EDITORIAL: Projects to provinces

That the federal govt has taken control over projects that were under provinces just doesn’t go well with the idea of federalism

Though the federal government had announced in the budget that some key development projects would be under the jurisdictions of the provinces, it has now backtracked — and taken them under its control. The projects the federal government has now taken control of include: Ten Mid-Mountain Highway Cities, 15 linkage roads of the postal highway in Tarai-Madhes, Jhamak Kumari Ghimire foundation, nine risky settlements including in Bajura and four municipalities of Province 7 funded by the Asian Development Bank. The budget had stated that these projects would be under the provincial governments’ jurisdiction. According to Krishna Prasad Dawadi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Urban Development, the Cabinet took a decision to that effect on November 19 in consultation with the federal Finance Ministry. The reasons: Provincial governments lacked skilled manpower; had failed to open offices to execute the projects; involvement of foreign donors in the projects; and risk of high variation order on account of delay.

Even more than a decade after the country was declared federal republic, politicians and bureaucrats, it seems, still are refusing to accept the true spirit of federalism. The unitary mode of governance for long was blamed for uneven development and social inequality. Even though the country was declared federal republic in 2008, it took seven years for two constituent assemblies to deliver a constitution ensuring seven provinces and 753 local units. This decentralisation of powers was primarily aimed at taking goods and services to the people’s doorsteps and letting provincial administrations to take care of their development projects on their own, thereby engendering a feeling of ownership among the communities. Since powers remained concentrated in the centre for decades, governance and services had largely remained far from the reach of the people. Hence, there were high expectations among people after provincial governments took shape after the historic elections in December last year.

But at a time when the federal government should have been facilitating smooth functioning of the provincial governments, it seems bent on taking back what were already under their jurisdictions. Federalism certainly is a new practice in Nepal, and it will take a lot of efforts to institutionalise it. The immediate steps that were required to strengthen federalism were installing the institutions and equipping them with skilled manpower. But many months have passed even without some crucial umbrella laws which have hampered smooth functioning of the provincial governments. Now taking away the development projects from provincial governments citing “lack of manpower” just does not go well with the spirit of federalism. Federalism, in principle, is an idea consisting of a specific combination of self-rule and of shared rule to ensure coexistence and cooperation of different levels of government. There is reluctance on the part of the Centre to internalise federalism. There still seems to be a hangover from the past when powers resided in the Kathmandu-centric form of government. The federal government should facilitate provincial governments to carry out duties and must delegate power and projects to provinces.

Land use policy

Although the Ministry of Land Reforms and Management with support from the National Planning Commission came out a land use policy way back in 2012, it has yet to come into effect at local levels thanks to the absence of law related to it. The ministry has divided land use into seven different categories: agriculture, forest, residential, commercial, public, industrial, and others. With the elections of three tiers of government, the central government should enact a law related to it at the earliest so that the provincial and local levels can implement it accordingly.

Land is the primary resource of economic base and livelihood. Due to non-implementation of land use policy most of the fertile and arable lands have either been used for residential or commercial purposes or have remained fallow. Fragmentation of land is yet another problem which needs to be tackled without any delay. A large swath of fertile and arable lands must be kept secure only for agriculture which will help ensure food security and food sovereignty. Fertile lands should not be allowed to be used for other purposes.