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The Delimitation Exercise and its Likely Impact on the Nagas

By EMN Updated: Jun 17, 2020 8:00 pm

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the true reality of  the present state of affairs in Nagaland.  Contrary to the claims of the government when faced with this challenge,  the essential infrastructural inadequacies not only in health sector but also in other areas have been exposed with its  unpreparedness coupled with mishandling of the situation, creating  avoidable tensions, mistrust, and controversies, which still persists. The intolerant reaction and unforgiving attitude of the people had also magnified the problem.

Added to this, is the  disappointing exposure  that, efforts made so far for the social and emotional assimilation of all the Nagas (tribes) as one people, one community has not borne the desired result so far. The feeling of divide in the line of tribes, districts and ultimately village remain intense in our conscious and sub-conscious mind which is sadly the main impediment against growth.

In the midst of this chaotic atmosphere, another exercise having potentially more serious disuniting element is the order of the Election Commission for the Delimitation Exercise in Nagaland along with few other states where the earlier delimitation process was postponed. Unless this is carefully and objectively handled the exercise will further accentuate the tribal-district divide and mental distancing among the Nagas, is a disturbing prospect.

Since I was the Ex-officio member of the earlier Delimitation Commission (2003-07) representing Nagaland state then, I would like to share some of my experiences and observations for clearer understanding of certain aspect of the process for those who might be interested in.

The present Delimitation Exercise was notified by the Election Commission in continuation of the earlier exercise as per the provision of Sec 3 of the DL Act 2002. The notification has come into effect from the 6th March 2020, which clearly states that the exercise will be based on 2001 census figure and not on the latest census of 2011. The letter addressed to all the DCs in the State from the State Election Office (Vide –NO ELE/DELI-2/2020) dated 4th June 2020 has clearly confirmed this directive of the Election Commission.

The general formula for determining the size of the population and readjusting the territorial boundary of each constituency in each state is provided under  Art 170 of the constitution. It specifies  that the division of territorial constituencies within each state will be in the manner that the ratio between the population of each constituency shall be uniform throughout the state so far as practicable on the basis of the last census. (2001census for the present purpose) Accordingly readjustment of territorial boundary of each constituency will be worked out.

Prima facie, the formula appears to be simple and clear but for a tribal State like Nagaland, its application and interpretation of the directives become very difficult for many reasons, mainly due to narrow minded-selfish outlook and over indulgence in manipulative political upmanship at the cost of equity for all the fellow Nagas. And of course, for some genuine reasons as well. 

The earlier exercise for the entire country was carried out during 2003-07, except in J&K state, which was exempted due to Special Constitutional provision under Art.370 then, which is now withdrawn. The other 4(four) states from North Eastern Region, namely, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland were stayed after the intensive exercise were completed. The present exercise is resumption of that postponed exercise. J&K is now added as 2 Union Territories under the State reorganisation Act.

The demand for keeping Nagaland out of the purview of the Delimitation Commission:- The Delimitation Exercise was vehemently opposed by the state government of Nagaland and the people then (2003-2007). The exemption was demanded on the grounds:-

 (a) The Nagaland state was created out of a political agreement and is being governed through a Special Constitutional provision under Article 371(A). Therefore, as a tribal state govern by tribal customs and law, thus, the state should be kept outside the purview of the Delimitation Act.

 (b) At this stage, the solution to the long standing Naga political settlement issue should take precedent over the delimitation exercise which will disturb and distract the mind of the people, the main stakeholders.

​If the exemption was unacceptable, then any exercise for inter-district transfer of assembly seats at this stage be prevented which has the potential for creating disharmony disturbing the inter-tribal equation. Other justifying reasons put forward for exemption/or maintaining the status quo of the existing seats in different districts were-

1. The inter-district boundaries were drawn up along the traditional tribal territorial boundaries as existed prior to the statehood and the demarcation of territorial

Assembly constituencies have normally followed such traditional boundaries. Any lateral inter-district transfer of assembly seat(s) will disturb the tribal harmony and peaceful atmosphere. The set tribal equation on the basis of the present constituency territorial arrangement need to be maintained which is socio-politically sensitive matters for the Nagas and is better to leave that undisturbed. 

