In a significant development, the Nagaland Assembly unveiled the Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023 on Tuesday, marking a pivotal moment in the state's legislative history. This move follows the repeal of the contentious Nagaland Municipal Act of 2001 earlier this year, driven by issues concerning the reservation of seats for women and property taxation.
The state's first women legislators, Salhoutuonuo Kruse and Hekani Jakhalu, commended the recent consensus reached by tribal and civil society organisations regarding women's reservation in civic bodies.
Kruse, making her debut speech in the state assembly after the February 2023 elections, expressed gratitude to central leaders who endorsed a 33% reservation for women in urban local bodies (ULB).
Participating in discussions on the pending ULB elections, she also acknowledged the Naga women leaders for advocating women's reservation in the state.
MLA Jakhalu, in her maiden assembly speech, described the past two decades as challenging, not just for Naga women but for the entire community.
She welcomed the collaboration between civil society organisations and tribal leaders, which paved the way for the introduction of the new municipal bill.
Jakhalu emphasised that, like many indigenous communities worldwide, Nagas are governed by customary laws, although these laws remain uncodified and adaptable to changing times.
Repealing the Principal Act
Given the historical opposition to ULB elections and concerns about the provisions of the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2001 potentially conflicting with Article 371A, the 14th Nagaland State Assembly took the bold step of repealing the principal act entirely during its first session in March 2023.
This decision was made with the aim of crafting a new act that aligns with accepted customary practices and traditions, as well as Article 371A.
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio pointed out that ongoing litigation in the Supreme Court, prompted by a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), sought 33% reservation for women in Nagaland's civic bodies.
He emphasised that the Supreme Court's last order had advocated for 1/3rd representation for women while preserving Nagaland's personal laws and special status under Article 371A.
Rio also revealed that tribal bodies and organisations had expressed a keen interest in advancing the matter and conveyed their broad agreement with the provisions, particularly regarding 1/3rd reservation for women in ULBs in the proposed municipal governance legislation.
Path Forward with the New Bill
The introduction of the Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023 in the ongoing assembly marks a significant step toward addressing the concerns and aspirations of the Nagaland people.
Chief Minister Rio further moved to refer the Bill to a select committee, which will be constituted by assembly speaker Sharingain Longkumer.
This step reflects the commitment of the Nagaland Assembly to a thorough and inclusive legislative process that ensures the new municipal bill suitably addresses the needs and expectations of the state's residents.
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