It is the constitutional duty of the three tiers of government to protect the language and culture of the marginalised communities
The constitution will not come into full operation unless all the constitutional provisions are translated into laws. It has already been four years since the country adopted the federal constitution in 2015.
But the Federal Parliament has yet to enact most of the umbrella laws, which pave the way for institutionalising the constitution at all levels. The provincial assemblies and local levels are still waiting for the Federal Parliament to pass the umbrella laws on a number of areas, based on which the sub-national governments will enact their own laws. Even during the third Inter-Province Council meeting held in the capital on April 23, all the chief ministers and chiefs of the local levels asked the council chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to pass the umbrella laws at the earliest so that they could move forward based on them. It is important to have the umbrella laws as the laws to be passed by the sub-national governments must not contradict the federal laws.
Against this backdrop, the provincial assemblies have not been able to create special, protected and autonomous regions in their territories, as provisioned in Article 56 (5) of the constitution, in the absence of the federal law that gives the legal basis to the provinces to carry out socio-cultural and economic development. In a public notice issued on April 24, 2017, the Ministry of Home Affairs had listed as many as 98 indigenous and marginalised communities, including the Rautes and the Chhantyals, whose population is less than 0.5 per cent of the country’s population.
These communities are entitled to special, protected and autonomous rights for their “social, cultural and economic development”. The Balananda Paudel-led Local Level Restructuring Commission, formed on March 16, 2016, also failed to create the three regions at the local levels, citing lack of time. It should have at least suggested the number of such regions that could be formed in a given province and a local level based on the Home Ministry’s list.
As per the Local Government Operation Act, the federal government can, in consultation with the provincial government, declare any area of a local level, or district, special, protected or autonomous region. The provincial and local levels can also declare any of the areas inhabited by the indigenous and marginalised communities as “cultural and tourist destinations”. According to the Home Ministry, the Nurang and the Kusunda communities have the least population, numbering just 278 and 273, respectively.
These communities are on the verge of extinction.
Given their dwindling population, it is the duty of the three tiers of government to increase their population and protect their culture and languages through special initiatives. The language and culture of a community die out when its population declines for various reasons. It will be a huge loss to mankind because when we lose their language and culture, we will also be losing a wealth of human knowledge. The constitution, therefore, has rightly envisioned the need to protect their unique languages and culture with special provisions. At the same time, the provinces and local levels can work out a detailed plan of action in their respective regions even if the umbrella law is not enacted.
The local authorities must be commended for acting pronto to demolish the illegal structures built at Khula Manch by encroaching 13.5 ropanis of public land there. All 52 illegal stalls were pulled down on Saturday. Despite the protests by the shopkeepers, the authorities did not budge. The demolition of the illegal structures points to a number of things.
First, it is hard to stave off strong public pressure for long. It took less than a week of public outcry to gear the government into action. Second, the PM himself had ordered the demolition, a reason that speeded up the task. Third, if people are willing to pay huge sums to middlemen to secure a stall at Khula Manch, one can well imagine the cost of renting space at nearby New Road or elsewhere.
So are the house-owners paying their taxes accordingly? Fourth, if someone has the nerve to encroach public land in the very heart of the city, then a lot of such land must be occupied elsewhere as well. So if the people and the authorities were to work in tandem, we might be able to cure a lot of the ills afflicting society.
A version of this article appears in print on April 29, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.