Nepali Times
Constitution Supplement
Division of sovereignty


National People's Front is the only political party that is not advocating federalism in Nepal. Although the interim constitution of 2006 declared that Nepal will be a federal republic without the matter being referred to the constituent assembly, it will be very difficult to implement that provision.

There are already major differences in the models proposed by the political parties. Some support creating the federal structure along geographical lines, while others want it according to ethnicity. The proposal put forward by the Madhesi community of One Madhes is not acceptable to the Tharu.

It has to be understood that federalism will not work in a country that is lagging behind economically. The idea of federalism did not come forward through Jana Andolan, but was drilled into people's heads by foreign powers.

Many marginalised communities in Nepal probably supported the idea of federalism because they thought it would finally address their grievances. Instead of coming up with policies to better the situation of various castes, ethnicities and women, leaders are playing politics with identity.

Take India as an example. There many states were created along ethnic lines. There are Punjabi chief ministers in Punjab, Bengali in West Bengal and yet, none of them has helped alleviate the plight of the people they represent. Even at the federal state level, the power is class-based. There are classes even inside castes and ethnicities. Whether the power is with Tamang, Tharu or Newar, those with influence will still govern the poor.

There is no doubt that these groups were discriminated against for decades. But instead of dividing the country under a federal system, it is much better to opt for a unitary government with democratic decentralisation so that self-governance is also encouraged.

Nepal consists of more than 100 ethnic groups. Carving out states based on a handful of ethnicities will only marginalise other minorities. Drawing up the map by ethnicity will not end grievances. Who's to say that in the future minority ethnicities won't rise up and ask for their separate province, prompting communal violence?

There's also a misconception amongst women that a federal state will address the issues of oppression and discrimination of women. Nepali women are oppressed not because of one person or group but because of the patriarchal social structure.

One Madhes is a very tricky demand. Madhesis do not want a federal system, they simply want an end to centuries of discrimination. The Madhes needs a movement against not just the feudal decision-making state mechanism, but also local jamindars.

There are many Pahadi Nepalis who have been terrorised and killed in the Tarai. Such actions will have a long-term impact on national integrity. The Tarai has many languages, cultures, traditions and religions and it will be very dangerous to promote the Madhesh as one autonomous body.

For a country like Nepal that lies between India and China division into many autonomous groups is even more dangerous. Some may form alliances with India, while others may become close to China. They may only limit trading and other relations between themselves, while the rest of the country is deprived and suffers.

Mina Pun is a CA member of National People's Front Party

Naturally Nepal

Protecting the natural environment is protecting the nation


With such a high percentage of Nepalis totally dependent on the land for survival, a healthy environment and continued supply of natural resources are vital. Faced with the reality of prolonged droughts, unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change is making already vulnerable Nepalis even more vulnerable.

Activists are now pushing for environmental rights to be enshrined as a fundamental right in the new constitution. The Constitutional Committee has received the draft on environment, climate change, natural resources management, sustainable use of natural resources and risk minimisation of natural disasters, prepared by the Supplementary Subjects and Inter Committee Coordination Sub Committee of the Natural Resource Management Committee of the CA.

The draft proposes that environmental issues be included in the preamble to the constitution with the line pledging 'sustainable conservation, utilisation and equal distribution of resources for economic, social and cultural transformation as well as for conservation of nature and creatures.'

The draft also specifies the fundamental rights of indigenous communities, women, Dalits and marginalised communities over land, energy and natural resources.

In the Interim Constitution 2007 the universal right to a clean environment was set out for the first time. Article 16 (1) states, 'Every person shall have the right to live in a clean environment.'

But such rights cannot be ensured unless the natural environment and ecological system are healthy in the first place. The IUCN's executive country director Narayan Belbase says environmental rights should be in the constitution because they are so vitally linked with human existence.

Some 85 per cent of Nepalis are subsistence farmers totally dependent on the natural resources that surround them, he explains. Those communities are the most affected by environmental degradation. "The irony is that they are the ones who are excluded in the process of writing the constitution. The new constitution should guarantee them the right to access the resources they require to simply survive," he says.

The committee has made a number of recommendations to be included in the new constitution: stakeholders should participate in making environmental law and policies and in implementing and monitoring the activities that might affect the environment.

The CA member and committee coordinator Sunil Babu Pant says: "Environmental and natural resources rights are the most important of all because they are directly linked with people's lives and survival."

Nepal has signed 27 international conventions on environment and climate change. There are also legal provisions for the preservation of nature. But it has never before had a provision for environmental rights in its constitution. "We hope the constitutional provision on the environment will make the government more responsible when taking decisions regarding environmental issues," Pant says.

About 50 countries have mentioned environmental rights in their constitution including Bhutan, China, Russia, Bolivia and India. Bhutan has adopted the policy of maintaining 60 per cent forest cover.

The initial draft has proposed a provision of compensation for environmental damage with the polluters liable for any damage caused. It has also specified that the duties and responsibilities of the state regarding the environment be included in the directive principles and policies of the state.

It has stated the need to identify, preserve and promote traditional skills. The benefits of such skills should be equally distributed among the communities with the skills. It has also proposed maintaining Nepal's 40 per cent forest
cover (up from the current 24 per cent) to preserve environmental resources and the ecosystem.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)