January Analysis: Federal Affairs

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In the front of Federal affairs, after a prolonged struggle, Province 2 has finally endorsed provincial name as ‘Madhes Province’ and Janakpur (Janakpurdham) as the capital city in January. Now, Province 1 is the only province of Nepal that still endorse the name of the province from the House. Similarly, January also recorded the lowest capital expenditure of the government in six months, compared to the last three years.

Timeline of major events in January

DateEvents
January 11The provincial Public Service Commission of Karnali Province advertises job vacancies for the provincial and local offices.
January 12Karnali Province Chief Tilak Pariyar summonses the winter session. 
January 12Political leaders organize protests demanding Birgunj as the capital city of Province 2.
January 14The federal government instructs the local government to set up vaccine and testing centres.
January 17Province 2 government declares provincial name ‘Madhes Province’ and Janakpur as the capital city.
January 18Madhes Province declares a public holiday on the occasion of the naming of the province. 
January 18Barju Rural Municipality in Sunsari refuses Chief District Officer’s instruction about the COVID-19 control.
January 25Karnali Province Chief Minister Jeevan Bahadur Shahi has publicized the property details.

Province 2 adopts the name ‘Madhes Province’

On January 17, after four years of the Provincial Assembly election, Province 2 has successfully set up the first identity-based provincial name ‘Madhes Province’ and Janakpur as the capital by a two-thirds majority in the Provincial Assembly. Province 2 government had tried several times to collect the majority in the provincial assembly, but the lack of consensus among the parties failed to come up with a provincial name. However, this time, 80 provincial members out of 90 voted in favor of ‘Madhes’ while 78 votes were cast in favor of Janakpur as capital.

During the vote, Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal, CPN-Maoist Centre, as well as the opposition, Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LOSPA) jointly supported the naming of Madhes Province. Despite being the opposition party in Madhes Province, LOSPA has supported the ruling party’s main agenda of identity-based rights. While Nepal Congress party had proposed provincial name ‘Mithila-Bhojpura’, CPN-Unified Socialist party and main opposition CPN-UML had jointly proposed provincial name ‘Janaki.’ However, Province 2 was named Madhes by two-thirds after receiving enough support from the leaders of the main opposition—CPN-UML.

The naming of the province courted criticism as people argued that provincial names could not be retained based on identity. Province 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 had been named as Bagmati, Gandaki, Lumbini, Karnali, and Sudurpaschim respectively, based on names of rivers and historical places. However, identity-based politics is one of the important aspects of Nepal’s federalism. The identity-based provincial name, Madhes Province represents the people’s identity, society, and culture which reflects the real practice of identity-based federalism.

Debate over the name of Madhes Province

While most Madhesi people and political leaders have welcomed the name of the province, it has invited mixed reactions from opinion makers, social media, civil society, and political leaders. Madhes Province even declared a public holiday on January 18 to celebrate the naming of the province. According to analysts, Madhesis have accepted the provincial name as a partial achievement from Madhes movements. The Madhesi community had organized the Madhes movement in different stages (as the first, second, and third movements in 2007, 2008, and 2015 respectively) for better recognition and representation of their identity. Thus, Madhes-based political leaders have also accepted the becoming of Madhes Province as a by-product of the Madhes movement.

Chief Minister Lal Babu Raut at an event. Photo: RSS

One Madhes, One Pradesh (Ek Madhesh, Ek Pradesh) had been the agenda of Madhes-based political parties since the first Madhes Movement in 2007. However, the agenda had been abandoned due to interparty tension among Madhes based parties and leaders. Similarly, in 2015, the demand for ‘One Madhes Two Pradesh’ began to gain ground amidst protests against the newly promulgated constitution which resulted in the carving out of two provinces in Madhes—one from Jhapa to Parsa and another from Chitwan to Kanchanpur. Tharu people and leaders had also demanded a separate Tharuwan Province in western Nepal during the 2015 protests, and the Tikapur incident. However, Tharus still await their justice.

While, some politicians from Madhes claim that the naming of the Madhes Province is an achievement in giving the sense of implementation of federalism. However, other Madhesi leaders say that the agenda of a Madhes movement was to have a province represent Madhesis of the 22 districts. They say that the fight for such a province shrunk 14 districts and then to only eight which caused greater damage politically and geographically.

Poor Capital Budget Expenditure

The government has spent the lowest capital budget of 13.44 percent in past six months compared to the last three fiscal years. Furthermore, the Minister for Finance, Janardhan Sharma’s announcement to spend 10% capital budget in the first three months and then 10% each month at any cost triggered debates but the government failed to meet even half of its target. Despite Minister Sharma’s attempts to gather with other minsters several times for an effective budget implementation, the government has failed to spend capital budget due to delayed implementation, budget holidays, and political tension.

The budget implementation has also been affected by the delays in the formation of the provincial cabinets due to political instability. All seven provincial governments have been taking a long time for cabinet expansion due to government changes in the last two to three months. For instance, Karnali provincial government has not yet been able to expand the cabinet. Despite, Jeevan Bahadur Shahi being appointed as Chief Minister on November 3, 2021, Karnali Province is still depending on the centre for the cabinet expansion. Prior to his appointment, the position lay vacant for a long period of time which has also impacted the budget expenditure and effective governance. The lack of proper budget implementation harms development sectors, which requires the attention of the leaders, representatives, government, and other concerned bodies.

Similarly, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has expressed concern over the growing corruption and irregularities in the country. The commission has received the highest number of corruption and irregularities-related complaints from the local government. In the fiscal year 2020-21, the commission had received 14,425 such complaints. The CIAA also claimed that most of the local level resources are mobilized by the consumer committees. Thus, pointing out that one of the major causes of increase in irregularities was from the consumer committees. Recently, a team of the CIAA raided Pipara Rural Municipality of Mahottari, from where the commission had received 32 complaints about irregularities. This is an example of a local level corruption. However similar corruption and irregularities are found in all tiers of the government, adversely affecting the economy of the country. Furthermore, lack of proper monitoring of staffs and local representatives’ is also a cause for rampant corruption.

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