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Being an issue embedded with the constitution writing and ongoing peace process in general, the task of state restructuring has become one of the complicated issues in Nepal. Deliberations have been taking place on the issue for long. The commission formed for providing suggestions on state restructuring has already submitted its report, which has also been deliberated at the Constituent Assembly. However, differences still exist between stakeholders regarding the bases of restructuring and number of states. In this background, INFORMAL had collected views from the members of the Constituent Assembly by asking a range of questions concerning different facets of state restructuring. Excerpt:
Ram Krishna Chitrakar
CA Member, NC
We have been preparing for federal mode of state restructuring. The process is meant to empower people socially and economically. The unitary state mechanism long practiced in the country resulted in poverty, underdevelopment, and backwardness among people. So, people are hopeful that state restructuring will transform them economically, socially and culturally. The end result of state restructuring should be economic prosperity. Hence, undermining economic aspect will make people disappointed again. Besides, the restructuring will provide special focus on identity and capabilities.
So far as re-consolidating the existing structure of state as an alternative to the proposed restructuring is concerned, the former is not likely to meet the expectation of people. We had also thought of acknowledging the principle of devolution. Similarly, we could not run administration properly under the decentralization process; basically, we were unable to implement the process well. Although the central authority has allocated power to the local bodies, practice is not satisfactory. Sticking to the idea of decentralization and advocating for it, now, is to sound as though one is against federalism. State cannot backtrack from adopting federal system but debates and discussions can take place as to which form of federalism to adopt. We have envisioned three tiers of state mechanism clearly.
Capability should be the main focus of state restructuring. The economic opportunities, availability of natural resources and their utilization, and, ultimately, the ethnic identities are also embedded with capability. Likewise, the socio-cultural identities also fall under the ethnic identities. The Nepali Congress (NC) has not accepted the notion that state should be restructured on ethnic basis. Hence, I also do not believe in ethnic-based state restructuring.
As the federal state structure has already been a political, constitutional and national agenda, the NC is determined that Nepal now has to go for it. We cannot retreat from the decision. Identity and capability have to be the main issue while demarcating states. So, demarcation cannot be possible on the ethnic basis. In the meantime, all the socio-cultural and economic groups will have to be able to feel ownership under the new structure.
The NC is doing homework for taking its official view on the subject down to the lower level of its party structure. However, the party has not taken final decision regarding it. State restructuring being a very complex and sensitive issue, we have been sticking to debates and discussions internally. The issue demands ample deliberations. We have been organizing meetings at the regional and national level however, I, personally, do not think that we have sufficient deliberation toward this end.
We failed to form State Restructuring Commission as per the spirit of the constitution. Experts were required to be commissioned for this process. As the issue as such demands intensive technical knowledge, we had envisioned a commission for the purpose. However, we committed mistake by forming commission based on political quotas. The commission, so, produced its report as per the interest of political parties, that too on the basis of majority and minority votes of the members of the commission. The report of the commission made the debate on restructuring further complex. Three are so many differences on the issues included in the report of the state restructuring Committee of the Constituent Assembly and the commission formed for the purpose. The NC is not ready to accept the main intent of the commission that state should be restructured on ethnic basis.
Krishna Prasad Sapkota
CA Member, CPN(UML)
Nepal, so far, has centralized state structure, which has to be decentralized. However, it is preparing to go for federal state structure now. The types of federalism vary worldwide and they have their own norms. The advocates of democracy have to consider first as to what makes people stronger. So, we are seeking for a system in this regard. I personally feel that subsidiarity principle is the best in this connection. The idea under the principle is that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. Direct democracy, local democracy and participatory democracy are the main dimensions of democracy. We are in need of a democratic system that includes all these components and in which people will also get opportunities to partake in the state mechanism. They will be able to make decision for themselves and will feel autonomy.
Based on the subsidiarity principle, there need strong local governments with legislative, executive and judicial power. These bodies will have to have the authority of taxation and distribution of revenue as well as the rights to language and culture. Those works that are not under the capacity of the local governments will have to be carried out by the state or central government. The authorities being used by line agencies at the district level under present structure have to come under the local governments so that people will not have to travel afar seeking for government services. This only will materialize New Nepal, as the phrase as such has been hyped.
As people have already started to think in a broader manner in relation to localization of government services, the existing state structure cannot be given continuity. We are in need of local governments to which people will have easy access in their day to day life.
As ethnic basis is not a permanent issue, I am for the restructuring of state on geographical bases. The cross-cultural marriage and the mobility and migration of people are increasing over time. Hence, the pattern of settlement in the country will speedily alter in the days to come. So, state should be demarcated in a democratic way but ethnic based restructuring may not be democratic. Because it was based on single caste and ethnic based pattern of governance, we ousted monarchy from the country. We, now, have to go for a system in which all categories of people will be able to reach the governance through competition. Hence, our endeavors should be concentrated as to eliminating different forms of disparities existing in the country. These disparities are based on class, gender, region, religion and ethnicity. We have been discussing welfare and socialist state system for the purpose.
The ethnic based state restructuring should be avoided. Such the restructuring is likely to invite irresistible problems and nuisances in future. Unlike in other countries where different categories of people were not bestowed with political rights simultaneously, Nepalis were empowered with their rights concurrently regardless of their identities. No particular ethnic groups were responsible to oppress other groups but it was due to the autocratic rule of the time that some groups were benefitted better than others. The disadvantaged groups that are the result of autocracy should be empowered and constitution should be written accordingly. However, demarcating states on ethnic basis is not acceptable. Also, the ethnic based state restructuring does not match with reality of Nepal. We have seen the examples from the countries having ethnic based state structure. Nigeria and Ethiopia, which have been facing so many problems, can be examples in this connection. Rather, the pace of development is believed to be faster through cultural intermingling; the USA can be an example in this connection.
