Nagaland: Reservation policy ‘needs to evolve with time’

A consultative meeting of the Cabinet Sub-Committee Working Group with civil society organizations on the State’s Reservation Policy was held in Kohima on March 5. (DIPR Photo)
A consultative meeting of the Cabinet Sub-Committee Working Group with civil society organizations on the State’s Reservation Policy was held in Kohima on March 5. (DIPR Photo)

Cabinet Sub-Committee Working Group holds consultation with stakeholders

Morung Express News
Kohima | March 5 

After more than four decades since implementation of the reservation policy for indigenous ‘backward tribes’ in 1977, the Nagaland State Government has decided to comprehensively review the existing coverage and quantum of reservations for various tribes and regions.

Since its introduction in 1967 and implementation in 1977, the reservation policy has been a contentious issue, and has undergone several changes over the years. 

The Cabinet Sub-Committee Working Group held a consultative meeting with civil society organizations on this issue at Hotel Japfü, Kohima on March 5. 

Minister Neiba Kronu in his introductory speech said “no policy is perfect and needs to evolve with time” and that the government had decided to review the existing reservation policy.

He informed that the reservation policy for ‘backward tribes’ in Nagaland began in 1977 when the state implemented 25% reservation in non-technical and non-gazetted posts for seven tribes, which were identified as ‘backward tribes’ in terms of education and economy, and also having insignificant representation in the services for a period of ten years.

Over the years, Kronu informed more tribes have been added and the quantum of reservation was increased. Currently, he said it stands at 37%, with 25% earmarked for the six Eastern Naga backward tribes and 12% earmarked for other four backward tribes.

He further stated that the roster system was introduced in 2001 to ensure ‘equitable distribution’ of reservation among ‘backward tribes’.

The intention of today’s meeting; he said, was to arrive at some consensus regarding the functioning of the NSSB and the Reservation Policy of the state. This includes nomination of one member from each organisation for the working group, suggestions for revision of Reservation Policy, time frame for submission of report and other issues. 

The meeting was attended by representatives from Eastern Naga Students’ Federation (ENSF), Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), Eastern Naga Peoples’ Organisation (ENPO), Eastern Nagaland Government Officers’ Association (ENGOA), Central Naga Tribe Council (CNTC), Core Committee on Rationalisation of Reservation Policy (CCoRoRP) and Tenyimia People Organisation (TPO). Government representatives included Chief Secretary, J Alam; Ministers Y. Patton, Neiba Kronu, Metsubo Jamir, Paiwang Konyak and Advisors KT. Sukhalu, Zhaleo Rio and Toshi Wungtung.

Briefing media persons after the meeting, Minister Kronu said the meeting was a fruitful with stakeholders sharing their minds and in line with the government’s proposal.

“Our policy is that we want to review the whole existing reservation policy because if we settle for one particular tribe or area, then another problem crops up so we have to decide whether it will be on pocket wise, area wise, block wise or tribe wise,” he stated.

Kronu informed that there was consensus that there should be one member from each organisation in the working group in order to have a “broader understanding and closer study” of the Reservation Policy. 

“They (stakeholders) have put forth their suggestions but we couldn’t go in depth today, but the inducted members will go in depth after consulting with their community for revision and get back to us” said Kronu.

He further informed that another meeting with the newly incorporated members has been convened on March 20. 

When enquired why only some selected organisations were invited for the consultative meeting, Chief Secretary, J Alam said “the invitation was extended to only seven organisations as per the Cabinet decision.”

While NSF and CCoRoRP are yet to nominate their representative to the Working Group, the other organisations nominated a representatives each in the meeting today.

ENSF firm on its demand
Meanwhile, the ENSF was firm on its demand for 45% reservation as its President, Sepili Sangtam said “constitutionally, politically and historically, our demand is justified and we are not asking from someone’s share, we are demanding what is ours.”

In support of its demand, Sangtam claimed “the history of Naga Hills Tuensang Area is clear, constitution provision is clear (sic), there is clear disparity in employment and development sector.” He went on to say that the government has jeopardised its agreement made in 2015 to compensate the backlog vacancies after recognising the employment deprivation.

“Our contribution and sacrifice is clear. Constitutionally, politically and historically, it has to be maintained 50:50 in all aspects and that was not maintained during 58 years of statehood” claimed Sangtam.

ENPO President, Kekongchim Sangtam was of the view that the reservation policy is not being implemented in true spirit, though the main intention of the policy is to maintain justice and bring at par all sections of Naga society.

He said that the government has been advised to look at where the implementation of the policy went wrong and that a member from the civil society should be included in the working group so that there are no disparities while framing this policy.

Supporting the demand of the ENSF as “justified and legitimate right,” Sangtam viewed that there is nothing that is impossible to solve when both parties sit across the table and have a discussion. 

“If the government is not in a position to fulfill all the demands of the ENSF, the duty of the State Government is to have a dialogue with the ENSF. There may be some technical problems on the part of the government, however, if they just keep silent, how can we expect the issue to be resolved,” he added.

With varied grievances from various quarters on the Reservation Policy, Sangtam said “sticking to one’s demand is not going to solve the problem. We, as Nagas have to sit across the table. When people sit across the table, there is nothing that cannot be sorted out. Any kind of differences can be solved.”

‘Meritocracy can be only criterion’
Taking part in the consultation, the Core Committee on Rationalization of Reservation Policy (CCoRoRP) said that “with the change of time, our people irrespective of tribes, forward or backward, should be allowed to sit together and compete and be selected, where meritocracy can be the only criterion to secure a job in the State.” 

It urged that a systematic and academic study be conducted and formulated thoroughly at the earliest on how the Reservation Policy is contributing to the targeted people and areas in Nagaland.

It meanwhile re-affirmed the six charter of demands as mentioned in the representation, asked the government that all advertisement on appointments  be completely stopped and kept in abeyance until total revision is exercised; and suggested to condone the age bar of aspiring candidates so as to deliver justice to those aspirants who are on the verge of being over aged.

Reservation will increase to 61%: NSF
The NSF meanwhile pointed out that job reservation in the State presently stands at 41%—6 tribes from eastern Nagaland (25%), Chakhesang and Pochury (6%), Zeliang (4%), Sumis of Kiphire (2%) and physically challenged (4%).  

It said that if the government accepts 45% job reservation for the 6 tribes of eastern Nagaland, the total percentage of reservation in the state would increase to 61%.  “Such a development would be unreasonable, defeat competitive mindset, murder meritocracy and it will be self-defeating for the state as a whole,” the federation said. 

While asserting that the NSF is not against job reservation, the federation said “we are against any policy decision that would defeat reasonable balance in our society.” 

The NSF suggested that a blanket classification of a particular tribe as ‘backward’ or ‘forward’ needs to be scrapped and “pocket wise reservation policy needs to be adopted.” It also advocated the implementation of a “creamy layer policy.”

Further, the NSF said that even in the case of reservation there should be “equal criteria on educational qualification for all jobs.” It called for a minimum”cut-off mark even on reservation quota to avoid qualification only by virtue of being single candidate from a particular tribe or pockets under a given roster.”

Meanwhile, the NSF asked the government to come out with the stipulated time frame to implement the NSSB at the earliest.