A historic peace accord between Naga groups and the government that promised an end to India’s longest-running insurgency may get derailed if the Centre went ahead with the auction of oil blocks in Nagaland, chief minister TR Zeliang has told Hindustan Times.
The CM said his government would write to the Centre, rejecting the auction of oil fields held by public sector firms in the past, as they were now controlled by Nagaland under a 2012 state policy and were already allotted to private companies.
“We understand the modalities of the accord are being finalised and believe land and resources would be one of the subject matter in the negotiations. So, when the matter is on the table for final settlement, it is not wise for the government to go ahead with the auction of oil blocks in Nagaland,” said Zeliang.
The details of the peace deal signed between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah) in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month, are still being finalised and haven’t been made public yet.
The state government is keenly following the process as there is no clarity yet on what is in store for it in the final agreement, said sources.
“If the Centre goes ahead with the auction of oil blocks in the state, it will cast a doubt in the minds of the Naga people. They will think if the government cannot honour its existing agreement on ‘land and resources’ with the state, what will be the fate of the new agreement,” Zeliang said.
Nagaland is forecast to have 600 million tonne of oil and natural gas reserves, which, if fully exploited, could boost India’s onshore oil and gas production by 75%.
The state government took over oil fields abandoned by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in 1994 — due to protests by Naga groups — under a 2012 rule that has been opposed by the Union petroleum ministry.
Though oil exploration is usually governed by the Centre, Nagaland drafted its own policy — The Nagaland Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulations — in 2012 to wrest control over oil. For this, it used Article 371-A of the Constitution that guaranteed no central law pertaining to “land and its resources” would apply to Nagaland, unless the state’s assembly ratified it.
The special provision was inserted in the Constitution as part of an agreement between Nagagroups and the central government at the time of the state’s formation in 1963.
The Union cabinet last week approved a policy of auctioning oil fields held by government-owned ONGC and Oil India Limited, that couldn’t be exploited for many years.
Two oil fields in Nagaland figured in the list of 69 fields identified to be auctioned under the ‘Marginal Fields Policy’, triggering an adverse reaction from the CM.
The ministry of petroleum and natural gas has opposed the state’s rules since the erstwhile UPA regime.
“The state’s rules have no legal sanctity,” a top petroleum ministry official told HT. “Our interpretation of Article 371-A is that it gives the state assembly veto power to deny the implementation of central acts related to land and resources but does not give it power to make new legislation on the subjects. However, we can still discuss the issue and wait for a final solution,” he said.
Home ministry sources also said the Naga peace process and the auctioning of oil fields were two different issues.
One was a national security concern while the other related to centre-state economic ties. The two shouldn’t be connected, they said.
Zeliang however insisted land and its resources were the most important issues to be considered in the peace agreement. “Naga people cannot compromise with the sovereignty over land and its resources,” he said.