Federalism: A Way Forward for Nepal
Federalism: A Way Forward for Nepal
Hari Bansh Jha, PhD Executive Director, Centre for Economic and Technical Studies (CETS)
At the global level, there are over two dozens of federal nations in which 40% of the world population live. In Nepal, Kulanand Jha of Terai Congress for the first time in the country’s history in 1951 raised his voice for the introduction of federal system. Later on, Raghunath Thakur is on record to have put the demand for federal structure in 1958. In 1967, Madheshi Mukti Andolan echoed the voice in favor of federalism. After the political change in 1990, Nepal Sadbhavana Parishad under the leadership of Gajendra Narayan Singh raised voice in favor of federalism. But federalism emerged as a strong issue only when the UCPN-Maoist initiated debate for the introduction of federalism in the country in 2003.
Subsequently, it was the Madhesh uprising of January-February 2007 that helped give concrete shape to federalism. The uprising forced the then government led by G.P. Koirala to amend the Interim Constitution 2007 twice within a very short period time to address such issues as federalism, proportional representation (PR) based on population size and increasing the number of seats from 43 per cent to 49 per cent in Terai constituencies.
The Madhesh-based parties, including SP, MJF and TMDP entered into agreement with Prime Minister G.P. Koirala on 28 February 2008 for the formation of federal system in Nepal. In Article 2 of the agreement, the government accepted Madheshi people’s call for “Autonomous Madhes” and other people’s desire for a federal structure with autonomous regions.” In the same article, the two sides agreed for a federal structure with provision of autonomous regions keeping the sovereignty and integrity of the country intact. There was also a provision made for the formation of high-level monitoring committee to monitor the implementation of the agreement, which, however, is not yet formalized.
Following the CA elections on 10 April 2008, Nepal was declared federal republic on 28 May 2008. Except Rashtriya Jana Morcha (the party that secured 1.4% of the popular vote and 4 seats in CA) all other political parties in CA favored federal form of government. This was a kind of political consensus among the parties for the introduction of federal structure in the country.
As a sigh of relief, the great majority of the Nepalese population, especially the disadvantaged groups have developed a feeling that only federalism would empower them. Certain groups of people have regarded federalism as recognition of religious, linguistic and ethnic diversity.
Federalism, however, should not be taken as panacea of all the ills. It does not necessarily guarantee the development of a society. What it does is that it creates conducive environment of self-rule and thereby generates development opportunities.
In the existing unitary form of structure, the past governments remained largely reluctant towards Terai in making proper allocation of resources, despite significant contributions made by the custom, excise and income tax offices to the national exchequer. Perhaps, this is the reason why several districts in Terai remained most backward economically. Such mistake is likely to be addressed under the federal structure.
However, the federal units in the country need to be made on the solid ground of geography and economy or what might be called geo-economic. Federalism, if implemented correctly on this approach, will unite the country rather than divide it. Complications, however, might arise if priority is given to ethnic, linguistic or other such considerations in the restructuring of state in the place of geo-economic realities.
The geo-economic factor should be supreme in deciding the number of states. Economic viability is most important for the survival and autonomy of the states. Equally important is the administrative cost of a federation. Formation of more states means greater allocation of resources on administration at the cost of development activities. Also, it will be a mistake if the states as proposed by CPN-UML or Maoists are based on ethnicity. It is possible that the formation of ethnicity-based states may help certain elements in the short run, but it would be a disaster in the long run.
It would, therefore, be worthwhile if only three states are established in the country on be basis of geo-economic structure i.e. the Terai State, the Hill State and the Himalayan State. Within each of these States, there could be provision of ‘sub-autonomous regions.’ Accordingly, there is no reason why some four regions such as Mithila, Bhojpura, Awadhi and Tharuhat cannot be established in a single Terai State. Similarly, different regions could be developed within the Hill and Himalayan States as well. The economy and ecology-based comparative advantage of the three belts can be harvested if the states are organized horizontally.
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