Special provisions for the state were increasingly being misused to scuttle economic development, alleges newly-elected NDPP Parliamentarian Tokheho Yepthomi
New Delhi: Nagaland must move quickly to start extraction of crude oil after amicably resolving all outstanding disputes if the people of the state wish to truly prosper from its wealth of natural resources and avoid a future financial crisis, a lawmaker has urged.
“We have oil deposits in our state but we have not been able to make use of them. Whereas inside Assam, drilling is still going on and the many oilfields there are feeding the Numaligarh, Guwahati and other refineries,” Tokheho Yepthomi, the newly-elected MP from the lone Lok Sabha seat in Nagaland, has said.
Yepthomi averred that though Article 371A provided strong protection to Naga rights in the initial decades following independence, over a period of time, it had increasingly been misused to protect vested interests.
Clause IV of the Article 371A in the Constitution of India states that no Parliamentary act dealing with transfer and ownership of land and its resources shall be applicable to Nagaland without the state assembly’s consent.
In 2012, the legislative assembly enacted the Nagaland Petroleum & Natural Gas (NPNG) Regulations and Rules and constituted a board to resolve all issues related to extraction of oil and natural gas. Three years later, the Kohima Bench of Gauhati High Court issued a stay order against the permit awarded to Metropolitan Oil and Gas Private Limited (MOGPL) on a PIL filed by the local tribal body, Lotha Hoho.
In November last year, an MoU was inked between the tribal body and the Nagaland government after the latter agreed to amend the NPNG Regulations and Rules, 2012.
“Some are saying it is our wealth and they won’t give it to anyone, even to the state government unless there is enough share for people from the oil-bearing areas. There are things that we must leave for future generations and there are things that we must make use of immediately,” asserted Yepthomi, while addressing a felicitation-cum-interaction with the two Naga MPs from the Northeast on Saturday evening.
An April 2018 report by the state government-owned firm, the Nagaland Mineral Development Corporation Ltd (NSMDC), estimated 500 million tonnes of petroleum and natural gas reserves along the Nagaland-Assam border in the northwest.
Meanwhile, India’s crude oil output declined over 4% in the 2018-19 fiscal to 34.2 million tonnes, compared to 35.7 million tonnes in 2017-18, shows government data. Additional data from the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas’ Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell (PPAC) has revealed that rapid expansion in consumption and static production led to the world’s fastest-growing major economy’s import dependence rising to 83.7% from 82.9% during the same period.
Against this backdrop, the matter is not just a local issue but one that holds utmost national significance.
Need for self-reliance
Elaborating on the challenges before the state to EastMojo, Yepthomi informed, “There are a lot of complications. One is from the landowners and the other is from the Naga political groups. Unless they consent to reach an agreement, extraction will happen only on the Assam side of the border.”
The public sector oil & gas major, Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC), began hydrocarbon exploration in Nagaland way back in 1973. Production started in 1981 but was stopped 13 years later amid allegations by locals and militant groups of violation of provisions of Article 371A and demand of additional royalty for the state. Today, several abandoned oil wells lie scattered in the state’s Wokha district.
The Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) MP suggested all concerned to make mutual concessions to resolve the stalemate.
“We must adopt a give and take approach. Unless that happens, nobody will have an independent right to make use of the resource. That means, we have to give what is due to the central government, oil-bearing areas and the state government,” he said.
He added, “If the landowners continue to maintain that it is their absolute wealth, they won’t be able to make use of it. Similarly, we cannot acquire the land without taking the landowners into confidence.”.
Yepthomi warned that the state was in for tough times ahead unless steps were taken to make it self-reliant.
“We are fighting with each other to turn the state into a beggar that is required to move from one office door to another in Delhi. We must realise our mistake and take certain corrective steps in order to survive,” he said emphasising on the need for urgent action.
Earlier in February, the state government presented Rs 161.20 deficit budget for 2019-20 fiscal. Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio, therefore, is reported to be quite keen to resume oil extraction at the earliest in a bid to increase the state’s revenues.
Welcome to New Delhi
Yepthomi retained his seat after defeating former chief minister and Indian National Congress’ candidate KL Chishi in a close fight in the recently held general elections. He and the newly elected Naga People’s Front (NPF) MP from Outer Manipur, Dr Lorho S Pfoze, were honoured at the event by the Naga Students' Union Delhi (NSUD). Welcoming the lawmakers, NSUD president Hinoto P Awomi sought everyone’s support in working for the sake of larger Naga cause.
Pfoze swore to work closely with Yepthomi to interact and lobby with members of the Indian intelligentsia within and outside Parliament to enhance awareness about the problems faced by the diverse linguistic and religious communities in the region.
“So that we as the people of the Northeast are able to set up a forum to make our voice heard,” he asserted.
The very popular Manipur labour and education minister from the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Thokchom Radheshyam Singh, was also an invitee on the occasion. Asking the students to always stand firmly by the side of their MPs, the decorated former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer turned politician said, “We all are behind you and you have to take care of the Naga cause.”
NSUD general secretary Isaac Charenamei thanked everyone for making the function a grand success.
It must be added here that other than the two lawmakers the other person who dominated the evening was the Dimapur-based upcoming singer Angeu Disuang aka ‘Anio’. Anio held the audience spellbound with her soulful performance of singles ‘One moment in time’ and ‘Rise Up’.