Millennium Post

In the basket of 'special'

The dramatic revoking of the special status of J&K sent shock waves not only to Islamabad, but the Northeastern states were also left baffled. The state of Nagaland has been particularly alarmed following the August 5 event. A special status for J&K was also, in a manner, a reason for a possible bargain in the peace talks that are in the process for Nagaland. Some insight should provide clarity about the different 'special statuses' of some Indian states. The Indian Constitution grants special powers to 10 States. This comes under the powers from Article 368 through which the Parliament added a number of constitutional provisions under Article 371 to grant special powers and privileges to several other states. Just as Article 35A granted under Article 370 giving J&K a special status, Article 371 was brought in to create special provisions for Maharashtra and Gujarat (and subsequently other states). Both these Articles have existed since the time the Constitution was adopted in 1950. Article 371A bestows special powers to Nagaland under which the state can have its own administrative and legal mechanisms based on the Naga customary laws, and the right to carry on religious and local social practices, people have land ownership and the right to transfer property and other resources as per local practices. This provision includes special powers to the Governor to overrule CM's decision in a law and order situation. It was on the basis of this provision that the CM of Nagaland, Neiphiu Rio wrote to the Union Home Ministry this January after the Modi government's decision to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 (would not be applicable to Nagaland). With respect to the special status of other states, Article 371B, meant for Assam, is a provision as per which the President can bestow his powers on the state's Governor to set up a committee of the Legislative Assembly consisting members of the house elected from the tribal areas of the state. There is also Article 244A which was introduced in 1969; as per this, Assam was granted special powers to set up autonomous councils and this came in addition to the provisions granted to the tribal states of the Northeast under schedule VI of the Constitution. Article 371C came in with certain special provisions for Manipur under which, the President has the same right as in the case of Assam to form a committee of tribal MLAs through the Governor in addition to granting responsibility to submit an annual report to the President regarding the administration of the hill districts. It is based on this provision that the hill districts have a Hill Area Committee comprising elected tribal lawmakers. Article 371D and E are for Andhra Pradesh giving the President certain special powers over the state government including ensuring reservation in employment and education. Similarly, Article 371F is for Sikkim as per which it became an Indian state in 1975. Though elections to its Assembly were to be conducted every four years under this provision, it has already been flouted, leading to filing of a petition in the Sikkim high court early this year. Article 371G pertains to the formation of Mizoram as a state in 1986. This is very similar to Nagaland as this Constitutional provision provides the people of the border state similar rights over their customary laws, religious freedom, land rights, etc. Effecting any change to this provision would require a resolution of the Assembly. Article 371H is for Arunachal Pradesh, granting its Governor special powers on the state's law and order situation. He can overrule the CM's decision on the basis of this provision just as the Nagaland Governor can do under Article 371A. Further, under Article 371I, the Goa state Assembly has special powers to make laws on the sale and ownership of property.

With the scrapping of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Union Home Minister Amit Shah made an assuring remark in the Lok Sabha that "There can be no comparison between the two [Articles 370 and 371 of the Constitution]. And I want to assure all states, including the Northeast, that the Narendra Modi government has no intention to revoke Article 371," he said. J&K has been a constant subject of intense political drama and such a major decision pertaining to its hitherto 'special status' is certainly suspected to send out some semblance of a message to other states in similar positions, especially when the state Assembly of J&K was not involved in the process, as specified in the provisions. For Nagaland, this change with the Constitutional status of J&K has a special meaning, particularly concerning the special semi-autonomous status. Neingulo Krome, secretary-general of the Naga People's Movement for Human Rights, attributed this year's Naga independence day turnout to the situation in Kashmir, which he said, "has triggered a sense of wariness of the government's policy." The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) [NSCN (I-M)] has written to PM Modi that no "honourable solution" to the drawn-out Naga peace process could be arrived at without a "separate flag and a constitution". Talking of autonomy, it is the basic structure of the Constitution to be federal in nature and thus, each state is to anyhow have some degree of autonomy to exercise its powers for the welfare of its people. As far as conspicuous distinctions like a separate flag of a constitution go, these must not become instruments of inciting secessionist tendencies among the people. The states are empowered to deliver the best possible governance and any intervention by the Centre should only be with the purpose of resolving disputes.

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