Nagaland Forms Panel to Outline Criteria for Inclusion in Planned Indigenous Register

The register of indigenous inhabitants of Nagaland will not challenge the citizenship of those excluded, but will deny them land rights and certain other benefits.

New Delhi: At a time when the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has run into a storm over procedural anomalies, Nagaland has embarked on a drive to prepare a register of indigenous inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN).

Following a notification to this effect, issued by the state’s home commissioner R. Ramakrishnan on June 29, the process of identification began on July 10. However, on July 28, taking into consideration a volley of opinions for and against it from stakeholders, the state government decided to form a three-member committee to fix the modalities to be used to identify who would be eligible to be included in the RIIN.

As per local news reports, the commission would be headed by retired state chief secretary Banuo Z. Jamir, with T. Kiheto Sema and S. Chingwang Konyak as members. Reports quoting government sources said Justice (retired) Zelre Angami would play the role of advisor to the panel. The government’s representative would be the home commissioner and the commissioner Nagaland. The committee is mandated to submit its report within three months.

According to the June 29 notification, the cut-off year for a person or her descendants to be considered indigenous resident/s of the state was December 1, 1963, the day it was carved out of Assam. However, the committee is likely to also look into a demand from a section of stakeholders to consider April 28, 1977 as the cut-of date. The 1977 date was because of a notification issued by the then joint secretary, which laid down the criteria for issuance of indigenous inhabitant certificates (IIC) to the residents when the state was formed on December 1, 1963. The notification didn’t mention that those who would be granted an IIC would have to a Naga. It is also because of this notification that a Naga from Assam or Manipur would not be considered an an ‘indigenous’ resident of  Nagaland state.

Opposition from some Naga groups

Two consultative meetings were held with various tribal bodies on the issue, and they reportedly backed the Nationalist Democratic Party of Nagaland (NDPP)-led state government, of which the BJP is a part. The Naga Hoho, a primary body of the Nagas, has opposed the move. The Hoho’s opposition is on the argument that it would “divide the Nagas”.

The NSCN (Isak-Muivah), which is in peace talks with the Central government, too is not in favour of it on the same grounds. One of the primary demands of the NSCN (I-M) to the Centre to sign a Naga Accord is to acknowledge that all the traditional Naga-inhabited areas across different states of the Northeast as one, and bring them under some administrative formulation. The armed group, under a ceasefire agreement with the government, has reportedly said that “All Nagas are indigenous in (to) their ancestral homeland which is contiguous. It is the legitimate rights and political decision of the Nagas to live together under one political roof. The Nagas do not and will not accept their division by imposed artificial state and international boundaries”.

Though the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution protects mainly the land of the tribal residents of Nagaland and the inner line permit (ILP) is required by non-residents to enter the state, its business hub, Dimapur, doesn’t come under the purview of the ILP. Several Naga groups have demanded its inclusion over the years, arguing that many ‘outsiders’ and ‘illegal immigrants’ have settled in that area due to it, ‘grabbing’ the state’s economy from the Nagas. According to a government instituted committee report in 2018, the ILP, under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, was to be implemented in Dimapur.

Also Read: Naga CM: Citizenship Bill Not Applicable as State Protected Under Article 371(A)

This past June, a BJP member and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking to lift the ILP from Nagaland. The SC, on July 2, dismissed it.

With the government unrolling the RIIN procedure in the cosmopolitan Dimapur, there is considerable apprehension among the non-tribals. However, chief minister Neiphu Rio has said that “non-Nagas will not be harassed during the preparation of the list of indigenous people,” adding, “the RIIN would provide protection to genuine citizens who are permanent settlers of Nagaland”.

Though non-inclusion of one’s name in RIIN, unlike the NRC update process in Assam, would not lead to denial of one’s citizenship or anyway challenge it, it would certainly deny them land rights, benefits from government schemes, among others.