Supreme Court Asserts: Nagaland Must Uphold the Law of the Land on 33% Women Quota

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The Nagaland government faces the scrutiny of the Supreme Court after it cancelled the elections to 36 town councils in response to a court order directing reservation for women in urban local bodies. The apex court has cautioned the state that any customary law that hinders the implementation of women’s reservation may be deemed unconstitutional. A petition filed by the NGO Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) seeks the enforcement of the court’s March 14 order, which mandates 33% reservation for women in urban municipalities under Part-IXA of the Constitution. The court has given the Union government and Nagaland until July to find a solution and report back.

The Supreme Court bench, led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, expressed concern about the existence of customary laws that prohibit the election of women. They warned against reaching a point where the court may have to declare such laws unconstitutional, emphasizing the importance of upholding the law of the land.WOMEN'S RIGHTS: Why are women's rights important? - Political Youth Network

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Following the court order on March 14, the state government cancelled the elections to the town councils and municipal councils on March 30, while also repealing the Nagaland Municipal Act under which the elections were scheduled to take place. The NGO PUCL challenged the state’s decision in the Supreme Court, alleging contempt of court. Notices of contempt were issued against the chief minister, chief secretary, and individual tribal leaders after the state claimed that the elections were cancelled due to a lack of consensus among tribal leaders who boycotted the polls.

The state’s advocate general and senior advocate KN Balagopal argued before the court that implementing the 33% reservation in urban local bodies would create an anomalous situation in Nagaland. He explained the peculiar circumstances faced by the state, where municipalities under Part IXA of the Constitution apply, but Panchayats under Part IX specifically exclude tribal areas according to Article 243M.

In an affidavit filed by Chief Secretary J Alam, it was stated that this situation creates a disparity between women living in urban and rural areas, with urban women being eligible for reservation while their rural counterparts are not. The affidavit also highlighted the application of Article 371A, which provides special provisions for Nagaland and states that certain Central Acts passed by Parliament cannot apply to the state without the adoption of a resolution by the Nagaland Assembly.

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Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj, representing the Union government, stated that the defence of Article 371A is not applicable to the state government for non-compliance with the court’s order. The ASG requested time as the Centre is deliberating the matter with the state government.

The Supreme Court cautioned the state government about the limitations of the leeway granted, urging them not to extend it to the point where it becomes detrimental to their own interests. The court also reminded tribal chieftains to be mindful of its directives, as some tribal groups filed affidavits expressing their inability to implement the 33% reservation for women. Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, representing some of these groups, was advised to exercise restraint in the language used in the affidavits.How the Story of the Greatest Rivalry of the Supreme Court Unfolded

In 2012, the Nagaland Assembly passed a resolution refusing to implement the 33% reservation for women under Part IX-A of the Constitution. PUCL challenged this resolution in the Supreme Court in 2016. Although the resolution was withdrawn in November 2016, the law’s implementation faced opposition from tribal leaders who resorted to large-scale violence to impede its progress.

The court’s intervention seeks to ensure the enforcement of gender equality and women’s representation in urban local bodies in Nagaland, while also examining the compatibility of customary laws with constitutional principles. The case holds significant implications for the empowerment of women and the adherence to constitutional mandates in the state.

In a decisive move, the Supreme Court has taken a resolute stand in urging the Nagaland government to comply with the 33% women’s reservation quota in urban local bodies. The court’s order, issued on March 14, faced a setback when the state government responded by canceling elections to 36 town councils. However, the apex court has sent a clear message that it will not hesitate to declare any customary laws that obstruct women’s reservation as unconstitutional.

A petition filed by the NGO Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) seeks the implementation of the court’s order, which is rooted in Part-IXA of the Constitution and calls for 33% reservation for women in urban municipalities. In response, the Supreme Court bench, led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Ahsanuddin Amanullah, has granted the Union government and Nagaland until July to find a solution and report back to the supreme court. 

The court’s concern about the existence of customary laws that hinder the election of women into urban local bodies has been explicitly communicated to the Nagaland government. It has cautioned that if such laws are found to impede progress toward gender equality, they will be deemed unconstitutional. The supreme court’s primary focus remains upholding the law of the land and ensuring equal representation for women.

The cancellation of the town council elections and the repeal of the Nagaland Municipal Act by the state government following the court’s order on March 14 have been met with resistance. PUCL promptly challenged these decisions, alleging contempt of court. As a result, notices of contempt were issued against the chief minister, chief secretary, and individual tribal leaders. The state government justified the cancellation of elections by citing the lack of consensus among tribal leaders who boycotted the polls.PUCL Statement Against lodging of FIR against Lawyers Collective & Sr.  Advocate Anand Grover | PUCL

During the proceedings, the state’s advocate general and senior advocate KN Balagopal argued that implementing the 33% reservation in urban local bodies would create an anomalous situation in Nagaland. He highlighted the peculiar circumstances faced by the state, where municipalities fall under Part IXA of the Constitution, while Panchayats, under Part IX, explicitly exclude tribal areas according to Article 243M.

Nagaland’s Gender Quota Dilemma: Supreme Court’s Assertion of Constitutional Rights

Chief Secretary J Alam filed an affidavit acknowledging the existing disparity between women in urban and rural areas due to this situation. While women in urban areas can claim reservation, their rural counterparts do not enjoy the same benefit. The affidavit also emphasized the application of Article 371A, which grants special provisions for Nagaland, including the need for the Nagaland Assembly to adopt certain Central Acts passed by Parliament.

The Union government, represented by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj, firmly stated that the defense of Article 371A cannot be invoked by the state government to avoid complying with the court’s order. The ASG requested time as the Union government is actively engaging with the state government to address the matter effectively.

The Supreme Court, while giving the Nagaland government ample opportunity to find a solution, cautioned against exploiting the extended leeway provided. The court firmly warned that pushing the limits of this leeway could prove detrimental to the state’s interests. Additionally, the court urged tribal chieftains to exercise restraint in their opposition, taking note of the language used in their affidavits.

This legal battle stretches back to 2012 when the Nagaland Assembly passed a resolution rejecting the implementation of the 33% reservation for women under Part IX-A of the Constitution. PUCL initiated the challenge in 2016, and although the assembly withdrew the resolution in November of the same year, resistance from tribal leaders persisted. Their opposition even manifested in violent protests aimed at impeding the progress of gender equality.

The Supreme Court’s unwavering stance in championing women’s rights and upholding constitutional principles in Nagaland highlights the significance of this case. It serves as a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for gender empowerment and the enforcement of constitutional mandates in the state.

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