities. The Union Ministry of Finance recently issued a notification instructing public sector banks to collect 10 per cent of annual income tax or tax deductible at source for all members of the Scheduled Tribes, from Rs 10,000 or above. The decision is palpably wrong and goes against the letter and spirit of the Constitution of India as well as the law of the land.