EDITORIAL: Pass bill soon

The failure to enact a new law should not be a reason for depriving so many citizens of their inherent right

Only those who have been denied citizenship to stay a stateless resident know the frustration and resentment of being a non-person. Without citizenship papers, they face barriers at every step – inability to register their children’s birth, getting a driving license, a SIM card, a PAN number or opening a bank account, for instance. Not only can’t they travel abroad because a passport will not be issued to them, many have also been barred from even earning their graduation certificate in school. Since most official transactions these days take place online, the first thing they seek is one’s citizenship number. This means they cannot find a job, pursue higher education or not even get married. Although the new constitution promulgated in 2015 has guaranteed citizenship to all eligible persons, in the absence of a law to put the constitutional provision into practice, thousands of citizens have been deprived of naturalised citizenship or citizenship by descent.

The bill on citizenship has been stuck in the State Affairs Committee of the parliament, and it will be some time before it is tabled in the Federal Parliament for approval. It has taken a lot of time for the bill to move forward largely because the contending political parties were unable to agree on one category of citizenship - whether to continue with the old mechanism of providing immediate naturalised citizenship to a foreign woman married to a Nepali or to provide it only after she has lived in Nepal for seven years as in neighbouring India. The constitution is flexible on allowing Nepali mothers to pass their nationality on to their children. Hitherto, this was possible only through the father. Nepal also has a sizeable population of citizens by birth.

At the time of the making of the interim constitution in 2007, there were about 172,000 citizens by birth in Nepal, which means there must be at least double that figure if not more today. Their children are to get citizenship by descent under the new constitutional provision. The constitution, however, makes no reference to citizenship in the case of a foreigner married to a Nepali woman, an issue that is being raised by women activists demanding equality in matters of citizenship rights.

It’s been five years since the constitution was promulgated, and it is indeed appalling to note that the parliament has dillydallied so long on passing such a crucial bill. When the main law of the land has guaranteed citizenship to its citizens, the failure to enact a new law should not be a reason for depriving so many citizens of their inherent right. There are so many things one could miss – from travelling abroad or applying for a government job or buying property, for instance –when one is not a citizen of the country.

Hence, it behooves the State Affairs Committee to table the bill at the earliest during the upcoming winter session of the parliament and endorse it. In the meantime, while we wait for the parliament to enact the new citizenship bill, it would be of great help if those eligible but unable to get citizenship are issued some sort of temporary document allowing them the privileges accorded to Nepali citizens, such as owning a driving license or opening a bank account or getting a higher education.

Rhino poaching

Nepal boasts of protecting the one-horned Asiatic rhino in the Chitwan National Park. There was zero poaching of the endangered animal in the park for four consecutive years. However, Nepal’s image has been tarnished with the killing of four rhinos in the park by poachers this fiscal. Eight rhinos were also found dead in the park as a result of in-fighting or other natural causes. Most of the rhinos were killed in the western part of the park at Bhandarjhula Tapu. Of the four rhinos killed, the poachers took away the horns of two rhinos.

Out of the 645 rhinos inhabiting Nepal, 605 are found in Chitwan and the remaining in Bardiya National Park. Protecting the pachyderm from the poachers is a major challenge for the park officials and security personnel. Poaching of the endangered animal cannot be controlled without support from the local people. The poachers might have killed the rhinos taking advantage of the prolonged lockdown caused by COVID-19, during which the locals stayed home and the security personnel were confined to their bases. The park officials should leave no stones unturned to investigate the crime and punish the guilty as per the law.