Friday, June 9, 2023

14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly repeals Nagaland Municipal Act 2001


In a major political development having far reaching implications legally and politically, the Nagaland Legislative Assembly Tuesday, unanimously resolved to repeal the Nagaland Municipal Act (NMA) 2001 “in toto” after a thorough discussion by members on the last day of the first session of the 14th NLA.
This means the notification announced for holding polls to ULBs in Nagaland will be placed on the backburner for a prolonged period as law makers amend clauses in the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001. NMA 2001 was enacted for demarcation of jurisdictions of municipal and town councils. It was amended in 2006 under 74th amendment to include 33% women reservation. Then in 2016 it was amended to include tax on land and buildings in municipal areas.
Minister, power and parliamentary affairs, KG Kenye initiated the discussion under matters of urgent public importance pertaining to the Urban Local Bodies and supported by Namri Nchang, MLA and seconded by Advisor, Kropol Vitsu.
The resolution adopted by the House was for the NMA 2001 to be taken up for repeal in toto with immediate effect, and that in order to govern the Urban Local Bodies (ULB), a law be enacted expeditiously which would take into consideration once and for all, the grievances of all the interested parties so that elections could be conducted in accordance with the law.
(Resolution on p-6)
After through deliberation, the house deemed that the Urban Local Bodies election cannot be conducted unless the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001 was repealed.
The House also took note of the stiff opposition to the ULB elections by tribe bodies, civil society organizations and every section of the society against the implementation of the NMA 2001 which was deemed to be have “been fraught with much controversy to the spirit of Article 371A.”
Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio under whose watch the first municipal elections took place in 2004 and also the series of events leading to the issue being taken to the Supreme Court narrated the history while taking part in the discussion.
Rio said he felt an enormous sense of responsibility in considering the eventful history that was associated with the issue and the way the subject had evoked intense reaction from the tribe bodies, CSOs and the people of the state on how it had been claimed that the clauses infringed upon and were in contravention to Article 371A.
Recalling the series of events that had taken place in the past, Rio said the State Government, enacted the NMA 2001 while Article 243T, in Part IXA of the Constitution, was inserted by the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 which provided that a minimum of one-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct elections in every Municipality to be reserved for women. The seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in a Municipality.
He pointed out that the Nagaland Municipal (First Amendment) Act-2006 by insertion of S-23 A and S-23 B in terms of Article 243 I of the Constitution of India and subsequently, in the year 2008, Mokokchung Municipal Council was selected as the first ULB in the State for holding elections in accordance with the provisions providing for 33% reservation of seats for women. However, elections had to be called off due to massive opposition to the provisions providing 33% reservation of seats in the ULBs, he said.
Then in December 2009, notice for conduct of fresh election to the 19 (Nineteen) ULBs with 33% reservation of seats was issued. However, elections were deferred due to receipt of several representations to withhold the elections to Municipalities and due to stiff opposition to 33% reservation of seats for women.
he added that the State Cabinet decided to finally defer conduct of election to the Municipalities, thereby dissolving the existing Municipalities on expiry of their respective tenure in January 2009.
Thereafter, to break the deadlock on the issue of 33% reservation of seats for women in the ULBs, several consultative meetings were held with Tribal Hohos and Civil Societies in the State, but due to divergent view points on the issue, consensus on the matter continued to be elusive.
He pointed out that there was a near unanimity among the tribe hohos that implementation of 33% reservation of seats for women was contrary to the traditional customary practices of the Nagas.
Then in June 2011, a Writ Petition was filed against the Government decision to withhold election to the ULBs in Hon’ble High Court, and an order was passed directing the State Government to hold elections implementing 33% reservation of seats for women, and once again in March 2012, conduct of General Election to the ULBs with 33% reservation for women was notified. However, stiff opposition to the same by various Tribal Hohos and other CSOs, and apprehension of serious threat of law & order problems forced the State Government to postpone the Elections.
Rio said after the election was notified by the State Election Commission to the ULBs in December 2016, wherein the date of holding was scheduled on the February 1, 2017, there was wide spread agitation and bandhs declared all over the State by various tribe bodies/Hohos and organizations representing the various tribes of Nagaland.
