A common lexicographical definition terms consultation as “discussing something with somebody or with a group of people before making a decision.” Accordingly, it implies an exchange of views and information among different stakeholders on matters of common interest and building consensus.
As per the United Nations, the reasons behind these usually informal consultative meetings organised by any entity with others include finding out what they know, telling them what you want them to know, asking for their opinions, learning about their intentions, obtaining their agreement to what you want, planning together, developing a proposal, advancing an argument, and making decisions about the way forward.
However, in Nagaland, the State Government often convenes such meetings periodically on different subjects, often as an ex-post backchannel diplomacy to mitigate sudden decisions or announcements. Ideally, any government should consult a range of experts and stakeholders before implementing policy or rule changes. Furthermore, Nagaland's social organisations wield significant influence, necessitating such consultation prior to announcements. Regrettably, this crucial process is frequently overlooked, and the State Government attempts to rectify its missteps through these consultative meetings. Thus, policy measures often get stuck in limbo, as exemplified by the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland.
Conversely, an argument can be made that the State Government, under the guise of consultation, might be relinquishing legislative responsibilities and outsourcing challenging decisions. The State Government also seems to have cultivated the habit of effecting 'faux' resolutions, as reflected in the current imbroglio over matters pertaining to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) elections.
For instance, the Government of Nagaland has convened yet another consultative meeting on September 1 to discuss the contentious issue. Briefings on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023, are also scheduled at the aforementioned meeting. Incidentally, this is the second consultative meeting on the ULBs issue during the last two years. On March 9, 2022, a meeting of 'all stakeholders' was organised by the State Government against the backdrop of an ongoing case in the Supreme Court, where the former has had been regularly reprimanded for delaying the civic elections.
Interestingly, as per the State Government's accounts, the said meeting “unanimously” passed a resolution stating that the elections to the ULBs “should be conducted as per the 74th Amendment Act of the Constitution of India,” which, among other things, mandated 33% reservation of seats for women via direct elections. However, there was contention over the resolution itself, purportedly appended by various stakeholders in attendance. It culminated in the meeting of the Joint Coordination Committee on March 25, 2022 stating that the resolution signed on March 9 seems “inconclusive as a consensus opinion of all the stakeholders was not taken into confidence.”
Consequently, when the Nagaland State Election Commission notified the ULBs elections on March 9, 2023, there was widespread opposition, resulting in the passage of a 'unanimous' resolution in the State Assembly on March 28, repealing the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001 with “immediate effect.” “Stiff voices of opposition” by the tribal bodies, civil society organsations, and every section of society were cited as the reasons behind the action, termed by the Supreme Court as an “ingenious method” adopted to evade the undertaking given to the Court.
During the last hearing on July 25, the Supreme Court provided “one last opportunity” to the State's Advocate General, and with the next hearing due on September 25 and the ensuing Assembly session scheduled from September 11, the State Government seems to be in a hurry to gain the concurrence of the apex hohos before the deadline.
It is unclear whether the meeting will lead to any concrete solutions. Although consultative meetings have the potential to lead to informed decision-making and the resolution of pending issues, lack of back-channel diplomacy and a tendency to announce abrupt policy decisions could render them ineffective. Such meetings must go beyond mere formalities by truly addressing these concerns and facilitate productive outcomes with inclusivity and a sincere commitment to consensus-building.
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