July Analysis: Federalism


Three Ministers from Janata Samajbadi Party took oath of the office. Photo: RSS.

Revival of question of federal Nepal has yet again emerged as a debate among the political parties, provincial government and people. With the upcoming federal and provincial elections, leaders of political parties have been pouring concerns on federalism being a bad decision for the country. Former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli expressed on July 27 the need to reconsider federalism, whereas, Chitra Bahadur KC from the Janamorcha political party demanded a complete dismissal of federal structure. On the other hand, police adjustment – an actual process to institutionalize federal structure – has been kept on hold by the federal government. Provincial government are concerned on federal government’s reluctance to hand over power to the sub-nationals even when mentioned in the constitution itself.

Timeline of Major Events

July 4Three Ministers from Janata Samajbadi Party took oath of the office; Minister Mohamma Ishtiyaq Rayi for Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Minister Pradiv Yadav for Ministry for Forest and Environment and Minister Mrigendra Singh Yadav for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.
July 6Resignation of Former Finance Minister Janardhan Sharma.
July 8Nepal Police and Province Police Operation, Supervision and Coordination Act, 2076 BS amendment bill was passed.
July 18Lumbini Province changed 4 of its Ministries’ names and scope.

Federalism: to Amend or to Dismiss?

People’s movement brought about changes in the government of Nepal, transforming the state from a unitary to a federal structure with the promulgation of the 2015 Constitution of Nepal. It was seen as a massive achievement for the people, establishing a decentralized structure. But the opposition to federalism from a group of people has arisen yet again appealing that federalism should be reviewed with many forefront leaders also lobbying for its dismissal. Arguments against federalism are that it has a “still centralized structure’, “was adopted only due to foreign pressure’, ‘a weak structure’, ‘redundant provincial government’, ‘federal government working against the fundamental principles of federalism’ have been at the centre of the argument. According to former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who fought for a federal structure of the government, “the issue of federalism dismissal is an effort from the people who are keen on re-establishing monarchy and will only lead to autocratic state”. Whereas, many from the opposition party – UML – have argued that it should be completely dismissed as Nepal cannot take the “burden of federalism”. Dissatisfaction of the provincial government and local government on power sharing and law formulation has once again raised questions on the prevalence of centralized mindset in the federal structure of government.

Any governmental structure is a medium to facilitate the people and provide them with required services, economic development and overall prosperity of the country. Citizens of the country have to discern whether the changes have helped achieve development in the country and guaranteed good governance in the government. It has been argued that 5 years of institutionalization of federalism has brought about slow progress in the country. Therefore, it is a reasonable stand to have federalism talks on the table and discuss strategies of improvement. However, a complete dismissal of the federal structure will only bring more political instability, expensive reformation, regression in 5 years of development in federalism and democracy and re-making of a constitution which may take many more years. Instead of turning Nepal into an experimental zone for various forms of government, it is essential now to identify and address the issues facing federalism – dissatisfaction of the provincial and local government, people’s concern, lack of good governance practices, decentralization of the government, improve upon exiting frameworks through conclaves, strengthening and implementing laws – retaining stability of the government, political consensus and healthy collaboration, co-ordination and co-existence of the three tiers of government to achieve progressive development.

Unfulfilled Police Adjustment Process

Police adjustment from the federal government has been in the pipeline since Nepal became a federal state. In the past, police adjustment process was stalled due to political instability caused by lack of dedicated laws, political crisis when former KP Sharma Oli attempted to dissolve the parliament and the national crisis brought on by the pandemic. As of now, all the provinces have their provincial police act in place, but are unable to implement it as police adjustment process has not been initiated by the federal government. The concern on police adjustment by the provincial governments was raised in a meeting of Ministers of all the 7 provinces in Janakpur Dham of the Madhes province. Following the agreement of 7-point declaration in the meeting, on July 8, provincial Ministers visited the capital to discuss police adjustment with the political leaders of ruling coalition.37 Even though, the meeting ended with assurance of the police adjustment would begin materializing soon, none of the province Ministers are confident in the fact that it will.

Schedule 6 of the Constitution of Nepal has provided for provincial police administration in managing law and order. The reluctance of federal government to go forward in police adjustment has held back provincial governments from playing a role in peace and security of the provinces and from implementing constitutional provisions, Nepal Police and Province Police Operation, Supervision and Coordination Act and provincial police act. Furthermore, the centralized mindset of the federal government not only goes against the principle of federalism but also demonstrates fear of provincial government exercising power through control over Nepal Police. Hence, all provinces have declared a protest against the federal government under the leadership of Madhes province. They have outlined the will to fight legal battles, if police adjustment is not initiated before the federal and provincial elections. The federal government needs to tread carefully, as protests amidst upcoming federal and provincial elections could cause a disruption to the process of election and jeopardize national security. Moreover, the apathetic attitude in police adjustment reflects badly on the will of federal government to institutionalize the police force according to federal structure and power and upholding the constitutional provisions.

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