“The Government was faced with a delicate law and order situation, where various government buildings were burned down and precious lives were also lost. The entire State machinery also came to a standstill from January 31 to February 22, 2017, as the organizations had called for closing down of all Government offices and banned plying of all Government vehicles during this period. Considering the overall situation, the Government had to declare the election process to the ULBs as null and void.
In the following years, as the matter regarding the ULB elections was under litigation in the Supreme Court, the Government made efforts to secure confidence of all stake holders in the matter, and reach a consensus, but there was not much headway.
Then Supreme Court on February 22, 2022 then issued a directive to the state for holding elections to the ULBs within 6 (six) weeks.
Rio said in view of the Supreme Court Order, the government took initiative and held a State level consultative meeting with all the stakeholders, including tribal hohos, mass-based organizations on March 9, 2022. At the meeting, he said there appeared to be broad consensus finally emerging on moving ahead for holding ULB elections as per the provisions of the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001, including 33% reservation of seats for women.
After which, revision of E-Rolls of the ULBs was then carried out by the State Election Commission.
Supreme Court in its order thereafter in July 2022, directed the State Government to complete the ULB election process by January, 2023, and it was decided in a meeting held on January 03, 2023, the Cabinet decided to hold elections to the ULBs after the completion of the election process to the 14th NLA.
Supreme Court in its hearing on February 13, 2023 directed the State government/SEC to hold elections to the ULBs with the election program to be notified on the March 9, 2023, and finally on the same day, the State Election Commission issued notification to election to the ULBs with the date of poll scheduled on May 16, 2023.
Rio pointed out that the announcement of the holding of ULB elections had again like earlier times, evoked strong reactions from several bodies, associations, all the tribe bodies and CSOs across the State.
The urban based organizations in three of the State’s biggest towns; the Associations of Kohima Municipal Ward Panchayat, the All Ward Union Mokokchung Town, and the Dimapur Urban Council Chairman Federation immediately approached the Government demanding review/amendments of the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001, and conveying that they oppose the notified elections for ULBs, Rio said.
Sumi Hoho, Ward Union Mokokchung Town, Land Owners Board, Chakhesang Public Organization, Angami Public Organisation, Ao Senden, Rengma Hoho, Municipal and Town Council of Nagaland, Lotha Hoho, Joint Co-ordination Committee (JCC), Dimapur based bodies and organizations, Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation and the resolutions adopted at the Consultative Meeting of the Tribal Hohos of 8 (eight) tribes, on March 27, 2023, among others.
Rio said all these indicated that there had been serious concerns and opposition raised to holding the ULB elections as per the provisions of the NMA, 2001, among the tribal bodies and CSOs and that there existed a genuine and deep fear that the provisions were in contravention of Article 371 A among a large section of the people.
Rio said several attempts by the Government over the years, to conduct the elections to ULBs to fulfil the obligations thrust upon it by the 74th Amendment Act of the Constitution, as well as to adhere to the directions of the Court, had all been unsuccessful while the tribal bodies and the people had always viewed the attempts of the government with suspicion, anger at the same time there had been stiff and vehement opposition.
According to Rio even this time it did not appear to be any different, in spite several consultative meetings and discussions held with all and sundry for the purpose of explaining the position of the Government and seeking their support.
“There is stiff opposition all-around, and calls for boycott have also been given. The issue is not just a law and order situation. The primary issue is the proposed boycott by organizations, inter alia, like the ENPO which constitutes about 30% of the population of the State, and which boycotted the Hornbill Festival in December 2022,” Rio said.
He added that one of the reasons leading to delay in conducting the ULB elections was because of the initial boycott call of the election including general elections by the ENPO in August 2022.
