Over the past seven months, Nagaland and the Centre have been at loggerheads over the right to explore and excavate oil and natural gas there. Senior Naga leaders believe the issue could derail an already tottering dialogue between the NSCNs and the government.
The state has been citing Article 371 A, which gives it a special status similar to that enjoyed by Jammu and Kashmir. It states, “Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, no Act of Parliament in respect of religious or social practices of the Nagas, Naga customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law, ownership and transfer of land and its resources, shall apply to the State of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides.”
The petroleum ministry, on the other hand, has been citing the Mines and Minerals Regulation and Development Act, 1957, which brings oil and gas excavation and the awarding of blocks under the purview of the Centre. The Nagaland government insists the special status means land and all its resources, including oil and gas, belong to the state exclusively.
Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily wrote to the Nagaland government this year asking it to withdraw the Nagaland Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulations and Rules, notified on December 7 last year. The notification had followed a July 2010 resolution passed unanimously in the assembly: “All previous actions and decisions on oil exploration in the state of Nagaland are treated as cancelled and new modalities be framed by the state.” By the time the union minister’s letter came, Nagaland had invited expressions of interest for oil and gas exploration; by now, it has shortlisted seven companies.
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio told The Indian Express he feels the letter is the result of pressure from oil lobbies losing out in the bidding. ONGC was in Nagaland from 1982 to 1994, said T R Zeliang, Nagaland’s mining minister, who met Moily in July to explain the state’s position. He told The Indian Express ONGC wound up operations in Nagaland following an agitation led by the Naga Students’ Union.
In 2009, Nagaland set up a cabinet subcommittee to look into Article 371 A in the context of oil resources. After the assembly resolution, the government sent a copy to the ministry.
Interpreting 371 A
In March 2011, an unstarred question was raised in the Lok Sabha on the ownership