GUWAHATI: A ruling party MLA in Nagaland has sparked off a debate on what is considered the cornerstone in the unique status of the state.
Dr. Neikiesalie Nicky Kire of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) observed that Article 371(A) of the Constitution, which safeguards the customary rights of the Nagas, impedes the state’s development. Article 371(A) rules that land and its resources in the state belong to the people and not the government.
The MLA said cashing in on the provisions in Article 371(A), the landowners usually do not allow the government to carry out any development activities on their land.
“When they allow, not only do they demand a higher compensation, they also insist on being compensated for any damages caused to their property by natural disasters,” he said.
Pointing out that developmental activities are meant for the people, Kire appealed to the landowners to not bring in Article 371(A) in the way of development.
While Article 371(A) gives some protective rights to the Nagas, it also has its downsides. For instance, an individual in the state cannot avail of a bank loan by mortgaging his land or real estate property if it falls outside municipal areas where the government has not yet issued land “pattas”.
Scholar and president of opposition party Naga People’s Front (NPF), Shurhozelie Liezietsu, said it is natural that people will have varied opinions on Article 371(A).
“The land-holding system is different in Nagaland. The land here belongs to individuals. If the government wants to have a project somewhere, it has to either pay compensation or negotiate with the landowners on some conditions. However, I feel that doesn’t stand in the way of development,” he told Express.
Stating that any development that takes place is for the people, he said it all depends on how the government deals with the landowners.
The Naga Hoho, which is the state’s apex tribal organisation, however, did not dispute the NDPP MLA’s observation.
“There are certain things in Article 371(A) which need clarity. The state government has to come up with a detailed interpretation of the rights given to landowners. As the existing provisions are interpreted differently, the landowners are enjoying maximum privileges. This is the reason why the government cannot come up with developmental projects,” Naga Hoho president Chuba Ozukum said.
He said it was imperative that there is a serious debate on the rights of the landowners so the government could come up with the right interpretation.
The Nagas are governed by customary rights where a judgement passed by a village council is final and binding on people. To this day, most Nagas prefer to go to a customary court to a conventional one.
“One benefit of Article 371(A) is that the government cannot just take away our land. If it needs our land, it has to come to us. If we want, we will give it but by taking compensation,” said Sanen Pongen, chairman of Chuchuyimlang Village Council in Mokokchung district.
He said the government could easily solve the problem, being faced by people in rural Nagaland as regards availing of bank loan by mortgaging land, by issuing land pattas to them.