2. All the districts of Nagaland barring Dimapur (which is more cosmopolitan) are linguistic districts each inhabited by one or more tribes having a common dialect.  Hence any inter-district readjustment of even one Assembly seat is a very   sensitive issue and will create vitiating ill feeling of deprivation. It will upset the equilibrium in the society and may create serious law and order situations. Even within the tribes, there is still a strong sentimental feeling among different area which is not tenable (justifiable) in the eye of law but indispensible for maintenance of peace and understanding of their equation in the tribal society

3. Census figure of 2001:- Another cogent reason for postponement was also that the population figure of Nagaland in the 2001 Census as published by the Register General of India. It is faulty and fraught with abnormalities. For instance, some sample figures shown below  indicating  abnormal growth in the last one decade:- Extract of 2001 census of Nagaland-

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Other district-figures too, do contain such abnormalities in varying degree requiring through revision of the whole state. Even some villages have shown growth rate more than hundred percent in 10 years which is unrealistic. The census report as a whole is misleading and has become highly controversial. Quite a few have gone to court for cancellation /or review of the census as a whole.

In 2005 in the state Assembly,  the Chief Minister Shri Neiphiu Rio, had initiated a Resolution  urging the govt. of India and the Election commission for exemption/deferment of the delimitation exercise in Nagaland, quoting  inter alia, the unreliability of the  census figures of 2001 as an  another cogent reason justifying the demanding for exemption from delimitation operation. This was followed by a number DO letters to the then PM of India explaining the reasons for exemption/postponement.

Protection of status Quo:- At last in 2006, the Delimitation Commission had agreed to maintain the status quo of protecting the existing number of seats in each district of Nagaland and perhaps to the disappointment of few districts like Wokha, Longleng, Kephire, Peren and Dimapur where increase in seats were expected on the basis of the census of 2001.

However, the state was directed to exercise readjustment of territorial constituencies within each district on the basis of 2001 Census figure  keeping the variation of the population between each constituencies within 10-15% plus or minus.

As for the demand for conducting a fresh census by withdrawing the 2001 census report, the Former Delimitation Commission Chairman Shri. Kuldip Singh, a retired SC Judge, had informed me that it is outside the jurisdiction of the delimitation Commission and all representations and demands for review were forwarded to  the central government for disposal as it deemed fit.   As per the directive of the commission, while determining the readjustment of territorial boundary of each constituency beside the population criteria, other factors were taken into account. The contiguity of administrative unit, geographical features, tribal affinity and connectivity for public conveniences avoiding physical barrier like big rivers, hilly range or ravine and such other difficult barriers were considered. Accordingly, the final draft report was submitted to the Commission for necessary action.

What move will be appropriate now?-  I personally feel that while the exercise may go on as directed by the State Election Commission dated 4th June 2020, on the basis of the Delimitation Commission Act 2002. Nagaland should try once again for total exemption or another postponement. The state has more justifiable reasons now. The points listed during the earlier exercise are still relevant and valid, such as, unreliability of 2001 Census figures of Nagaland. That was a genuinely reasonable ground to demand for review of the Census 2001 because readjustment of constituency on the basis of the false population figure would be dangerously misleading which will have a far reaching consequences affecting lopsided socio-eco development due to defective planning and retribution of facilities and benefits on the basis of faulty figures.

In the recent write up of the CPO convenor Shri. Theja Thereih, he had clearly narrated the CPO initiative for stalling the Delimitation Commission exercise on the basis of highly unreliable Census figure of 2001, by filing a PIL at Guahati HC in 2006 against the Union of India & Others. They obtained an interlocutory order restraining the delimitation process in Nagaland. Subsequently, Presidential Notification dated 8/2/06 was issued deferring the exercise in Nagaland as he had stated.

