Friday, June 2, 2023

Long drawn out process

It appears that the fate of holding election to Urban Local Bodies(ULBs) in Nagaland would have to wait till the Supreme Court decides on the outcome of the contempt of court proceedings against the state of Nagaland in July. The case has arisen since the government of Nagaland had attempted to skirt the issue of holding election to ULBs on May 16 as assured to the apex court which was hearing the case on holding elections to ULBs with 33% women reservation as mandated by the 74th constitutional amendment. However, on March 28, the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly passed the Nagaland Municipal Act(Repeal Bill 2023) to effectively mean that the state has no municipal act. In response, the apex court nullified the NLA resolution on April 5 and also initiated contempt of court proceedings against the state. The first hearing was held on April 18 during which the apex court observed that the “ingenious method” of repealing the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001 was adopted to evade the undertaking given to the apex court about holding the elections. The court dismissed the pleas made by the state that the repeal of the Act was in the interest of customary laws. The court held that holding of polls to ULBs with 33% women reservation did not in any way, affect the protective law on customary and religious practices under Article 371A but opposing the polls was an attempt to deprive empowerment of women. The third hearing was on May 1 when the apex court granted two weeks time to the union government to place of record, its stand on the constitutional scheme of one-third reservation for women in municipality and town council elections can be violated by Nagaland, where the assembly had passed a resolution to repeal the municipal act and resolved not to hold the elections to the urban local bodies (ULB). On the fourth hearing on May 18,it appears that the case is likely to be a long drawn battle . On May 18, the apex court while expressing displeasure with the repealing of the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001 by the government of Nagaland, said that though it respects the local sentiments yet reiterated that the law of the land(74th constitutional amendment part IV) has to be followed. The learned judges also told the counsel for Nagaland that the law of the land cannot be undermined under any consideration since there was nothing that affects personal rights or personal laws by holding polls to ULBs. The apex court made it clear that in a nutshell, the position was that the state was unwilling to implement the assurances given to the court on the right or wrong pretext that there are groups who don’t want 33% women reservation and that the state does not want to go against them. The court asked whether the state can “succumb to blackmail” if a section of a society have a contrary point of view on the issue?. The apex court then listed the matter for hearing in July next and it remains to be seen whether the case will conclude by then or extend further.

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