EDITORIAL: A long-felt need

Main challenge of the bill lies in monitoring social events and whether the legal provisions are being followed or not

Four decades after the introduction of a social reform law to control wasteful expenditure at social functions, the parliamentary State Affairs Committee (SAC) on Sunday endorsed its sub-committee’s report on a new Social Practices Reform Bill. After the full house of Legislature-Parliament passes the bill it becomes a law, replacing the ancient social practices law, which has rarely been applied. The new bill has been prepared with a view to making it practicable in our social contexts. For example, while the old law had set 51 as the size of the marriage procession, the new bill proposes it at 150 including the brass band; similarly, up to 501 people can be invited to a wedding reception. Some other provisions are: the number of invitees at other social functions will not exceed 251; the limits on voluntary dowry or gifts have been set. But any exchange of dowry apart from the legally permitted will be treated as a crime, for which fine or jail term or both has been stipulated. Moreover, demanding or accepting a dowry or ‘tilak’ in order to establish marriage relations between two families would make the marriage null and void, besides subjecting the guilty to punishment. There are also other do’s and don’ts relating to social events stipulated in the proposed bill.

This new bill has been drafted keeping in view the impracticability of the old one, whose provisions were very difficult to comply with and to enforce too. After initial activism of enforcing it, when it came to the turn of the high and mighty of society, the law was ignored and everything went on as usual, thus keeping the law in a coma. Therefore, in making this new bill, special care has been taken to ensure that it can be enforced. Anybody can keep the numbers of invitees even lower and the amount of dowry less than the legally allowed. The main thrust of the bill is therefore to minimize the pomp of show that accompanies any social function organized by moneyed persons or families. A reasonable check on this can be expected not to increase pressure on other families in society who do not have adequate means to spend heavy sums of money on social events.

The bill has a noble objective in mind: checking social pressures on families to spend too much on organizing social events. This ever-increasing social pressure has ruined many families whose financial condition could not keep pace with the spending requirements. A strict enforcement of the provisions of the bill, once it becomes law, would also free a lot of money for the families to spend in more worthwhile activities, including the educational advancement of the family members. But the main challenge lies in monitoring the social events and whether the legal provisions are being followed or no. The local levels would have to play a crucial role in enforcing the legal provisions. Whether the government machinery has the adequate means, including manpower, for strict enforcement, apart from its seriousness and sincerity, is an important question that has to be addressed. But the law itself should create a deterrent.

City sans toilets

The government agencies have declared a number of rural and urban areas open defecation free areas to meet its millennium development goal. Those areas were declared open defecation free zones even if there are not enough public toilets to relieve whenever it is urgent. Such a move was launched as a national campaign just for the sake of publicity. However, the government has not been able to declare the Kathmandu Valley an open defecation free area.

Open defecation is rampant in the Valley in areas with floating population especially in bus parks or in areas where a large number of people commute regularly. Data show that there are still 17,427 households without toilets in Kathmandu. It means that these households empty their bowels in public spaces. Before declaring any area free from open defecation the concerned authorities must ensure that there are adequate numbers of public toilets with running water facility at certain locations. The concerned municipalities must launch a campaign with incentives to those households which still do not have toilets. The floating population should also have an easy access to public toilet if the Valley were to be made an open defecation free zone. A slogan itself is not enough to make a city clean.