If the reason was found justified then, the situation still remain unchanged. It  will be a good ground to reiterate the Presidential order and demand for further deferment for the simple reason that the ground reality of today remains as it was and the demand for review of the Census report of 2001, still remain unfulfilled.

  Secondly, It is an inappropriate moment to revive the Delimitation process for the reason that, the political settlement of the chronic Naga political issue is said to be in its final stage, ready for signatures only (of course, how long is the final stage is a mystery). Once the final settlement comes about, a drastic change in the socio-political scenario is expected which will have a comprehensive far reaching implication affecting all the Naga territories inclusive. When this happens, the present exercise in Nagaland will be irrelevant.

With the expected increase seats in both parliamentary as well as in the State Assembly, allocation of constituencies in a fair, unbiased and just manner can be organised consciously and the division of territorial constituencies on the basis of a fresh census will be easier avoiding the present manipulative cut throat manoeuvrings for socio-political advantage on false data. All the finest, fair and patriotic minded people should collectively focus on finding an amicable and acceptable political solution which is long overdue and the people and the Nagas in particular are anxious about the final outcome. In this critical juncture, this exercise will surely create a vitiating atmosphere diverting the minds of the people who matters. It can be a serious setback to the settlement effort achieved so far. It’s a risk not worth taking now. Fortunately, the Governor of Nagaland, Shri. R.N. Ravi, is the interlocutor who will appreciate the priority of the political settlement for the Nagas at this final stage instead of forcing the people into another chaotic exercise.

Thirdly, another reason for deferment, is that Art 170 of the Constitution deals with the composition of the Legislative Assembly, where the prescribed formula for readjustment of territorial constituencies is on the basis of a “based census figure” and 2001 census is taken as the base now.  This existing guideline will remain valid till 2026 and thereafter it will be thoroughly reviewed and overhauled on the basis of the first census taken after 2026. As mentioned above, the earlier Delimitation exercise was stayed through a Presidential Order accepting the need to review the apparent unrealistic census figure of 2001. Therefore, the present directive of the commission to restart the delimitation work in Nagaland is (I feel) a contradictory directive for the fact that the census still remains unverified.

In any case, the actual implementation of the arrangement made out of the present exercise will be valid only for a few years, subject to review after 2026 first census figure and not much purpose will be served by conducting the delimitation exercise at this penultimate stage.

Those are the few valid reasons for approaching the government of India and the Election Commissioner for postponement.

Lately there have been some comment and reaction for and against depending on the advantage or disadvantage that may derive out of its implementation. The debate is centred on the anomalous census figure of 2001 since that has been taken as the basis. When we objectively compare between the ground realities with the projected figures in the official document, the glaring abnormality is apparent in the census figure which corroborate the deliberate tampering with the enrolment and the casualness of the officials responsible for the operation. If such figures are accepted as the final authentic figure and use it to determine the size of the population and the electorate of the area concerned for allocation of the developmental facilities and privileges, it will be unfair and will defeat the main purpose of the exercise. It will be dangerously misleading to exercise on such basis. In the name of justice, greater injustice will be done, resulting in a permanent damage and leaving a bad legacy to the future generation. It is incumbent on the part of the present elders and public leaders, for the sake of healthy overall growth of the society; we need to resist such temptation of manipulative activities for subjective interest.

Another concerning trend has been, the evil of tribalism and mental divide among the Nagas. The tribe and the village is still the defining identity and the mind and action revolve mainly within that cocoon. We need to overcome and come out of this mental barrier for a better tomorrow. Otherwise when the world is becoming smaller with all the modern technologies, we will still remain a primitive tribal society entrapped in our tribal prejudices.

T.N.Mannen IAS(Rtd)

By EMN Updated: Jun 17, 2020 8:00:03 pm
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