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Rio recasts Article 371A

New Delhi, Dec. 7: Nagaland seems bent on redefining its special status by subtly using Article 371A for oil and natural gas exploration and to limit the powers of its governor.

Serious differences have arisen between the state and the Centre and a logjam continues between the state government and governor Ashwani Kumar in the wake of chief minister Neiphiu Rio’s persistent assertions on the state’s “rights”.

Rio has raised two issues: Right to oil and gas exploration and amendment to Rules of Executive Business to carry out transfer and postings of officers without consulting the governor, compelling the mandarins at North Block to pour over the Constitution all over again.

In 2010, the state had framed its own legal framework to assert its right to explore oil and natural gas found in Nagaland, citing ownership of “land and resources” mentioned in Article 371A.

Earlier this year, home and petroleum ministries told Nagaland that oil exploration remains the Centre’s domain. Rio promptly consulted tribal leaders, citing Article 371A and rights promised in the 16-point Agreement signed between Naga People’s Convention and the Centre in 1960. While this stalemate continued, Rio opened another flank, unsettling New Delhi again.

The state government recently wrote to the governor, saying it wanted to do away with the convention of consulting the governor before transfers, postings and promotions.

Kumar responded, apparently after consultation with the Centre, that it would violate the Constitution.

Once again, Rio went to tribal chiefs.

State home minister G. Kaito Aye said they wanted to determine the promotions themselves but also wanted to win the confidence of the governor. “There are no differences as such,” he added.

On the matter of oil exploration, Aye said the state did not intend to have a confrontation but would want wider consultations with the Centre.

A senior government official here alleged, “The chief minister is piggybacking the mundane on emotive issues.”

Rio has hired a battery of lawyers in New Delhi and is ready to re-interpret the meaning of Article 371.