Monday, January 30, 2023

Turning a good law bad

Central or state government funded development projects are supposed to be for the benefit of the public and not for the benefit of any other individuals and therefore, a government in power has to bear in mind that people’s welfare should come first and foremost. Development projects are implemented in a time-bound manner as part of a larger planning process. In Nagaland, due to misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the constitutional guarantee enshrined under Article 371A (a)(iv), there have been many instances where land required for development has not been forthcoming. Land belonging to tribal people under states where protective laws exist cannot be taken over by the state government without the consent of the land owners. Article 371A as cited above provides guarantee of protection over several clauses in the Act against any law or act of parliament to the people of Nagaland. When all other states in the north east region are moving towards fast-paced development of road and communication infrastructures in a massive way, Nagaland, the second oldest state after Assam, lags behind since land acquisition has bogged down many central projects such as roads and other infrastructure. People want development but are unable to understand the principle of give and take. The problem is people want it both ways, the land and the road. It is like the old saying “you cannot have the cake and eat it too.” Politicians have shown a disinclination to explain and educate the people that projects cannot be built on air. Elected leaders are also too feeble to exert its constitutional obligations “in the interest of public”( and not in the interest of a few members of the public) to ensure that development for the overwhelming majority is not bogged down due to the specious plea of rights. This is unique only with respect to the state of Nagaland. For decades people seem to focus solely on the protective aspect with regard Article 371A as a plea to exert their right to reject land acquisition. In this regard, the concept that the government owns not an inch of land has caused delays against timely implementation of projects. Due to the one-sided view of Article 371A, people believe that they have the right to reject land acquisition but also have the same right to demand development. In other states like Meghalaya, Mizoram or Manipur etc, lands required by the state government in hill or tribal areas, are acquired through relevant laws and compensation paid as per the government rate. Thus, development projects in these states are a two-way street and projects do not get hampered by delays due to unwillingness of land owners to give up land required for development. The 4-lane highway project suffered due to the same problem. Even the expansion of Dimapur airport and the railway station are bogged down due to land problems and so too many other projects. On the other hand, development projects in nearby Diphu and Karbi Anglong are in full swing since the tribal people there welcome development which is pushing the district ahead of not only Dimapur but also Nagaland. The state government has to take a serious view against misinterpretation of Article 371A and legislate relevant law to ensure that certain sections do not create roadblocks to development.

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