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Kohima: The contentious issue of 33% women reservation in the long-overdue Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) elections, which caused unrest in Nagaland in 2017, is likely to see the light of day. On Tuesday, the state government formed a committee headed by the Nagaland chief secretary to review the Municipality Act and the reservation policy.  

Minister for Planning and Coordination, Parliamentary affairs, Neiba Kronu, said two women representatives—Dr Rosemary Dzüvüchü, professor at Nagaland University, and Sotsula, Secretary to the Department of Science and Technology, are included in the Committee.

There have been no ULB elections in Nagaland for over a decade now.

In 2017, Nagaland witnessed violent protests against the ULB elections, which provided 33% reservation for women. The protest claimed two lives, and several government properties were vandalised. Several organisations opposed the ULB elections on grounds that it infringed the special provisions granted to Nagaland under Article 371(A) of the Constitution.

“We all have a concern about women reservation. Women participation everywhere is important,” Kronu said. He informed that the decision to form the committee was taken during a government meeting with civil society organisations and tribal hohos, including Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization (ENPO), Central Nagaland Tribes Council (CNTC) and Tenyimi Public Organization (TPO), on October 20.

Recounting the meeting, Kronu said, “We decided to include two women representatives. Now, it is the time for us to come together to discuss the issue, sit across the table and take decisions together”. Although there is no fixed timeframe for the newly-constituted Committee to study the issue and submit its report, he said there is a need to ‘hurry up’ on the matter.

As a stop-gap measure, it was also decided that members would be nominated on a 70:30 (male-female) ratio to run the municipalities till the time elections are conducted.

“When this Committee is to study, which will take a little more time, in the meantime, we have decided if we can set up a nomination of members to run the municipalities on a temporary basis of 70:30. The notification is yet to be issued, but that (nominated members) will function for an interim period. After the Committee submits its report, there will be a full swing election,” he said.

Kronu also said that the Urban Development department would work out the modalities for the nomination process. He added that the present system “cannot continue” with just one administrator handling an entire municipality.

As per the Municipal affairs department, in 2001, the Nagaland Municipal and Town Council Act 2001 was passed in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly, without the inclusion of 33% women reservation which is a mandatory provision in article 243-T Part IX-A, which was later amended in 2006. Before 2001, the Nagaland State followed the Assam Municipal Act for the town committees of the state. 

The first election under the Municipal and Town Council Act 2001 was conducted in 2004 across the state without 33% women reservation, except in Mokokchung town, on grounds that unless the provision for taxation of land and building were omitted/deleted from the Act, the town would not allow the municipal election. 

Govt decision on elections welcomed by stakeholders

Reacting to the inclusion of women in the committee to review the reservation policy, Hekani Jakhalu Kense, layer-turned-social entrepreneur and founder of YouthNet, told EastMojo, “I am extremely happy because they have included Dr Rosemary Dzuvichu because she is someone who understands this deep issue.”

For Kense, it is important to have one women representative who understands the main contentions of the issue rather than having many women representatives. “I feel very safe,” she said. Kense acknowledged the state government for being “brave enough” to have Dzuvichu onboard for the discussions.

Ahead of the August 18 consultative meeting between the state government and tribal hohos which was convened to discuss certain issues, including women reservation, Kense had appealed to the state government to include women representatives while discussing the “fate and future” of women in Nagaland.

The ULB elections, for her, is “very crucial” for Nagas to come out of their comfort zone. “It is not that we do not understand the importance of women participation. The younger generation, especially men, knows that if Nagaland has to progress, women have to take part. In a way, I feel that Naga elders are a little scared and afraid of going out of the status quo,” she said.

While there are issues, she said that most people, by human nature, are afraid of change as there is uncertainty over what the changes might bring about. Kense, an active youth advocate, said, “The younger generation wants a change with regard to women being part of the whole decision-making body,” she added. 

Speaking with EastMojo, Professor Rosemary Dzüvichü said, “I have been informed about the inclusion of two of us women members in the Committee to revisit the Nagaland Municipal Act and the reservation policy. As all are aware, the municipal election case is sub-judice in the Supreme Court with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as petitioner. Our towns deserve good councillors, both men and women, to work together for development. Concurring with Kense, Dzüvichü added, “We have passed through a most unfortunate phase. Hopefully, we can look forward to a peaceful resolution, for the welfare and development of our towns and its citizens.” 

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