The rest of the world is steadily moving ahead. We the self-proclaimed ‘brave and honourable Nagas’ also seem to be making serious attempt to go forward on a back gear…perhaps trying to first reclaim the lost honour of the past through corruptive means? The common masses are suffering serious disadvantage because a lot of power has been concentrated in the hands of conscienceless, rudderless few with so little leadership to show. While not discounting the fact that Government is manned by imperfect mortals of all hues, the ‘Politicians’ and ‘Bureaucrats’ have begun to show vulgar talents of recklessly crossing all legal boundaries with vengeance in the absence of transparency and accountability. Nagaland has gone through a bad patch lately because of the consistency of poor choices being made by the reigning DAN Government in its administration of justice. At this point the State Government is sitting on serious backlog of unresolved issues that ought not to have happened such as: the “Backdoor appointments”; the “Fuel adulteration” scam; the “PDS” scam; the High Power Committee’s report on ‘unabated taxation’ by NNPGs and by the State Government; the CAG report on financial misappropriation in almost all the major Departments of the Government; the non-payment of teachers’ salary…the list of corrupted incompetence is steadily growing by the day. Government ought to have sensitively perceived by now that the recent ULB fiasco was an eruption of a pent up public resentment against its inept mishandling of corruption related issues piled up over the years with ULB election serving as the short fuse that got ignited. The Government has displayed sheer unwillingness to do anything substantial to right the wrongs by reviving accountability with firm judicious action against defaulters. The perception of the people has been reinforced that this is a corrupt Government systematically out to protect the interest of the corrupt by keeping all the rot that has been dug up, in the cold storage. Not to talk of cleaning up the garbage in the kitchen they are blatantly piling up some more. For instance the Guwahati High Court (Nagaland Bench) has passed a judgement directing the Government to put a stop to the malpractice of “Backdoor appointments”. The Govt. instead acknowledges this legal verdict by rampantly appointing over 1000 recruits in the Nagaland Police during 2016-17 without proper advertisement for recruitment. It is an Almighty pity that Nagaland print media has no stomach for investigative journalism otherwise all one has to do is check the total number of recruits undergoing training in the Nagaland Police Training Centre at Chumukedima at present. How can 1000 new recruits be undergoing training without the recruitment notice being transparently notified in the public domain? The Force is now overburdened with approximately 3000 cadre men in excess of the designated strength…who will definitely have a serious negative impact on the Government treasury under salary component and further compound the already existing unpaid salary problem of legitimate teachers and other regular Govt. servants. Apprehension is unfortunately mounting in the backdrop of the letter of recommendation sent by Dr. Shurhozelie Liezietsu, as President of NPF Party to TR Zeliang’s Cabinet, to urgently regularise all the ad-hoc/backdoor appointees who have completed the minimum term because it will otherwise attract adverse votes during the coming election. Now that Dr. Shurhozelie Liezietsu is the Chief Minister, the question that naturally crops up is: will he act on his own recommendation? The cycle of contempt for Law will be complete the day he acts on his own questionable recommendation. Since taking the Government to Court as a normal civilised course of action for judicial redress is proving futile the Government will have to contend with the consequence of public wrath being re-enacted in the open street in the days to come…unless this blatant disrespect for law is halted and a semblance of justice is re-established without having to resort to water cannon, tear gas and lathi-charge.
The current contentious pot boiler related to 33% women reservation is a subject that has thrown up a plethora of complexities in the realms of Indian Constitution, Article 371A and the Naga Customary Laws and Tradition that calls for a very meticulous charting of course with maturity. Just so that we are all in the same page let us self-examine our past inconsistencies where ignorance has played a major role in our inability to protect our own, without ascribing blame to any individual or groups. As per Clauses 2 of the 16 Points Agreement, Nagaland was placed under Foreign Affairs Ministry to be funded under Consolidated Fund in accordance to Clause 11. Government of India unilaterally shifted the existing status to the Home Ministry during 1972 along with the change in the funding norm. Nagas failed to see the technical significance of this change in status and accepted it without a whimper. Article 371A empowers the Nagas to a semi-independent status where Acts of Parliament would require ratification of the State Assembly to ensure that such laws passed by the Indian Parliament does not infringe upon the Religious or Social practices; Customary Laws and Practices; Civil or Criminal Justice that conflict with our Customary Law; Ownership and transfer of land and its resources. We were given a ‘dao’ for self-preservation. We have thus far used this ‘dao’ to chop our own limbs Instead. Being a “money matter”, the Government of Nagaland for the very first time haphazardly asserted its existence by legislating the stand of the State on the issue of ‘Land and its resources’ in relation to oil exploration. Even thought the legal status of ‘land and its resources’ belonging to the Nagas as stipulated under Article 371A is unambiguous, GoI is contesting this claim that article 371 A does not cover what lies under the ground. Laws passed in Indian Parliament have never been vetted by the State Assembly. All Acts of Parliament have been accepted by rote and implemented without question even if it may conflict with our social, religious, customary laws and practices. In the sphere of Customary Laws and Practices no systematic exercise have been structured as envisioned under Clause 8 and 9 of the 16Points Agreement. We have Village Councils. We used to have the Area Council without proper defined authority vested in it; The Tribal Court can loosely be described as the DB’s Court perhaps. Most of all under clause 9 (b)(2) The Naga Tribunal for whole of Nagaland in respect of cases decided according to Customary Law has never been set up. Today we have no statutory body to evaluate the essence of our customary law/practices that has become obsolete or irrelevant. In short, instead of creating a vibrant infrastructure to strengthen our Customary Law and Practices we ourselves have virtually paid no attention to this critical need to confirm what Article 371 A empowers. It is as plain as ‘God created little apples’ that our womenfolk were never really equal to men in our traditional past by the circumstance of them being the weaker sex, during the headhunting era. Today womenfolk are unquestionably relevant to be an equal partner under the new dispensation of subjects like ‘development and progress’ which has nothing to do with physical prowess but everything to do with brains. This therefore significantly makes our customary practices of the past ‘out of tune’ with the present. Here lies the legal tangle. Instead of rectifying the redundant customary practices that needs amendment by ourselves through our own Naga Tribunal (that we do not have) as envisaged in the 16 Points Agreement, we have forced our womenfolk to seek justice in the Supreme Court (SC) to interpret our customary laws that SC knows nothing about. In so doing we are also abdicating our authority to allow our own customary law to be interpreted by the outside world and dilute the factor of empowerment handed to us through Article 371A. The Government ought to be able to see the aberration in our customary law management system and begin an earnest exercise to augment the shortfall before empowerment under Article 371 A is totally defiled. Codification of our Customary Law is also an unavoidable necessity for registering a distinct Naga management identity…towards which no concrete effort has been made even after 54 years of Statehood. The moment is here for our leaders to spend a fraction of their money mongering time to establish viable infrastructure like the Naga Tribunal that would go a long way to reinforce and strengthen our Customary Laws and Practices thereby enhance our the Naga identity as envisaged under Article 371A rather than diminishing it. It is about time for the Government to start paying attention to the unresolved issues.
Khekiye K. Sema IAS (Retd.)
Upper Forest Colony; Kohima;