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Op-Ed

Why Every Naga Should Object to the Nagaland Municipal Elections

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By EMN Updated: Jan 27, 2017 9:37 pm
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Of all the dirty tricks, evil acts and idiotic deeds committed on a naive and unsuspecting public by our corrupt Legislators, both past and present, the present Government’s attempt to shove the elections to the Municipalities down our throats is the dirtiest, most evil and most idiotic. We have been bickering over Women’s Reservation and whether or not it infringes on our Tribal Customs, supposedly protected by Article 371 A of The Indian Constitution; when all along the said article has been violated like a common prostitute by certain clauses in the Act. Allow me to explain.

1. Part-I, Chapter-II of The Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001 deals with tax on land and buildings. In India, property is considered as a source of income and taxes on property are considered income Taxes. The fact that the concerned Municipalities, and not the Income Tax Department, are permitted to collect Property Tax for maintenance of basic civic services, does not in any way alter the fact that Property Tax is part and parcel of Income Tax. So, the moment Municipalities come into existence and Nagas are forced to pay Property Taxes, we are, in essence, paying Income Tax. This directly violates the protection Nagas, in Nagaland; have against paying Income Taxes of any kind.

2. I am not averse to paying a fixed amount, be it ever so high, as taxes for maintenance of civic services; but every Naga who lives in any township across Nagaland should object to paying up to 15% of the value of his land (undeveloped or not) and building (pucca, kutcha or even tented) every year as Property/Income tax. And whereas in the rest of India, if your land is empty or if you reside in your own land and house, do not carry out any commercial activities nor rent out any portion of it, your property value is considered to be Zero, in Nagaland, you will still have to pay the percentage of the value of your empty plot of land or your land and building even if you do not do any of the above; and if you happen to erect a wall around your empty plot or dig a well in it, the cost of the wall and the well will be added to the value of your land. So, if you are a supporter of the Municipal Polls, it means you support the idea of paying up to 15% of the value of your land and buildings every year towards Income/Property Tax to the Municipalities.

3. Only burial/cremation grounds, parks and playgrounds and foreign diplomatic and consular missions (which foreign country has initiated or intends to initiate diplomatic relations with Nagaland?) will be exempt from property tax; though they will have to pay a Service Tax to the Municipalities. And there we have the difference between the Service Tax we pay at present and the Income Tax we will have to pay under the Municipal Regime.

4. On failure to pay your Property/Income tax, the Municipal Authorities have the power to attach your land, your house and everything in it; you can only take the clothes you are wearing and certain books. They will then auction off your land, building and personal property and deduct the amount you owe as Property/Income Tax; and, surprise surprise; they will be so generous as to give you any excess amount left over after their deduction. If you have rented out the building or part of it, they will take your rent until your arrears are realised.

So, if you happen to be an Angami from Kohima Village, residing in Kohima Town, on the land you had inherited from your forefathers; once the Municipalities are established, you will no longer have to pay the Service Tax of a few hundred rupees you pay, annually (it’s Rs.200 at Dimapur); instead, you will have to pay Property/Income Tax based on the market value of the land you occupy and the cost of the house/building you own, every year. I cannot imagine a plot of land at Kohima, no matter how small, costing less than twenty lakhs rupees (Rs. 20,00,000); and a decent house costing less than ten Lakhs rupees (Rs. 10,00,000)[keep in mind, I am aiming for the lowest figures possible]. So, you will have to pay Property/Income tax for thirty lakhs rupees (Rs. 30,00,000), thus you can be taxed up to four and a half lakhs rupees (Rs. 4,50,000) every year (15% of the market value of your land and building). Even if you are taxed at 1% of their value, you will still have to pay forty five thousand rupees (Rs.45, 000) every year in place of the few hundred you are paying now.

But that is not the worst; if you fail to pay your dues you will become a homeless refugee in the land of your ancestors (when your land and home has been seized and auctioned off). Then if I, a Sumi, purchase the land in auction then doesn’t it mean that the Government has declared itself the landowner, and you, an Angami, will have been denied your Constitutional Right, as a Naga in Nagaland, to your Land as guaranteed by Article 371A of The Indian Constitution? This scenario will take place in every town in Nagaland and every tribe will face it.

So, the Municipal Act infringes directly on a Naga’s right to freedom from Income Tax in Nagaland, and indirectly seeks to usurp our right to our land. When the Government of Nagaland had the bare faced shamelessness and audacity to declare itself an owner in the oilfields of Champang; do you think it will care a whit about seizing your land and auctioning it off?

The amendments to the bill, passed hurriedlyin November, do not delete the clauses on taxation but omits them, with the proviso that the municipalities can propose the same taxes and the government can then notify them. Which will bring us back to square one. I have never been against Women’s Reservation per se but I have never been in favour of it in its present form. Likewise, I, personally, do not think that Women’s Reservation has anything to do with Tribal Laws or Customs, but I have always maintained that the Tribal Organisations have genuine grounds for apprehension; I have outlined two very real dangers to our rights, as Nagas living in Nagaland, and how it will erode the protection Guaranteed under Article 371A of The Indian Constitution.

I want all Nagas, whether men or women, and spanning tribal boundaries, to think and decide whether you want what is coming for you. And to all our Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Municipal Candidates, and members of the N.P.F. Party; who are so gung-ho about conducting the Municipal Elections, “Are you prepared to pay your fair share of the Municipal Taxes? And in the event of a different party coming to power in the next elections, will you be able to pay Taxes, based on the percentage, set by others, of the value of the lands and buildings you own?” And to the Women Activists, I ask, “Are you ready to lose your homes just so a few of you can be represented in some Municipal Bodies of Nagaland?” The Government of Nagaland has to answer as to who drafted such an insidious set of laws which are nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to grab developed lands across Nagaland. I cannot help but feel that this is part of a larger conspiracy to deprive the Nagas of Nagaland of what is rightfully ours.

God save my Nagaland

Kahuto Chishi Sumi
G.B. Hevishe Village
Dimapur
Kahuto107@gmail.com

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By EMN Updated: Jan 27, 2017 9:37:02 pm