Nagaland's ULBs Elections: A Step towards Inclusive Governance

Bomito V Kinimi

MA Political Leadership and Government, MIT-SoG 

 

Nagaland is set to conduct its Urban Local Bodies (ULB) elections in three Municipal Councils- Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchung- and 36 town councils after a gap of 20 years (the last elections were held in 2004) on 26 June 2024, and also the first ever municipal elections with a quota for women. This comes after the recent passage of The Nagaland Municipal Bill, 2023 in Nagaland, which provides 33% reservation for women in urban local bodies, signifying substantial progress in the state's society. It is also significant for Nagaland’s democracy, as the Bill was passed after the historic election of two women to the Nagaland Legislative Assembly last year, highlighting a growing recognition of women's capabilities in leadership roles in the State. By ensuring women's representation in municipal elections, the bill addresses longstanding gender disparities and promotes inclusive governance. Despite not extending reservations to the post of Chairperson, the bill's enactment is a crucial step forward. Moreover, by holding these elections after a gap of 20 years, Nagaland is fulfilling its constitutional obligation, reinforcing the principles of decentralisation and participatory governance.

 

Pattern of Women Participation

Women in Nagaland play active roles in both public and private spheres, notably participating in civil society organisations and socio-cultural activities. They have historically had high voter turnout in most of the assembly elections, compared to their male counterpart- with the highest at 91% in 2013 and 77%, even during the lowest turnout in 1974. Despite this, the number of women candidates in assembly elections has never exceeded five, although women have contested in all elections except 1964.

The election of two women in 2023 and the introduction of reserved seats for women in urban local bodies marks a significant shift.

Nagaland has seen unique patterns of women's representation in democratic structures- Rano Mese Shaiza was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977, however, it took many more decades to elect the next women representative, until the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominated Phangnon Konyak to the Rajya Sabha in the year 2022. Subsequently, the 2023 elections saw Hekani Jakhalu and Salhoutuonuo Kruse elected to the Legislative Assembly. 

The year 2024 is expected to be notable as women will be represented in all major political  decision-making bodies in Nagaland.

 

Brief Account of Legal Efforts

In brief, I would like to mention the legal efforts for women’s reservation and the reasons behind the delay in conduct of ULB elections. The struggle for women’s reservation in municipal elections in Nagaland has faced significant resistance, including violence and social unrest. The Nagaland Municipal and Town Council Act of 2001 initially lacked the provision for 33% women’s reservation required under Article 243T of the Constitution. Reservation of women in seats and positions of Chairpersons in the ULGs was introduced through the First Amendment to the Nagaland Municipal Act in 2006. However, this amendment was opposed by tribal organizations citing disruption to traditional customs protected by Article 371A of the Constitution. In 2011, Naga women’s groups, including the Naga Mothers Association (NMA) supported by activists and the State Women’s Commission, formed a Joint Action Committee and pushed for elections with the reservation, but faced legal battles and threats of violence. Despite a favorable ruling from the Gauhati High Court, the Nagaland government delayed implementation, citing potential unrest. Despite multiple hearings and continued opposition, the women approached the Supreme Court in 2017. In view of the Supreme Court’s order, the State Government decided to conduct municipal elections in February 2017 with 33% reservation for women. This led to widespread protests and violence resulting in suspension of elections.

In 2022, the Supreme Court ordered the state to hold elections with the reservation.

The State Government submitted before the Supreme Court that it would hold the elections to the ULGs by following the mandatory provision of women’s reservation.

This decision was taken by the Neiphiu Rio Government, after holding several rounds of consultations with tribal organizations and tribal collectives. Despite the assurance given to the Supreme Court in April 2022, no progress was made further, prompting contempt notices from the apex Court. The court emphasized that women’s empowerment was necessary and could not be delayed indefinitely.

On 17 April 2023, given the appeal filed by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) before the Division Bench, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the State Government, and directed the SEC to hold the elections. In September 2023, the Nagaland government introduced a new bill providing 33% reservation for women, which was passed by the state assembly in November 2023. The Supreme Court directed the completion of the electoral process by April 2024. The State Election Commission approved the election schedule for June 26, 2024, marking the first municipal elections in Nagaland with a quota for women. This milestone is an evidence to the relentless advocacy by women's groups and activists, whose efforts are gradually reshaping societal norms and breaking down barriers for women in leadership positions.

 

Significance of Urban Local Bodies

The 74th Amendment Act of the Indian Constitution, enacted in 1992, is crucial for enhancing urban local governance and improving urban living standards by empowering municipalities and ensuring decentralized administration. Functions of municipalities are diverse and are crucial for the development of urban areas. Let us look at some of the key functions:

1. Urban Planning

2. Regulation of Land Use and Construction

3. Public Health and Sanitation

4. Water Supply

5. Urban Infrastructure

6. Urban Poverty Alleviation

7. Urban Amenities

8. Regulation of Markets and Street Vendors

9. Revenue Generation

10. Economic Development

11. Environment Conservation

12. Disaster Management

13. Public Participation and Governance

The comprehensive responsibilities outlined in the 74th Amendment signify the importance of urban local bodies. The absence or irregular conduct of these elections creates a significant gap in policy-making and implementation, therefore hampering the progress and development of urban areas. The MLAs cannot fulfill these functions alone for their constituencies. ULB elections ensure that local governments are responsive to the needs of their communities. They enable the representation of diverse voices, including those of marginalized groups, ensuring that all citizens have a say in the governance of their cities. Regular elections also encourage citizens to participate actively in civic life and influence policy decisions that directly impact their daily lives.

Lastly, Municipal Bodies are essential for addressing infrastructure needs, enhancing public services, and enhancing economic growth, ultimately contributing to the overall well-being and sustainability of urban areas.

 

End Note

As Nagaland aligns with the objectives of the 74th Amendment Act of 1992, it demonstrates that inclusive governance can be achieved through sustained legal and social efforts. This step is expected to have far-reaching implications, not only enhancing the representation of women in local governance but also paving the way for a more responsive administrative framework. By holding these elections after a gap of 20 years, Nagaland is fulfilling its constitutional obligation, reinforcing the principles of decentralisation and participatory governance. Lastly, the reservation for women in urban local bodies is expected to increase political participation among women, greater attention to issues affecting women and communities, and the emergence of women leaders who can influence policy making, enhancing the overall quality of governance.

Increased participation of women in leadership roles can inspire future generations, promoting a more egalitarian society. As Nagaland prepares for these historic elections, it stands as a hallmark of progress.