The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the March 30 notification cancelling till further orders the elections to the urban local bodies (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, resolving not to hold the elections.
On March 30, the State Election Commission (SEC) had issued a notification which cancelled the election programme notified earlier “till further orders” in view of the repeal of the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001.
The apex court, which was hearing a petition seeking 33 per cent reservation for women in the elections to the local bodies in the state, had noted in its March 14 order that the SEC counsel had submitted the elections will be held on May 16.
It had directed the schedule will not be disturbed now and the election process be completed in terms of the schedule.
The matter was mentioned on Wednesday before a bench comprising Justices S K Kaul and A Amanullah.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, said the elections have been cancelled.
“The order of this court dated March 14, 2023 despite making it clear that any endeavour to tinker with the local elections now would be in breach of the orders of the court either by the Election Commission or the State Government. Notice both to the Election Commission and to the State Election Commission,” the bench said in its order.
“In the meantime, the order dated March 30, 2023 cancelling the election programme is stayed,” it said.
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.
It has sought a direction to the Centre to ensure adequate central forces are sent to Nagaland prior to the elections in order to ensure the process is conducted peacefully.
In its order the bench said, “Notice also be issued qua the other prayers as also to the Central Government in view of the prayer made in para D for adequate central force.”
The apex court directed that reply be filed in the matter within a week and posted it for hearing on April 17.
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 have 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.
The Assembly had also passed a resolution to repeal the legislation.
ULB elections in the state have been long overdue with the last polls having been held in 2004. Elections were not conducted since then, first over the unresolved Naga peace talks and then on 33 per cent reservation for women which the tribal bodies have opposed.
In 2017, the government had withheld the decision to conduct the elections after clashes left two people dead and several injured on the eve of the day of voting.
The clashes also led to the Kohima Municipal Council office and adjoining government offices in the state capital and elsewhere being burnt.
Various tribal organisations have been opposing the ULB elections with 33 per cent reservation for women, asserting it infringes the special rights for Nagaland guaranteed by Article 371(A) of the Constitution.
However, on March 9, 2022, representatives from across the Naga society unanimously agreed that elections to ULBs should be held with 33 per cent reservation for women.