Nepal’s federal structure

It is but natural that the debate on federal structure is gaining ground each day post-CA polls. The constitution has to be prepared within the next two years and the issue of federalism is going to dominate the political debate. In Nepali context, federalism has two distinct core aspects. One is geographical delimitation of the states within the given structure of the nation; the second is reallocation of economic resources between the centre and the states.

However, little effort has been made to give any concrete shape to the concept of federalism. Even if any proposal in regard to the formation of geographical areas of federal states is ascertained, there would be another challenge of redistribution of economic resources. In light of some of these developments, some effort has been made to propagate the idea of cooperative federalism. Under this structure, 12 ethnic regional enclaves with four states including Karnali, Gandaki, Koshi and Kathmandu have been envisaged. There is a provision

for State Assembly and governor for each of the four states.

The cooperative membership model of ethnic regions is expected to reduce the prospect of resource conflicts among the states with diverse endowments. It is also expected to promote socio-economic and cultural autonomy without affecting ethnic harmony and territorial integrity.

However, the structure of the states as envisaged in the cooperative federal structure is based on vertical rather than horizontal division, which is the reverse of the concept of “natural ecological boundary” of Nepal. Ecologically, the Tarai or Madhes constitutes one region in the south while the hills in the mid and the mountains in the northern Himalayas constitute other two regions.

Another important factor in state restructuring should be ethnicity. People with common features would like to be governed by their own representatives. Federalism holds no meaning until the people of ethnic groups learn to govern themselves.

In the proposed state structure in the cooperative model of federalism, the Tarai people constitute 49.63% of total population in Gandaki state and 60.53% in Koshi state. However, in the Tarai 33% of the total population are non-Madhesis and if this percentage is reduced from each of the Tarai regions, the Madhesis would be in minority even in Tarai and further marginalised.

There has been inadequate exercise on the model of resource sharing between the centre and the states. If the concept of ‘regions’ within the state structure holds good, there is no reason why the three regions including Maithili, Bhojpura and Awadhi regions or even Tharuhat from east to west Nepal cannot be thought of in a single Tarai state. The ecological comparative advantage of the three belts can be harvested even if the states are organised horizontally. In view of these facts, the proposed structure of state appears biased against Madhesis. It looks similar to the concept of division of the country into 14 zones and five development regions by the Panchayat system in which the Madhesis had been thrown into minority. And the same is going to happen again if the concept of cooperative federal structure is implemented.

Dr Jha is executive director, Center for Economic and Technical Studies