Provinces warn of legal recourse if Centre fails to address their concerns

  • State governments say Kathmandu is unwilling to shareconstitutional rights
- TIKA R PRADHAN, Kathmandu

Mar 4, 2019-

Confrontation of the provinces and local federal units with the Centre is likely to flare up as provincial governments have warned of seeking a legal recourse to exercise their constitutional rights if Kathmandu fails to address their demands.

Almost four years into the promulgation of a constitution that enshrined a federal set-up and paved the way for devolution of state power, provincial governments say the federal government still seems to be working with a centralised mindset and that the political leadership in Kathmandu is too stingy to let them exercise their constitutional rights.

According to provincial authorities, their concerns are over security issues--including the attempts to curtail their right to deploy police for peace and security, keep district level structures including the district administration offices, which the constitution does not recognise, and give extra powers to chief district officers.

“If the Centre makes laws in violation of the constitution, provinces have the right to seek legal measures to counter those laws and provisions to the extent they contradict the charter,” Lalbabu Raut, chief minister of Province 2, told the Post over phone. Contrary to the constitutional provision that the peace and security of provinces would be maintained by the provincial governments, the bill under discussion says provincial governments can mobilise police personnel only up to the inspector level.

Another bill on maintaining law and order, which is also at the House of Representatives, allows chief district officers to maintain law and order.

A chief district officer, who is authorised to take decisions on issues related to peace, security and law and order, is part of a system of governance since the Panchayat days.

“There is no need for any structures of the central government at the districts except that of the Armed Police Force and the Nepal Army,” Shalikram Jammarkattel, internal affairs minister of Province 3, told the Post. “We’ll move the constitutional bench if the federal parliament fails to address our concerns regarding the issues of security in the provinces,” Jammarkattel said. “The local level is capable of distributing citizenship certificates and passports, establishing a separate desk at their premises,” he added, hinting at the exclusive jurisdiction given to the district administration office, which is headed by the chief district officer.

The constitution has a provision of resolving the disputes between the federal and provincial governments through a mechanism—Inter-Provincial Council—chaired by the prime minister.

Provisions in the Police Bill and the bill to maintain peace and security have also been contested by some lawmakers in the federal parliament, claiming that they pose a serious threat to federalism.

The Police Bill, which is currently under discussion at the parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee, has received 30 amendment proposals on 193 issues. Another security related bill—Peace and Security Bill—is yet to be forwarded to the concerned House committee for clause-wise discussion.

According to Jammarkattel, the internal affairs ministers of the seven provinces have urged the lawmakers of the ruling parties in the federal parliament to address their concerns, especially on the security issues of the provinces through amendments to the bills tabled by the government. When the chief ministers met in Pokhara in September last year, they had made a unanimous decision to ask the federal government to make the district administration offices and chief district officers accountable to the provincial governments.

Chief Minister of Gandaki Province Prithvi Subba Gurung, who convened the six chief ministers’ conclave in Pokhara which led to the deferral of the first Inter-Provincial Council meeting

by at least three months, said he would first try to resolve the conflicting issues through dialogue.

“We will strongly fight to ensure our constitutional rights,” he said. “Legal fight would be the last option.”

Even local governments are expressing their dissatisfaction at the federal government’s attempts to keep intact the district structures.

The local administrations have expressed concerns that the Centre is trying to deploy teachers and manage physical infrastructure of secondary schools despite clear constitutional provisions that say the local level manages education up to the secondary level.

“We have identified 17 bills under consideration at the federal parliament with provisions that infringe upon the local governments’ constitutional rights in one way or another,” said Ashok Byanju Shrestha, chairman of the Municipality Association of Nepal. “We will first try to resolve the issues through dialogue, but if need be, we will seek legal solution,” he said.

Together with the National Association of Rural Municipalities in Nepal, the Municipality Association of Nepal, has submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The memorandum, prepared after a two-day long discussion last week, says the central government is preparing laws infringing upon 22 rights guaranteed by the constitution exclusively for the local level.

Earlier, a confrontational situation arose when Province 2 pressed ahead with endorsing its Provincial Police Bill in October last year. This created quite a furore at the Centre—so much so that former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, co-chairman of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), went on to warn that any move to “overtake the Centre” would jeopardise republicanism.

Published: 04-03-2019 09:44

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