Nepal has been toying with the concept of decentralisation since the time of late King Birendra. There was first the concept of the fourteen Anchals and the four, later five development regions with the idea that power should be transferred to the outlying parts of Nepal. Though the idea took root and the entities were formed the reality was that implementation did not occur for the simple reason that the Centre did not want to let go of the power that it had. It was but natural --- for after all, who wants to let go of authority that it has, be it to divest or even to lessen it. What must however be remembered as kattu satya is that ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely!’
We in Nepal have now reached a state when a relatively large number of the population, with perhaps no vested interests feel that this new attempt at Federalism is too costly for the country. The argument is that with all the Central and Pradesh representatives the cost has become too exorbitant and it is time to reduce the number of representatives at both the Central and Pradesh levels. This can easily be done without disturbing the system. Apparently in the present parliament the representation is such that there are about fifty-five husband plus wife pairs in place, as elected/nominated representatives. This situation is akin to ‘Pulling wool over the eyes of the people’. A double whammy advantage, for the concerned politicians! In Nepali terms it is simply ‘Afnu duno sojaeko’ and nothing more. A similar state of affairs is also likely to be present in the seven Pradesh assemblies. Such a state of affairs is of no benefit for Nepal for the obvious reason that each set of parliamentary couples are not likely to have varied options! Such a state of affairs is of no benefit to the country. Spouses must be obliged to fight elections, win to become representatives and rules must be made to forbid nomination of spouses. The present provision forbidding election losing candidates must also be rigorously implemented and no exceptions allowed! The nomination of spouses of elected representatives is an abuse of power but unfortunately this is not practice of not only the ruling party, but also of the opposing ones. It is simply, ‘Mili Juli Khaun’.
That there is difficulty in the implementation of federalism is shown by what is happening in the country. That there is disparity between what the politicians are saying and doing is shown by the conflict has come to the forefront between the Central and Pradesh 2 authorities. It must be noted too that this Pradesh government is the only one where the governing party does not have a majority and so can be confronted. The others six Pradesh governments are not in a position to speak against the Centre and thus toe the line. There is no doubt that there is some dispute in the sharing of power. Point one is regarding the administrative staff and who in fact should be posting them in the Pradesh. Another is about the use of forests and the products there from. Third is regarding the recruitment, posting and use of the police force. But, like elsewhere in the world, the Pradesh / provincial government and local authorities definitely have a right to decide on matters in the areas where they live as this is as per the constitution of the land. For example in India the law and order, education and health are state matters. The concerns and rights thus depend on the law of the land. The concept of Federalism is that the people decide what they want and how they want to do it themselves. They do not want people miles away to do so for them. The central claim that Singha Durbar has been shifted to the outskirts is not true. It has not happened. True we now have many Nagarpalikas and plans are afoot to bring about a number of Smart Cities across the length and breadth of Nepal. As per the decentralisation process, local authorities can raise or generate finances but it must be seen to and ensured is that money generated should be utilised for the welfare of the people. This will show that decentralisation can be of benefit to the people.
Thus the concept of federalism has to be supported but with the cutting down of the costs of representation. The present size of the electoral constituency should be doubled and the number on proportional representation (PR) seats should be reduced by half, thus ensuring that the ration of regular to PR seats remains the same. The authorities want to take charge of the law and order situation in their areas. If they are the elected authority, there is no reason what so ever that the Centre should be opposing this. After all this is the law of the land. A very disturbing aspect of the state of affairs in Nepal is that unless there is external support, we will probably not be in a position to hold the next country wide election.
What is instantly required is the trimming down of the oversized Parliamentary and Pradesh assemblies so that the country is in a position to finance it and not be dependent on external donors. All this will require amendments but they should be done properly and implemented. We do not want a repeat of the second amendment regarding the map when the newly stated fact is that it cannot even be taught to the students in the geography class! In conclusion, federalism has not been functioning in Nepal long enough to be labelled as not being suitable for us. Its workability or otherwise can only be pronounced after a longer period of trial.
The author is a retired medical doctor and writes fiction under the pen name of Mani Dixit also. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd