New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 5, pulled up the Nagaland government and the Election Commission for violating its previous direction to hold local body elections with 33% reservation for women and stayed the order to cancel the polls, which were scheduled to be held on May 16.
Hearing a contempt petition moved by PUCL, a bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Ahsanuddin Amanullah said, according to Hindustan Times, “You (Nagaland government), as well as the State Election Commission, are in breach of the order of this court. Our March 14 order is quite clear that any endeavour to tinker with the election process would be in breach of the order of this court.”
Justice Kaul orally observed that cancelling the elections amounts to contempt of court. The case will next be heard on April 17.
Naga tribal groups have opposed the quota for women. According to Scroll, tribal groups contend that reservation for women is “against Naga customary laws”. Political participation of women has been nearly absent and the state sent its first two women legislators to the assembly in elections held earlier this year.
In a letter to Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio opposing the women’s quota, some groups wrote, “Women’s political culture was never there in traditional Naga society.”
In a March 14 order, the top court noted local elections with reservations of women cannot be postponed under threats of violence and ordered the State Election Commission and Nagaland government to make all arrangements for the conduct of free and fair elections. “Any violation by any authority or citizen in breach thereof would be an act in breach of the orders of this court,” it said, according to HT.
The State Election Commission told the court that the polls will be held on May 16. While the state government also agreed before the top court to hold the polls with the quota for women, it later ceded to demands from tribal groups to cancel the elections.
The Nagaland assembly on March 29 repealed the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001 under which the election process was announced. “With the Act gone, the Nagaland Election Commission issued a subsequent order on March 30 cancelling the election schedule,” according to HT.
While women’s reservation in local elections is constitutionally mandated, Naga groups have opposed it citing Article 371A of the constitution, which makes certain special provisions to the state. The article says that when parliament passes an Act on matters pertaining to “Naga religious and social practices; Naga customary law and procedure; administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law; ownership and transfer of land and its resources”, it will not apply shall apply to the state unless the legislative assembly by a resolution so decides.
According to Scroll, urban local body elections have long been a “controversial subject” in Nagaland politics. The previous attempt in 2017 to hold local elections ended in violence and forced chief minister T.R. Zeliang to resign, the website reported. The first urban body polls in the state, in 2004, did not comply with the mandate to provide 33% reservation to women.