The UCPN-Maoist seems to be advocating for ethnic based restructuring but, in practice the party is not for it. Their rhetoric and reality has discrepancies.
When we juxtapose state restructuring with constitution writing, the former becomes a vital issue. This matter is related to our country’s progress, development and bright future. For the quality life of citizenry, their proximity with the administrative authorities is essential. State restructuring has to focus on it and the process should be meant for the decentralization of power in the truest sense. State restructuring is necessary also for competition. People, under federal system, will have opportunities to compare the situation of developments in each other’s’ states.
The CPN-UML has not made any official decision on the issue so far. However, principally, the party has been discussing identity and capabilities. Identity is more than ethnic issue; historicity, continuity and geography are also the part of it. So, majority of voices in the party is against ethnic based state restructuring. Discussions and debates on the issue have not been organized at the party level. The party’s federal affair department had conducted a study in this connection. The district level representatives from all development regions were the participants in the study. It is not known to what extent the district representatives circulated the idea down to the lower level. The representatives in the meeting had underscored the need of going for federal structure on the basis of geography.
Political parties are with differences as to the basis of demarcating states. Should they fail to converge on the issue, it is sure, new constitution cannot be written even within the extended period. Practically, however, circumstances are compelling us to come together for the cause. So, I don’t think it will be too difficult to converge on the issue.
The report submitted by the State Restructuring Commission is not appropriate. The CPN-UML has already stated that the report is unacceptable. Personally, I have the same view. The report submitted by the Commission will not be implemented. For reaching consensus on state restructuring, first of all, democratic norms, values, and social justice should be the basis. This only will assure forward-looking restructuring of the state. Similarly, agreements should also be reached for eliminating class, caste, gender and regional discriminations and disparities. Convergence of the political stakeholders in these matters, I think, will provide right direction for the country.
CA Member, Sadbhawana Party (Anandidevi)
Federal system of governance should be based on the principle of equality in such a way that no particular region or state will be governed by other regions and states, that no particular groups with their distinct identities will be governed by other groups and identities and that no region or state will be a colony of other region or state. The federal structure has to be established keeping these issues in mind.
Based on the treand of settlement and migration, several factors have to be considered while demarcating states. Geography, capability, identity and the availability of resources are some of the factors. However, given the weak economy of the country, imposition of burdensome taxation on people and heavy reliance on remittance, establishing too many states will not be supportive in sustaining federal system. So, we have been reiterating that only a total of three states viz. Tarai, Pahad and Himal should be established. However, there can also exist sub-states based on language, culture and similar dynamics. If it is difficult to reach agreement in this way, two states in Tarai and Pahad each along with one separate Rajdhani state could be the other option. As is the case with the hilly region, Madhes is also full of different linguistic and cultural groups. If we are ready to have two states in such diverse situation of Tarai region, why should we go for more than two states in the hilly region? Hence, Provisioning a total of 5 states is suitable. The slogan of One Madhes, One State has been reiterated also due to the fact that Madhes has been colonized so far. Such the slogan was started for ending colonial type of governance. As it provides political power for the people of Tarai, we have been advocating for One Madhes, One State slogan. The slogan as such, however, has been understood by some as disintegrating move. Nobody from Tarai is interested to pose threat to integrity of the country.
Ethnic autonomy is against democratic system so we are not in favor of this concept. Ethnic based and identity based issues are not synonymous. I don’t think constitution will be promulgated through consensus. Rather, it is possible that constitution will be produced based on agreement reached between three major political parties.
Abhishek Pratap Singh
CA Member, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, Nepal
The Nepali State should be restructured based on identity and capabilities. This is my personal and party’s view. Besides being based on identity and capabilities, a mechanism should be made through which disadvantaged and excluded groups have to be given proper attention. The international practice should also be considered while demarcating states. As it will create conflict and will also not be feasible in our context,
restructuring can never be possible on ethnic basis. Nepal is too diverse in terms of ethnicities. Hence, identity and capabilities can be the best bases of state restructuring in such a situation.
The UCPN-Maoist party is advocating for ethnic based state restructuring. However, we should understand that advocacy can be possible even on wrong issue. My party is for an autonomous Madhes state. Autonomy and devolution of power is the top most agenda of the party, which is of the view that power should be devolved following the establishment of federal system. Madhesis’ demand for One Madhes One State is construed by the rulers as an unwanted and disintegrating demand. However, the people from Tarai are more anxious about the integrity of the country than the people from hilly region are. Also, if one can convince us with proper logic on why our demand is wrong, we can be flexible on the issue. The demand for autonomous Madhes state is backed by the voices from the grassroots people in Tarai. The North- South demarcation of states might be unnatural and unacceptable for some, ultimately leading to civil strife in the country.
The State Restructuring Commission should have been formed earlier. The report submitted by the commission is unacceptable even to the parties that commissioned members. The report is full of discrepancies and is impractical in the meantime.
It will be hypothetical to state right now on whether or not new constitution having the provision of federalism will be written in time. However, we have been experiencing that conspiracies are being hatched against timely promulgation of new constitution. Attempts are being made against writing a constitution that stipulates federal state mechanism whereas such the constitution is necessary to guarantee the rights of different groups that have been deprived of their rights so far. Similarly, peace process has to go along with constitution writing process. Country has to get a clear access now toward economic growth through political stability. Dilly-dallying will be for the benefit of none. Concluding the ongoing peace process and writing all-satisfying constitution are the two major challenging tasks of Nepal now.
Views collected by Ramesh Prasad Timalsina
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