Four years after the local level elections were held under the new constitution, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration (MoFAGA) has developed a model, "Local Level Mediation Centre Operation Directive-2021", for the implementation of the rights of the rural municipalities and municipalities as per Schedule 8 of the constitution and Local Government Operation Act, 2017. Based on the act, each of the local levels shall have a judicial committee to resolve minor legal cases between the disputing parties. The local level judicial committee shall have the right to settle cases that do not carry more than one year of imprisonment. The judicial committee is headed by the vice-chairperson of a rural municipality and deputy-mayor of a municipality.

This model will come into force upon approval by the concerned local level. The model requires establishment and operation of a mediation centre in each ward of the local level to resolve cases falling under the jurisdiction of the judicial committee. The mediation centre will receive and register applications submitted by the parties in dispute, facilitate the mediation process, forward the cases to the judicial committee if they cannot be resolved through mediation.

Its aim is to settle disputes at the ward level.

As per the directive, the mediation centre will take help of mediators chosen by the parties in dispute for each case in the presence of the local office-bearers.

The local level is also required to prepare a code of conduct for the mediators selected from among the locals for the settlement of cases. Any case that cannot be settled by the mediation centre will be referred to the judicial committee for settlement.

If the cases cannot be settled even by the judicial committee, they will be forwarded to the district court. The disputes to be settled by the mediation centre and judicial committee are related to distribution and use of canals, water resources, public taps, damage of crops, wood, animal fodder/ grass, non-payment of wages, disappearance of pets, care of senior citizens, children or husband/wife deprived of proper food and education, rent facilities, planting of trees/saplings affecting other's property and similar other cases that do not carry more than one year of jail sentence. The judgement issued by the centre or judicial committee will be enforced by the executive committee of the local level.

The model prepared by the MoFAGA will greatly help settle minor cases at the ward level, saving time and money of the disputing parties. But many local levels have not been able to settle such cases due to absence of clear guidelines from the federal government, which was supposed to provide expertise to the local elected official until they gain institutional experience. Imparting fair and timely justice at the local level has been a major concern as more than 90 per cent of the deputies are women, and most of them lack legal understanding. These officials would have discharged their duties more effectively had the MoFAGA provided them with basic training shortly after their election to the posts. Learning lessons from the past four years, the concerned ministry should impart training to the elected officials shortly after the next local level elections.

Indigenous crops

In this age of commerialisation of agriculture, there is intense competition to grow more and more food, which often involves using imported high-yield hybrid seeds, putting indigenous crops at risk of disappearing altogether. And so it has been with crops that used to be grown extensively in the hilly districts of Sudurpaschim Province. The people in the farwest Nepal have stopped growing indigenous crops such as buckwheat, finger millet, corn and kaguno and replaced them with other crops.

There are many reasons why people are turning away from growing indigenous crops. With roads making inroads into these districts, it has become easier to import food such as rice from the Tarai plains, which is preferred more by the locals. The young generation also does not understand the health benefits of indigenous crops such as buckwheat and millet, which kept the people strong and healthy even when food used to be always scarce in these districts. Indigenous crops need to be given a boost through incentives. Jumla's Marsi rice and beans had faced a similar fate until they were popularised by some political leaders. Today they are widely sought after food items in Kathmandu.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 13 2021, of The Himalayan Times.