EDITORIAL: Verdict needs review

For spending long hours in the office and doing all the people’s work, should they be denied a salary?

The Supreme Court’s verdict to halt paying the salaries of the office bearers of the local levels needs a review unless it is trying to help the government be penny wise, pound foolish. Why the Supreme Court would deliver such a populist verdict is anyone’s guess as the political fallout is all too clear. There are 29,565 local level office bearers in the country, and halting their salaries will only invite chaos in the local levels in terms of non-attendance or delayed work and the like. The verdict to stop paying regular salaries to the office bearers of the local levels defeats all logic as they are now entrusted with 22 responsibilities. They must attend office daily and carry out a lot of work related to the local people. Quite unlike in the past, people don’t need to travel long distances to the district headquarters or the capital for a lot of things. Today, not only is registration of birth, marriage and deaths done in the local levels but citizenship certificates and passports are also made there. The deputy chiefs of the local levels, as heads of the judicial committees, also perform judicial responsibilities, where they arbitrate cases except those relating to land dispute and crime. So for spending long hours in the office and doing all the people’s work, should they be denied a salary?

The verdict was delivered by a five-member constitutional bench of the apex court, led by the Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana, on Friday on a case filed against six of the seven provinces for enacting laws that allowed local governments to provide pay and perks to the office bearers of local levels “in violation of the constitutional norms”. The petitioner had argued that the constitution allowed members of the federal Parliament, Speaker, Deputy-Speaker, members of provincial assemblies and Speakers and Deputy-Speakers of provincial assemblies to draw both pay and perks, but it did not give the right to the office bearers of the local levels to receive a salary. But when everyone from the prime minister and ministers at the centre down to the provincial assembly members are drawing a salary, why this discrimination against local level representatives? They also have a family to look after and have the same needs as others in the higher echelons of the political structure. The verdict has apparently been given by poring over some of the disputable provisions in the constitution without a thought to what might happen in the near future.

Maybe there are some who are elated by the fact that the Supreme Court verdict will save crores of rupees in salaries to the office bearers of local levels every month. This is a fallacy. What this will do is give way to corruption in the local levels as no one is attending work to do social service. In light of the many responsibilities carried out by the local level office bearers, they deserve a monthly salary. If there are confusions in the constitution that will not allow this, then they must be rectified. To make the salaries and perks transparent across provinces, the government could set up a pay commission and decide on the minimum salary for the office bearers at the local levels.

Weird plan

Regional Hotel Association Chitwan (RHAC) has decided to run night-time jeep safari in Sauraha. The jeep safari will start from Sauraha, pass through the Kumaroj buffer community forest and end in Lothar. This is going to be the first night jeep safari in the country. The distance of the night safari will be about 30 kilometres, and is expected to take around 4 hours to cover the distance, as per the RHAC. Kumaroj buffer community forest chair has said 60 per cent of the income from the safari will be used for the protection and conservation of the forest itself.

However, officials at the Chitwan National Park (CNP) have expressed reservation over the plan as it will disturb the nocturnal life of the wild animals, and will also create noise and air pollution if the fossil-fuel run vehicles are used for the night-time safari. We cannot afford to disturb the nightlife of animals in the name of promoting tourism in the area aiming at Visit Nepal Year 2020. RHAC cannot take a unilateral decision on such an issue, which will have severe consequences on the wildlife. The wild animals should be allowed to live in a peaceful environment at night. This issue should be discussed with the wildlife experts before reaching any hasty conclusion.