Inability to solve the citizenship issue is only adding more and more people to the number of stateless persons year after year

Six years after the promulgation of the new Constitution, one would have expected the highly divisive citizenship issue to be settled once and for all.

However, the federal parliament has not even passed the new citizenship bill, although the constitutional provision had stipulated that all laws that contradict the new constitution would be amended within three years of its promulgation. As a result, more than a million people remain stateless within a state as they have no citizenship papers, without which they cannot get a job or carry out personal business, such as opening a bank account or purchasing land in Nepal.

Inability to solve the decades-old citizenship problem is only adding more and more people to the number of stateless persons year after year. According to the Forum of Women, Law and Development, out of the 600,000 people who reach the age of 16 years every year, the Home Ministry issues citizenship papers to only 400,000 of them, which means 200,000 people are added to the number of people without citizenship papers every year.

In May this year, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, on recommendation of the government, had issued an ordinance to amend the Nepali Citizenship Act that would allow children of citizens by birth and children of Nepali mothers to obtain Nepali citizenship by descent, which provides certain political rights and privileges not accorded to naturalised citizens. The ordinance stipulated that children of Nepali mothers whose father cannot be traced will be entitled to citizenship by descent if the children have domicile in Nepal.

The bill had been under discussion in the House of Representatives (HoR) for the past two years, but could not be endorsed due to differences among the parties over some provisions of the bill, including the waiting period for naturalised citizenship for foreign women married to Nepali men. The euphoria over the ordinance was, however, short-lived as the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the Citizenship Act Amendment Ordinance, observing that the subject was not of an urgent nature, requiring immediate action. Since the citizenship ordinance was issued a day after the HoR was dissolved to get the backing of a Madhes-based political party by the previous Oli government, the bench observed that issuing an ordinance to accrue political benefits by evading the Parliament could lead to a situation where its powers were unnecessarily infringed upon.

The citizenship issue might not be of an urgent nature in the eyes of the Supreme Court, but that does not lessen the plight and injustice being suffered by those without citizenship papers. According to the Home Ministry, 190,726 individuals had acquired Nepali Citizenship Certificates by birth before the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015. An estimated 500,000 children from these citizens by birth should be eligible for citizenship by descent as per the constitutional provision. Similarly, another 680,533 children born to Nepali mothers whose fathers are not known are also eligible for citizenship by descent. But Census 2021 that is underway right now has not listed any questions related to citizenship, which could mar the quality of its data.

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It has been seven years since the construction of the road from Bhaktapur to the resort hill station of Nagarkot started. But the 16-kilometre-long road, which is the lifeline of the resorts and hotels on the hilltop, has remained in a dilapidated condition as the contractor, who is said to have a nexus with a powerful political bigwig, has delayed its construction under one pretext or the other. Sailung Construction Pvt Ltd had started the road construction in 2014, and it was supposed to have finished the job by mid-July 2016. But it only removed the pre-existing blacktop for two years and did nothing more than widen it in most parts.

Therefore, the road becomes dusty during winter and muddy during the rainy season, creating a lot of hardships to the locals and visitors to the tourist area, where business has come down due to the poor state of the road. When Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Renu Kumari Yadav visited the site, the locals forced her out of her car and grilled for hours for the inordinate delay in repairing the road.

But she had no answer to give. There should be no reason for taking such a long time to repair the road.

The contractor deserves legal action for the delay.

A version of this article appears in the print on November 17, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.