The Meghalaya government Friday set in abeyance the first-ever municipal elections in its three districts of Garo Hills following violent protests from the Joint Action Committee (JAC) against the polls in the last 72-hours.
“The government has decided to adjourn the elections to the four municipal boards in view of the prevailing law and order situation in Garo Hills,’ Chief Electoral Officer Prashant Naik said.
Elections in the Tura, Williamnagar, Baghmara and Resubelpara municipal boards were supposed to be held Friday (October 29), in the face of the JAC decision to continue with its shutdown till October 30. ‘New dates to conduct the civic polls will be decided by the government at an appropriate time after the region returns to normalcy,’ Naik said.
The shutdown began Wednesday, witnessed violent protest with suspected JAC supporters set on fire government and private vehicles, taxation, agriculture office and two wooden road bridges in the three districts. Protesters also set on fire a Congress party office in Williamnagar, the district headquarters of East Garo Hills.
On Thursday night, a senior magistrate, who is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Tura Municipal Board (TMB) Tangseng G Momin, was beaten up by the public at Tura Government College in West Garo Hills district.
Garo Hills region remained cut-off with the rest of the country in view of the shutdown. The JAC opposed the holding of civic polls to the Tura, Williamnagar, Baghmara and Resubelpara municipal boards, fearing the elections would dilute the power and functions of the Nokma - the clan head of the village.
On August 27, 2004, the government conducted civic polls to the Resubelpara Municipal Board. However, courts declared the polls null and void as these were not held in conformity with the provisions of section 15A of the Meghalaya Municipal Act.
‘They cancelled the municipal polls at the eleventh hour after seeing the mass opposition to hold the elections which is highly unconstitutional,’ JAC spokesman Tengsak G. Momin said.
He said the elections to the four municipal boards were illegal and it tantamount to violation of the Sixth Schedule of the constitution as it would erode the function and powers of the Nokmas -- clan head of the village. Charles G. Momin, secretary of the Nokma Council, said the council will not co-operate with the government in elections until and unless their demands are met. Some of their demands were that all Nokmas under the municipal area should be made the ward committee members and some of them as ward commissioners, and all members and commissioners ought to be only from the Garo community.
Urban Affairs Minister Prestone Tynsong, earlier, said the primary objective in holding the civic polls is to provide people with an elected body in the four municipal boards of the Garo Hills. Meanwhile, the three districts in Garo Hills continue to be paralyzed with the JAC waiting for an official communiqué from the government stating that the elections stand cancelled.
Tribal chief abducted
A tribal chief has been abducted by suspected militants of Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) cadre in South Garo Hills district of Meghalaya. The police said the incident took place yesterday when the heavily-armed militants entered the residence of Nokma (tribal chief) in Riangshi village in South Garo Hills district.
Puni Sangma, aged 48, was taken from the house by a group of 5–7 armed men. The police based at Borsora police station got the information and rushed to the village and conducted a thorough inquiry in the matter. The GNLA is suspected to be behind the abduction, the police said.
Earlier, on September 30, GNLA cadre had abducted the District Transport Officer (DTO) of East Garo Hills district, R Syngkon from his official quarter in Williamnagar.
Syngkon is still untraced.