Nagaland will implement 33% reservation for women in civic bodies, the state government told the Supreme Court on Tuesday, PTI reported.

Civic polls in the state have been held up since 2004 as women have not bene given reservation in municipal bodies as mandated by Article 243(T) of the Constitution. Tribal groups have argued that the reservation interfered with Naga customary laws and protections guaranteed to them under Article 371(A).

Under this provision, no act of Parliament that interferes with Naga customary laws or social and religious practices would apply to Nagaland unless the state Assembly passes a resolution allowing it. Each tribe is governed by a separate set of customary laws, but almost all of them had risen up against the reservation.

After the Nagaland government made the submission on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that there was no longer any impediment to holding elections with reservation for women candidates, reported Live Law. It asked the Nagaland Election Commission to inform the court about the schedule for the upcoming civic body elections.

Advocate General KN Balgopal said that the resolution was passed after a meeting was held on March 9 in compliance to the Supreme Court’s earlier orders. The meeting was attended by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and other stakeholders.

Balgopal told the court that it would take two months to complete the process for summary revision. The State Election Commission conducts summary revision to enrol eligible citizens as voters.

The advocate general submitted that seven town councils have been added and so it may take the government longer than what the State Election Commission was projecting for completing the process, Live Law reported.

The court was critical of the delay in holding the elections and said that the state is taking two steps forward and one step backwards. “Your own resolution says that as soon as electoral rolls are there, elections are to be held,” said the court, according to Live Law.

The matter has been listed for July.

The court had pulled up the Nagaland government for its delay in enforcing reservation for women, saying an “important aspect of gender equality seems to be getting postponed”, PTI reported.

In 2016, the court had ordered that elections be held, with one-third of the seats reserved for women, and the government had agreed.

However, as protests by tribal bodies against the women’s quota turned violent, several candidates withdrew their nominations. The state government and tribal bodies came to a compromise to postpone the elections.

Opposition by tribal bodies

Tribal bodies claim that reservation disrupts Naga customary law, distinct from state laws and protected under Article 371 (A) of the Constitution.

The current debate is rooted in the Nagaland Municipal Act of 2001, amended in 2006 to provide for 33% reservation for women in keeping with Article 243(T) of the Constitution. It also empowers municipal bodies to collect land and building taxes. Both provisions, tribal bodies argue, go against their customary laws.

For years now, the Naga Mothers Association, a civil society organisation, has been fighting a legal battle to implement reservation for women. In 2011, several of its leaders had formed the Joint Action Committee for Women’s Reservation.

In April 2016, the Supreme Court had admitted a special leave petition filed by the committee, challenging the constitutionality of a 2012 resolution by the Nagaland Assembly exempting the state from the reservation.

The Naga Mothers Association and other advocates of the women’s quota have contended that the 74th amendment of the Constitution, which provides for 33% reservation for women in municipalities, supersedes Article 371(A).

They have argued that exemptions under Article 371(A) extend only to Acts framed by Parliament, whereas the reservation flows from a constitutional amendment.