Nepali Times
Constitution Supplement
Watered down


The People's Movement of 2006 paved the way for a new constitution through the election of a constituent assembly. But the overzealous members of the interim constitution writing committee went ahead and declared Nepal a federal state by themselves, pre-empting the people's representatives in the assembly from arriving at a well thought through decision.

Now it is a contentious issue as to whether splitting Nepal into an indeterminate number of provinces is really a good idea. And how will federalism affect the use of water resources?

Optimal exploitation of most natural resources can be done locally, by cultivating land, harvesting it, collecting herbs, living off forest or extracting minerals. But water is a unique natural resource. Local inhabitants can benefit, for example, by building micro hydropower or from rafting tourism. But exploitation on a larger scale is a national endeavour which may have local cost.

Construction of a hydroelectric dam deprives an upper riparian populace from using the river water for consumptive uses like irrigation. Any reduction in the quantum of water will decrease electricity generation and thereby reduce revenue. Similarly, a patch of the river will become dewatered as water will be diverted from the river into the powerhouse. If the users of electricity come from a different province, those adversely impacted will never agree to construction of a hydropower plant in their province.

Building a reservoir project is even more intrusive because it submerges large tracts of fertile agricultural land, forests, infrastructure and displacement of inhabitants. People of the province set to lose their land and to get displaced will not be too eager to build a project if the electricity is to be used in another province. Moreover, a storage project
regulates river flow benefiting the lower riparian. So, an upstream province will have no reason to agree to build such a project, thus scuttling the prospect of the implementation of a multipurpose project.

Resettlement of people displaced by a multipurpose project will become problematic as there is scarcity of good land in the hills where such projects could be sited while the resettlement in the area where necessary land is available will not be allowed for reasons of disturbing ethnic balance. Tharus in the western Tarai are already against the resettlement plan for people to be displaced by the West Seti project.

Nepal has 3.97 million hectares of cultivated land (mostly in the Tarai) and only 0.5 million hectares (12.6 per cent) has some irrigation (mostly during the rainy season). Cultivation of multiple crops in a year, imperative to ensure food security, requires massive irrigation during the dry season that is possible only by building a reservoir in the hills that will store water during the rainy season. Building reservoirs will also control floods on the plains downstream. But planning such schemes will be extremely difficult under a federal structure.

Suppose it is decided to have five provinces along the lines of current development regions, then western development region will be generating maximum hydropower (over 329MW) and using only about half of it. The eastern
region will be consuming a lot more than what it generates (under 14MW). The central region will consume a little more than it generates (275MW). Under a federal structure such happy sharing will not be possible. Simple issues like pricing can spin out of control and provinces with more generation capacity can shut off power if the price is not right.

Water disputes between Indian states should be eye-openers for us. Punjab and Haryana are in a dispute over the Yamuna-Sutlej Link canal. A clutch of states are fighting over the Narmada and Tamil Nadu and Karnataka do not see eye to eye on the Cauvery.

Nepal got a raw deal on the Kosi, Gandaki, Tanakpur and Mahakali treaties, but these took place before Nepal went federal. After federalism each province will be squabbling with other provinces and Nepal's negotiation capacity with its neighbour will be further weakened.

Implementing water resource projects in a federal structure will become a daunting task due to competing demands over water and clashing aspirations of each province. The complications will get compounded due to the convention of demarcating provinces by using rivers as the boundary. This will result in diametrically opposed aspirations of one province to that on the other side of the river.

As far as water resources are concerned, splitting the country in haste will provide us ample opportunity to repent at leisure.

Ratna Sansar Shrestha is a water resource analyst.

Three bases of federalism

Tagging federal provinces by ethnicity is a bad idea


While opting for a federal state system, it is important to honour the ethnicity, language, religion, culture and history so that such a system does not disturb the unity, well-being, integrity and sovereignty of the nation. There should be a feeling of Nepaliness, the understanding that Nepal is one. The ownership should be of the nation as a whole and not of just one province.

In the structures proposed by political parties and intellectuals, there's already disagreement and discord. The parties that are asking for federalism based on ethnicity fail to understand that it is virtually impossible to create provinces including all 103 ethnicities. Even if we only include the 59 major ethnicities, Dalits and other minority ethnicities will suffer the dominance. Federalism based on ethnicity encourages separatism and communal violence. Who will guarantee that the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists will not ask for separate provinces if the 'One Madhes, one Province' proposal passes through?

The best way to draw the map of federal Nepal is to divide it according to geography, natural resources, population, and availability of services, ethnicity, religion, language, culture and historical identity. We are so rich in natural and physical diversity, which is why it is important to make this the priority. Geographical location, physical structure, shape and area are the most important points to remember while creating provinces on the basis of physical structure. Natural resources should be the second most important aspect and demography is important to mobilise natural resources, which makes it very important.

Forty seven per cent of the total population lives in the 55 per cent arable land of the Tarai. Similarly, 44 per cent of the total population lives in the 27 per cent of the arable land of the area and 7 per cent of the total population lives in the 10 per cent arable land in the mountains. Because of so much discrepancy between these three regions according to demography and resources, it will not be wise to create three provinces-the Tarai, hills and mountains.

While some experts have only proposed three provinces, others have proposed as many as 14. But these are just numbers. The important thing to understand is that for a developing country like Nepal, too many provinces may turn out to be a disaster. Nepali geographers have proposed five or six provinces and further little provinces under them.

I propose eight provinces so that there isn't a big discrepancy according to demography and resources. For this, we have to first establish a central geographical location. Thus, we have to draw a central boundary axis to divide the country in the north and south, which will have four provinces each. Such a creation will ensure that 55 per cent of the population will lie on the south and 45 per cent will be in the north.

Southern Nepal is broader than the areas in the north. Therefore, the provinces to be formed should stretch north-south. Two provinces that include the hills and the mountains, and two more that includes the hills and the Tarai can be formed. This will ensure free flowing route, and include physical diversity and demography. It is important to include entire districts, which would mean 8-10 districts will make one province.

If the provinces are named according to ethnicity, religion and culture, it will invite communalism. It will also be neutral to name the provinces according to the natural heritage of that region. Not only will there be less discrepancy according to economic resources, area, shape and demography, it will also discourage ethnic competition and strife.

Ranjitkar is professor of Geography at Tribhuban University.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)