Ramping Up Transparency

Moa Jamir

Widespread access key to Nagaland Municipal Elections

With remarkable alacrity, the Nagaland Municipal Act (NMA) 2023 swiftly passed through the Nagaland Legislative Assembly on November 9, 2023, gaining the Governor’s assent and being promptly notified in the official gazette on the very same day. The urgency, perhaps, fuelled by a hearing concerning the matter in the Supreme Court on November 10.

In January, the Government announced the appointment of the State Election Commissioner. According to the NMA Act 2023, the responsibility for the ‘superintendence, direction, and control of the preparation of electoral rolls for and the conduct of all elections to the Municipal Council or Town Council’ lies with the State Election Commission (SEC). This role differs from that of the Chief Electoral Officer, responsible for conducting Assembly and Parliamentary Elections, under the Election Commission of India.

On April 29, the SEC announced the ‘Election Programme' for the upcoming general elections to 3 Municipal Councils and 36 Town Councils in Nagaland, with immediate enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). The elections are scheduled to take place on June 26, with the counting of votes and declaration of results set for June 29. Thereafter, on May 6, the SEC appointed all the Deputy Commissioners in Nagaland as "Revising Authorities" under their respective districts on behalf of the Commission under the Nagaland Municipal Election Rules 2023 with the mandate to handle any potential revision applications received in connection with the scrutiny of nominations for the ensuing polls.

Following years of deadlock, the rapid progression of these events is notable and commendable. As discussed in this column last week, the upcoming elections hold immense significance. Hence, it is crucial that the elections are carried out with utmost integrity and transparency by all stakeholders involved, especially the SEC entrusted with overseeing the process. 

However, the limited availability of information in the public domain thus far fails to instil confidence. 

For example, the NMA 2023 itself has yet to be uploaded to the Nagaland State Portal. Additionally, the notification on the Act is absent from Nagaland’s Department of Printing & Stationery’s e-gazette, which is made available in the public domain, despite the publication of a notification and the Nagaland Municipal (Bill) 2023 on November 15, 2023. Moreover, the

Directorate/Department of Municipal Affairs, established in 2015 to oversee Municipal Councils and Town Councils, appears not to have a website. Similarly, the Urban Development Department's website, listed on the official State portal, is moribund at best.

Most notably, despite the prompt notification of the NMA 2023 and the establishment of the SEC, it is critical to highlight that the Commission still lacks a website, and information regarding its mandate is severely limited. Wide access to such information is crucial for all stakeholders. 

For instance, what are the Nagaland Municipal Election Rules 2023 or MCC? Additionally, understanding the structure of the SEC, outlining its roles, functions, election conduct rules, and other pertinent aspects is essentials. With the clear lack of information, it is unclear whether the SEC operates as a single-person entity or otherwise. Regrettably, much of the general public remains uninformed. This lack of knowledge necessitates a reliance on sporadic one-way notifications, without any apparent means of cross-checking, clarification, or other consideration. It also acts as an impediment to meaningful engagement in the democratic process.

Hence, to uphold the integrity and transparency of the electoral process, it's imperative for authorities to prioritise the swift dissemination of relevant information regarding the NMA 2023, the conduct of urban local bodies (ULBs) elections, and the functioning of the SEC. This could include establishing a website for the SEC and ensuring that all pertinent documents are readily available to the public.

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