In February 2023, the boycott call was withdrawn by ENPO, it was presumed that the elections for the ULBs would proceed on positive line, however, on March 26, 2023, the ENPO had called for boycott of all elections, though there primary reason is the demand made to the Central Government for their separate Statehood. Therefore, as stated above, 1/3rd population of the State would not be participating e. Further, the long list of organizations mentioned earlier, are echoing their sentiments of boycott will reduce the entire elections to a nullity. The unenforceability of this Act has compelled the Government to settle this issue once and for all by a proper dialogue with all interested parties, so that the elections can be held with the effective participation of all concerned.
Given by the history of strong and vehement opposition to the conduct of ULB elections, and also serious questions being always raised about the provisions of the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001 being in contravention of Article 371 A, the chief minister said it was felt that taking into consideration the unanimous views of this House, time has come, in the interest of our people, and the State, to seriously consider repealing the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001 in toto, and move expeditiously for making a new Act. He said this would also keep in mind the special privileges accorded to the people of Nagaland in terms of Article 371 A of the Constitution, Rio said.
He thanked all the members who took part in the discussion and enlightened the House with their “precious” observations and views on the subject.
Earlier, while initiating the discussion on ULB election, parliamentary affairs minister, KG Kenye, said that at the time when the Indian parliament gave a year’s time to all states to give necessary suggestions and rectifications for the 74th Amendment Act, the state “missed the bus”.
“That would have been the most appropriate time to have highlighted the unique history and the peculiarities we have in the state, for which we have a special category state in this Union and that a special provision has been carved out for us to guarantee our rights through Art 371A,” Kenye said.
While appreciating and understanding the desperation of the predecessors to bring in more central and externally aided funds to develop the state, Kenye said that without any serious deliberation, the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001 was adopted without realizing the far reaching political implications in the ensuing years after adopting it.
“By way of enacting, we have inherited the constitutional provisions and the amendment in toto,” he observed. As the state legislative Assembly was not the competent authority to amend an Act of the parliament, he said that with the 74th Amendment Act as the Principal Act, it cannot segregate any Act of the parliament by taking what suits the state and reject the rest.
Although with good intent, he said that some things which we should not have, were enacted by the government. Placing on record his arguments, Kenye moved the motion that NMA 2001 be repealed.
Taking part in the discussion, deputy CM, TR Zeliang, said the issue was not new to the State of Nagaland but was two decades old and yet it continued “to haunt us till this day”.
He suggested to the House, that if the State had to continue with this opposition to Article 243T, it would be best that an Assembly resolution was passed to repeal the Act and take it up with the Central government for further action.
He said as long as the issue was kept hanging this way, the grants and funds for development of towns would continue to be hindered and at the end of the day, the Naga public were the loser.
“Be it on the issue of women reservation or taxation on land and buildings, the election to the ULBs are unlikely to happen and so it is our collective responsibility to apply our wisdom and find a solution once and for all. It is difficult and will hurt the sentiments of the women and some may continue their fight for reservation but for how long can we drag this issue and deprive ourselves of development? It is time to accept the facts and reality of the ground situation and apprise the central government to allow us to be exempted from this Act,” Zeliang said
“Many of the Members here today have championed for the cause of women reservation but we, as responsible lawmakers, cannot dictate and bulldoze our way when all the Tribal Hohos and CSOs are vehemently opposing it and under such a paradigm, the general public may not turn out to participate in the ULB election, Zeliang added. He extended his support to the resolution moved by K.G Kenye.
Advocate-General Nagaland, K.N. Balgopal also gave a brief explanation and appraised the members of the 14th NLA on the Nagaland Municipal Amendment Act and the views of the Supreme Court on the floor of the house. He highlighted the provisions enshrined in the constitution pertaining to the Municipal Act and minutely elaborated the views and opinions of the Supreme Court in this regard vis-a-vis the implications and difficulties confronted by the state government in conducting the ULB elections.
Other legislators extending their support on behalf of their political party included, H Tovihoto Ayemi (BJP), Kuzholuzo Nienu (NPF), Nuklutoshi Longkumer (NPP), Ikuto Zhimomi (NDPP), Naiba Konyak (LJP-RV), Limaonen Chang (RPI-A), Jwenga Seb (JDU), Dr Neisatuo Mero (Ind), Namri Nchang (NCP), P Longon (NCP).


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