The state Assembly took on three controversial topics — Uniform Civil Code (UCC), Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act 2023, and Nagaland Municipal Act — in the just concluded second session of the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly amid public outrage and concern. These contentious Acts have one thing in common– the connection with Article 371 A. If implemented, the social ramifications could be profound, as it can’t be executed without undermining the constitutional provisions given to the people of the state, in one way or the other. The Article 371 A says that no Act of Parliament would apply to the state of Nagaland matters relating to religious or social practices of the Nagas, ownership and transfer of land and its resources, and Naga customary law and procedure, unless the state assembly gives consent by passing a resolution. However, people are apprehensive of whether the recent laws passed by the Parliament will override the special provisions safeguarded by the Constitution. Mistrust has crept in due to the absence of clarity in the new laws and the Centre’s stand on the state’s natural resources in the past. Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s verbal assurance that the UCC would not be implemented among the tribal communities was not convincing enough. To clear public apprehension, it became necessary for the state to take a stance. So the passing of resolution against the implementation of the UCC and Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act in Nagaland by the state Assembly is a welcome move, and a much-needed one. What needs to be pondered upon is how some laws like the UCC could affect not just the Nagas but other minority, marginalised and tribal communities as well. The world’s largest democracy can’t afford to ignore certain aspects that give the country a reason to celebrate diversity.
Another pressing issue taken up during the monsoon session was the contentious Nagaland Municipal Act, which has forced the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to remain defunct for more than a decade now, thus depriving the state of Central funds meant for development of urban areas. After repeated failures to conduct ULB election, the incumbent government introduced a new municipal bill in the assembly earlier this week after due consultation with the tribal hohos and civil society organisations, where the stakeholders reportedly assented to the 33% reservation for women in the ULB. Now, the select committee constituted for examining the matters pertaining to the Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023 should expedite its work and the civil society organisations should not backtrack. While it is vital to protect one’s unique identity, traditions and customs, using constitutional provisions to obstruct the implementation of progressive laws, including those related to women empowerment and rights, child rights, biodiversity conservation, etc., will be self defeating. Social and cultural practices that are discriminatory in nature should be done away with. It is necessary to find a balance between the constitutional provisions and beneficial state laws by periodically reviewing the relevance in today’s society. This exercise should be carried out without being told, because laws change with the times.