Resource rift

Between Nagaland, centre

By Nitin Sethi
Published: Wednesday 15 October 2003

the simmering tension between Nagaland and the Union government over the state's mineral wealth has reached boiling point. On September 3, Nagaland chief minister (cm) Neiphiu Rio publicly demanded that the centre respect the constitution in letter and in spirit.

Addressing a press conference in Kohima, the cm expressed concern about the Union government's intention to bring the state under the purview of the Mining Development and Regulation Act, 1957. In doing so, the centre would usurp the state's power to decide which areas to mine and whom to lease them to. The Nagaland government contends that the state belongs to a special category. Furthermore, its Nagaland (Ownership and Transfer of Land and its Resources) Act, 1990, stipulates that central agencies can begin mining only with the state's approval.

Rio wants the centre to review the action taken report on the Sarkaria Commission on interstate relations as well because the Union government's representation is "faulty". The panel, according to Lal Thora, the state's secretary for geology and mining, has also asked the two governments to resolve the mining issue mutually. The cm says: "It's surprising that when the interstate council has agreed with the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations, the Union government's department of mines should dismiss them."

The argument hinges upon the interpretation of the constitution and the definition of the very word "resources". It is noteworthy that Article 371 a of the constitution empowers the state assembly to make laws regarding religious practices, land and resources. But sources in the Union government assert that the mining act was enacted in 1957 and precedes the adoption of the article in 1963. They claim that since the article cannot be implemented retrospectively, it can't overrule the act which gives the centre overriding powers.

Astoundingly, the Union government insists that only that matter which is found above the surface of the ground can be classified as resources. Minerals are, therefore, conveniently omitted from the definition. Highlighting legal experts' views on the issue, Thora maintains that even they feel the Union government is "vitiating the spirit of the constitution". At the same time, he admits that the centre has made a minor concession: "It has given Nagaland an additional royalty of two per cent on oil extracted in the state."

Meanwhile, observers opine that what is being made out to be a struggle for the state's rights is nothing but a scramble for control over lucrative business. While Rio may have made his point during the last interstate council meeting at Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, the final word has yet to come on the issue. Watch this space.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.