The Centre has told the Supreme Court it was in the process of holding discussions on the validity of Nagaland’s decision to repeal the municipal Act to circumvent one-third reservation to women in urban local body polls, and asked the court for a fortnight’s grant before it could make its stand clear on the matter.
The apex court had earlier asked the Centre to give its stand on whether the constitutional scheme of one-third reservation for women in municipalities and town councils can be violated by the state of Nagaland, where the assembly had passed a resolution to repeal the municipal act and resolved not to hold elections to the civic polls.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) K M Nataraj, appearing for the Centre, sought two weeks’ time from a bench of Justices S K Kaul and Aravind Kumar to comply with the apex court’s April 17 order.
“ASG submits that there are inter-ministerial discussions in pursuance to our order dated April 17, 2023 and seeks two weeks’ more time to comply with our order. List on May 18,” the bench said in its order passed on May 1.
The top court had on April 5 stayed the March 30 notification cancelling till further orders the election to the ULBs in Nagaland which were scheduled for May 16 after almost two decades.
Following pressure from tribal organisations and civil society groups, the Nagaland assembly had passed a resolution to repeal the municipal act and resolved not to hold the elections.
On March 30, the State Election Commission (SEC) had issued a notification cancelling the election programme notified earlier “till further orders” in view of the repeal of the Act.
The apex court is hearing a petition seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in the elections to the local bodies in the state.
In its April 17 order, the top court had noted that the “ingenious method” adopted to evade the undertaking given to the court earlier about holding the election has been the repeal of the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001.
“There is hardly any hesitation on our part to note that what is sought to be done is in breach of the undertaking given to this court,” the bench had said.
“We would like him (ASG representing the Centre) to assist us and place the stand of the Union of India whether the constitutional scheme of one-third reservation for municipalities and town councils, in the opinion of the Central Government can be violated by the process so adopted by the Nagaland Government,” it had said.
The bench had on April 17 granted two weeks time to the ASG to place the Centre’s stand on record.
It had also observed that in respect of the special provisions granted to Nagaland under Article 371-A of the Constitution, nothing has so far emerged to advance a plea that religious or social practices of Nagas or Naga customary law and procedure denies the right of equality to women insofar as the participatory process is concerned in such elections.
The apex court had in its March 14 order noted the SEC counsel’s submission that the elections will be held on May 16.
The petitioners have moved an application before the top court through advocate Satya Mitra against the cancellation of the elections and urged it to take contempt action for “disobeying” the March 14 order.
Besides seeking quashing of the March 30 notification issued by the SEC cancelling the election programme, the application has also sought setting aside of the Nagaland Municipal (Repeal) Act, 2023.
The SEC had earlier announced elections to the 39 ULBs in the state. Of the 39 ULBs, Kohima, Dimapur and Mokokchung have municipal councils, while the rest are town councils.
Several Naga tribal bodies and civil society organisations had opposed the ULB election under the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001, asserting it infringes the special rights for Nagaland guaranteed by Article 371-A of the Constitution.
The 2001 Act, which was amended later, made 33 per cent reservation of seats for women mandatory for holding the ULB elections, as directed by the Supreme Court.
ULB elections in the state have been long overdue with the last polls held in 2004.