The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed a Nagaland government order cancelling local body polls which were scheduled to be held with a 33% quota for women in May, Bar and Bench reported.

On March 30, the Nagaland government had asked the State Election Commission to cancel the polls giving in to opposition from tribal groups against the women’s quota. It has been almost two decades since Nagaland last held urban body elections.

Tribal groups have contended that reservation for women is against Naga customary laws. “Women’s political culture was never there in traditional Naga society,” they claimed in a recent letter to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.

Also read: In Nagaland, tribal groups force cancellation of civic polls with reservations for women – yet again

On Wednesday, Justice Sanjay Kaul said in an oral observation that cancelling the elections amounts to contempt of court.

The court is hearing a plea challenging a resolution passed in the Nagaland Assembly in September 2021 that exempted the state from implementing the Constitutional provision which makes 33% reservation for women mandatory in civic bodies.

At a hearing in March, the State Election Commission had told the court that the polls will be held on May 16, with women’s quota, Live Law reported. The court had directed that the election schedule should not be altered at any cost.

A month later, the Nagaland government had told the court that it would hold the polls with the women’s quota. But in March, the government ceded to demands of tribal groups to cancel the polls.

The case will next be heard on April 17.

The urban local bodies elections have been a controversial subject in Nagaland politics for years now. In 2017, an attempt to hold them ended in violence, forcing TR Zeliang, the chief minister at the time, to resign.

The bone of contention is a constitutional amendment of 1993 that made it mandatory for 33% of the seats in a municipal body to be reserved for women.

However, when the Nagaland government – then run by the Congress – passed the Municipal and Town Council Act in 2001, laying down the provisions for municipality elections in the state, it made no mention of the reservation for women.

The state’s first urban body polls, which took place in 2004 according to the Act, did not comply with the constitutional quota mandate.