Your search keywords:

Local bodies: The spine of federal democracy

Local bodies: The spine of federal democracy

Local governance is not only the devolution of electoral representation to the grassroots but also the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. As opposed to provincial and central governments, local governments recognize local issues that are addressed at the local level.

Local governance embodies the true spirit of federalism, for it deals with socio-economic problems, including urban and rural civic facilities, with an active participation of commoners. In fact, local governments are key players of service delivery and the adjudicator of local disputes. From maintaining the natural environment to waste management to registering individuals’ life events like birth, death, marriage, we see the presence and importance of local bodies everywhere.

Legal mandates

As local governments are critical for a democracy to thrive, the Constitution of Nepal recognizes this institution under Part-17. Article 214 envisages vesting local executives with executive powers of the local government while Article 217 deals with Judicial Committees empowered to settle disputes by way of alternate dispute resolution at the local level. The Local Government Operation Act, 2074 BS (2017) under Section 47(1) empowers the Judicial Committees to dispense as many as 13 types of disputes, including that of petitions regarding non-payment of daily wages, matrimonial disputes and trespassing. Section 27 of the Act, 2074 lays down a solemn duty on every person to get a proposed design (map) of the house passed from the concerned local body before its construction. Section 37 confers power on local bodies to take action against the person constructing a permanent structure without taking approval for a proposed design. These legal mandates are sufficient to conclude that local governments have a huge legal mandate and they are the lifeline of Nepal’s federal democracy.

The municipality’s development efforts, as articulated by the laws, need to be modified in the light of new realities. The legal mandate has to be acknowledged in a true and material sense.

For instance, the Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2018 vests local bodies with a responsibility to ensure that parents send their wards to school. Kids can hardly get an education if their guardians don’t have a job and sufficient means of livelihood. Our constitution, under Article 33, guarantees the right to employment to every citizen as a matter of fundamental right. Yet, our youths are toiling abroad for a ‘better future’.

As per the mandate of the Right to Employment Act, 2075 BS, local bodies are required to prepare a list of unemployed youths. The Employment Service Center (ESC), formed by the Government of Nepal, is given the authority under Section 11(2) of the Right to Employment Act to compile a list of “actual” jobless people from the list of all applicants and provide them temporary jobs. Details like when and for how long the applicants will be hired are not specified in the Act.

According to Section 11(3) of the Employment Act, ESC must also submit its reports to the provincial government. Section 10(2) states that the ESC will act with the help and advice of the central government. As a result, the central government has a lot of discretionary power to give shape to the employment policy. This goes against the federal fabrics. The central government’s myopic vision is to blame for non-enforcement of this law.

There is nothing to put a stop on the outmigration of workers. Our youths are toiling in the Gulf for a better income. Due to extreme temperatures in the Gulf countries, they suffer from different diseases. At old age, they have no option but to spend the rest of their hard-earned money on treatment and become poor, once again. 

Job creation is the only solution to unemployment problems. Our education system should be updated in the light of changing realities to produce human resources compatible with the job market.  

Even praiseworthy legal mandates will continue to fall short unless they are implemented in a true and objective manner. Take an example of Janakpur, an ancient place with the legacies of Mithila’s capital city and the birthplace of great philosophers like Gargi and Yajnavalkya. But pollution in the capital city of Madhes Province often upsets the people and this unpleasant atmosphere is causing harm to its identity as a great place of historical significance.

Local government’s efforts to make Janakpurdham a cleaner and greener place will be in vain unless local communities support the efforts. As a first step toward restoring the glory of Janakpur, tourist attractions like Janaki Temple, Ram Temple, 12-Bigha, Rajdevi Mai Temple and religious ponds should be cleaned up. A ban on public and private vehicles may be imposed in and around historic places to curb pollution and maintain their beauty. Janakpur Municipality can take a leaf from Kathmandu Metropolitan City, which has imposed a ban on the use of public and private vehicles at historic places like Hanumandhoka and Basantpur.  

Take an example of waste management. The local government of Janakpur has deployed its staff to broom, pick up the wastes and keep the streets clean. Because of their active role, Janakpur appears a bit cleaner. In the early morning, streets appear cleaner but after 10 AM, it’s a different story. The shopkeepers, hotels, and even local people have developed a tendency of throwing garbage and solid wastes on the streets. They believe that their duty ends up with maintaining cleanliness of their respective places/residences. Feast and function organizers are no different. They splurge on feasts, but don’t spend much on waste management. Government and private hospitals also do not care much about waste management. Given this situation, we need joint cooperation from every walk of life to fight against environmental menace and to launch a cleanliness drive in Janakpurdham.

For proper management of unattended cows, of which the streets of Janakpurdham had no dearth, the municipality has developed a “Gaushala”. Other local units can replicate this practice. In addition, the municipality has developed a parking place and a stadium. These attempts of the municipality are indeed praiseworthy.

The way forward

A nationwide effort is a must to strengthen the local governance system for promoting social harmony, fostering the concept of welfare state and speeding up local development. Sustainable development goals like quality education, clean water and sanitation, gender equality, and sustainable cities and communities will remain on paper unless we succeed in translating legal mandates into reality. It’s high time we lived up to people’s expectations. Our laws should be implemented in letter and spirit for the cause of local governance and federal democracy.