Implementation of the new constitution, promulgated on 20 Sept 2015, has been patchy. The federal government that was to spearhead its implementation has, at best, been non-committal. This is particularly true about the main pillar of the new charter: federalism. The constitution put in place a three-tier government structure, devolving many rights to the provincial and local levels. Yet the federal government has been reluctant to abide by the constitution. It wants to have the decisive say in health and education, and on appointment of provincial and local staff. The District Development Offices, the holdovers of the old unitary setup that are now directly under the federal government, still have the final say on law and order. In this light, the constitution-implementation exercise of the past five years is not encouraging. But that is only half the picture.
A unitary state for two and a half centuries, embracing the federal setup, almost overnight, could not have been easy for Nepal. Most bureaucrats and civil servants—much less the common public—are just starting to acquaint themselves with the nitty-gritty of federalism. Confusion abounds, as most are still used to thinking of Nepal as a unitary state. So greater embrace of federalism is partly a matter of time. Even so, it is sometimes hard to accept our political leaders’ reluctance to implement the new setup, for they were the ones who introduced the concept to the public, often presenting federalism as a cure-all. Either they were poorly informed or they mislead the public. They were at fault, even if the former is the case.
Some are already pronouncing the death of the constitution that they say is cumbersome, and unsuited to the country. That is another overstatement. Just as there have been reports of local-level corruption from around the country, adding to public cynicism of the federal project, we also get to hear of wonderful local-level initiatives like the provision of monetary rewards for families with a girl child or outlawing of gambling. Perhaps we expect more of the ‘revolutionary’ system we heralded. But five years into the promulgation of the historic constitution, there are enough encouraging signs. Rather than picture the budding plant dies, the country would benefit more if all of us started thinking about helping it reach its maturity.