While Nepal’s political parties were discussing federalism during the constitution-drafting process, there were sporadic voices in favor of “One Madhesh One-Pradesh”. Some Madhesh-based political parties even launched a movement that led to vandalism and arson in the districts of the Terai.
Currently, the Madhes-centric parties are in the Madhesh Pradesh government at a time when the relevance of federalism is being debated.
The Madhesh Pradesh, which has been embroiled in debates and issues over power-sharing with the Center, is emphasizing the need to strengthen the province governments. Yamuna Rana of Khabarhub held a conversation with the Chief Minister of Madhesh Pradesh Lal Babur Raut on contemporary issues, including federalism. Excerpts:
How do you describe the experience of your four-year tenure in the Madhesh Pradesh government?
In fact, we did not have the required rules and regulations. There was no office for operation. There was an acute shortage of staff.
We also experienced non-cooperation and lack of support from the Federal Government. My tenure started amid scarcity.
Initially, we formed a two-party coalition government. Everything was new for us, a new experience, a new structure, a new way to start.
Even now there is a coalition government. Interestingly, there has been a practice of forming provincial governments according to the coalition at the Center.
All parties have their own policy and programs, and their own manifestos, and because of which taking the lead of a coalition government is a real challenge. However, what I must say is that I have got the utmost support from the coalition partners as well as the opposition parties.
Do you recall some significant achievements during your tenure?
Definitely! Initially, we did not have the necessary rules and regulations to run the government. The challenge was to implement and strengthen federalism from the very first day.
And, most importantly, the provincial governments should have their own police and administration. As long as the police administration is not under the purview of the provincial government, it is very difficult for the government to perform.
According to the Constitution of Nepal, the responsibility of police administration, and peace and security has been given to the state governments. However, the federal government has been using various excuses and keeping the police under its direct control.
We also formulated the Province Civil Service Act. Besides, Madhes Pradesh is the first state where we have made strong arrangements to end discrimination against Dalits by bringing Dalit Empowerment Act.
In addition, a similar law has been enacted for the upliftment of their education, health and other living standards and their dignified living.
It is the first province to have a reservation for 50 percent of women. We have a dream to fulfill. In the next 15 years, you will find women in leading roles in every office. Among them, you will also find women from the Dalit and Muslim communities.
But there are reports of women being subjected to violence in Madhesh Pradesh under various pretexts. Dowry cases have been on a rise. Why is this?
First of all, when we don’t have a police administration, we do not get correct information about such incidents. The police administration is not obligated to inform us. That is why we have not been able to control such incidents and solve such social problems.
The most vulnerable are women, Dalits, the backward and the economically disadvantaged communities. But the reason for this is that women are not empowered. We see more violence against women in any community because Nepal has a patriarchal structure.
Moreover, men are more active in financial transactions. Women do not participate in economic activities. Educated women are not dependent on their families and are less likely to be victims of violence.
Unless Dalit women and backward classes are empowered, we cannot address such social problems. Therefore, we have come up with various programs and schemes to empower them so that such problems are addressed.
While 50 percent of women have a seat reservation, we have arranged to insure Rs 300,000 as soon as a daughter is born in Madhesh Pradesh.
We have also introduced programs such as distributing bicycles to the students of community schools after reaching 8th grade, giving laptops to the students studying in Plus Two, and conducting public service classes in all the districts of the province. Therefore, we need to educate the backward and Dalit communities to minimize such social stigma.
Programs and schemes run by the state government are operated on the basis of political ideology. There are allegations of irregularities while conducting such programs and schemes. What do have to say?
Talking about irregularities, we cannot go to every program and scheme directly. Every development work has been carried out by the provincial state government.
The federal government or the local government has absolutely no role. The local government itself allocates the budget by placing it in different target groups.
Does this mean that the coordination with the local level states and the federal government of the states have not been so good?
No, this is a mere rumor floated by those in Singha Durbar. As far as Madhesh Pradesh is concerned, there are 136 municipalities. The meeting of the municipality was to be held at least twice a year. We are in regular contact, our budget, programs, and various schemes are run at the local level.
Coordination, cooperation, and coexistence have been enshrined in the Constitution itself.
Does taking this as a basis and looking at the current overall situation still mean that federalism has not been implemented?
No. If we look at the 2007 BS, there had been a change of government at various stages along with the change of government.
After 2046 BS, Nepal witnessed misgovernance and corruption in the bureaucracy. In the last five years, the kind of transformation that has been seen in society has been achieved. It’s all because of federalism. It has been due to democracy and the political changes that have taken place.
Some sections of the society say federalism has been a burden to the country. Voices that federalism should be scrapped have been heard at times. What’s your take on this?
In fact, the expenditure is lower than before. It has been only five years since federalism was established in Nepal. Let me ask one question: Why Nepal did not develop? The reason is because of the unitary mindset.
People who did not want a change from the beginning and opposed federalism have been demanding that federalism be scrapped.
Federalism has been established due to the lack of access to state power and unequal distribution of state resources and discrimination in development among the people of different castes and regions. Therefore, federalism is the need of the country. The time is not ripe to evaluate.
Federalism is a system in which every individual can feel their stake. Therefore, everyone should work towards further strengthening federalism.