The political parties, bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies are to blame for the poor rule of law and bad governance

Nepal has fallen two positions in the overall rule of law score, as per the World Justice Project Index-2021, which evaluates rule of law in 139 countries.

Nepal has been placed 70th in the global rank, followed by Sri Lanka and India. The report, which was published in Washington last week, is the first in this annual series issued since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020. It shows the multi-year negative trends worsening during this period.

Nepal' score places it first out of six countries covered in the South Asia region and fifth out of 35 among the lower-middle income countries. Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the three countries with the lowest scores in the region, ranking 134th and 139th, respectively. The report says rule of law in all six countries of South Asia has declined. Globally more countries declined rather than improved in the overall rule of law performance for the fourth consecutive year. Denmark, Norway and Finland were the top three countries which performed well in terms of rule of law. The 72.2 per cent of countries that experienced a decline this year account for 84.7 per cent of the world's population.

There are many factors that determine good governance and rule of law. The rule of law breaks down when governments fail to deliver goods and the courts of law fail to provide timely justice to the people.

In the case of Nepal, the rule of law has declined due to prolonged political instability even after the periodic elections and formation of a majority government at the centre as well as in the provinces. The political parties, bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies are to blame for the poor rule of law and bad governance. The state organs that are supposed to discharge their duties as specified by the laws and constitution have miserably failed to carry out their duties for the well-being of the people.

A case in point is the non-response of the provincial and central governments to the plight of a group of women from Nepalgunj, who walked for 20 days to reach Kathmandu for justice against domestic violence.

They have been staging a sit-in at the Maitighar Mandala for the last 11 days, urging the government to take legal action against those involved in the alleged murder of Nankunni Dhobi and the disappearance of widow Nirmala Kurmi, the mother of two daughters, for the last one year. This shows how poor the rule of law is in the country. Had the local administration and district court taken prompt legal action against the perpetrators, they would not have had to endure the long-march to seek justice for the victims. Earlier, they had staged a sit-in at the District Police Office in Nepalgunj for 19 days, but to no avail.

The investigation launched by the local police has failed to satisfy the locals and human rights activists.

Similarly, the killing of four persons in police firing in Butwal's Motipur Industrial Area on October 10, five days before Dashain, has also laid bare the poor rule of law. Although it is illegal to try to occupy public land, the police should have maintained maximum restraint to take the situation under control. This all happens when those in the law enforcing agencies are not held accountable for their action or no action.

Stay alert

Both government and private offices opened from Sunday following the Dashain holidays, but it will take some more days before the hustle and bustle returns to the Kathmandu Valley. According to the Traffic Police, about 1.2 million had left the valley to celebrate the festival with their families, and they are slowly returning to the capital. Last year, people could not travel on the long routes due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, this year life in the country has largely returned to normalcy with new infections of COVID-19 at an all-time low.

But let us bear in mind that the pandemic is far from over, with pocket areas in neighbbouring India seeing a spike in new infections. Although the vaccination programme is making good progress, less than a third of the eligible population aged 14 years and above is inoculated. With hundreds of thousands of people moving in and out of the valley as well as other parts of the country, chances of the virus making its spread is high. In such a situation, it is hard for the authorities to do anything to prevent fresh infections.

Thus, the people must take the necessary health precautions, such as wearing a mask and keeping physical distance, to stay safe.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.