EDITORIAL: Empower provinces

Provincial govts will not be able to grow institutionally if the central govt continues to encroach upon their jurisdictions

The government has planned to develop 15 new cities in the high hills of 11 districts which will be linked with the Mid-Hill Highway. These towns will be developed under a programme titled “Himali Trans Trail Cities”. Minister for Urban Development (MoUD) Mohammad Estiyak Rai has said the idea behind building the new cities in the high hills is to ensure equal development in every province. This concept, however, does not include Province 2 as it does not have any hills. As per the plan, Lukla of Solukhumbu, Nung Valley and Kimathanka of Sankhuwasabha, Fungling, Ghunsa and Olangchungola of Taplejung in Province 1, Syafrubesi of Rasuwa and Jiri of Doljakha in Province 3, Jomsom and Kagbeni of Mustang, Chame of Manang in Gandaki Province; Simikot of Humla, Dunai of Dolpa in Karnali Province and, Martadi and Kolti of Bajura district in Province 7 have been selected to develop as new cities with adequate facilities.

According to the ministry, the concept of building 15 new cities in the high hills is to create integrated settlements with modern infrastructure and develop them as new tourist destinations. Earlier in 2011, before the new constitution came into force in line with the federal structure, the government had also envisaged developing new towns in the mid hills. But it could not be materialised due to slow pace of work on the Mid-Hill Highway and political instability for years. In the first phase, the ministry has plans to conduct a feasibility study of the identified areas and, in the second phase, it will conduct another study as to how integrated settlements can be developed in the high hills, which still lack road connectivity. The government has allocated Rs four million for conducting the feasibility study for the development of integrated settlements for this fiscal.

While the provincial governments have been assigned to develop 10 townships in the mid hill areas, the central government has taken the responsibility of building 15 new cities in the high hills on its own. A debate has been going on for decades about the ways of developing integrated settlements in the high and mid hills. Scattered settlements have posed a major challenge to the development of physical infrastructure and providing basic facilities to the people in these areas. A report prepared by the late geographer Harka Gurung-led team of experts some 33 years ago had also suggested building integrated settlements by bringing together the scattered households. This report can still be useful. However, in the federal

setup, the right to develop such towns in the remote areas should be given to the provincial governments by strengthening them with adequate resources, technical know-how and expertise. Role of the federal government should be of the facilitator, not of an implementing body of such programme. The provincial governments will not be able to grow institutionally if the central government continues to encroach upon their jurisdictions guaranteed by the constitution. The federal government should not treat provinces as its subordinate bodies. They should be allowed to function independently as per the constitutional spirit.

Water crisis

With usual water sources drying up, people of Manthali, the district headquarters of Ramechhap, have been forced to pay a hefty price for drinking water. The increase in tariff is attributed to the increased cost for pumping water from rivers and rivulets. Consumers who earlier used to pay Rs 500 a month now have to bear the cost of electricity required to pump water. Apart from the 8,000 rupees the Manthali Drinking Water Consumer Committee paid for a three-phase electricity line, the Nepal Electricity Authority is charging Rs 6.60 per unit of electricity, manager of the consumer committee.

The constitution says every citizen shall have the right of access to clean drinking water and sanitation. But like in Manthali, people in several other parts of the country are still reeling under water crisis. There is a need for the authorities to recognise water crisis as a serious issue and do the needful to ensure access of clean drinking water to all. If the electricity tariff can be adjusted, the authorities should look into this as well. Easy availability of drinking water can have life-changing impacts on the people and their livelihoods.