On a collision course? Legal battle likely to intensify between provinces and KathmanduThey say Province 2 move to challenge federal government’s bid to infringe upon its jurisdiction is an important step.
Province 2 government’s move of filing a case against the federal government at the Supreme Court has raised a question: is it an exception or will it be a norm as the country tries to implement federalism?
After the elections in 2017, two years after the promulgation of the new constitution, the country should have picked up the pace to institutionalise federalism and the federal government was expected to play a crucial and proactive role as the facilitator. But in contrast, the federal government, which has failed to introduce some critical umbrella laws, has been facing criticism for trying to centralise power, defeating the entire idea of federalism.
On Thursday, the Province 2 Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment filed a case at the top court, demanding an interim order against the federal government’s move of merging the Sagarnath Forest Development Project with the Timber Corporation of Nepal. In the petition, the provincial ministry has said the federal government violated the jurisdiction of the provincial government.
Dipendra Jha, chief attorney of Province 2, said this was just the beginning of their legal battle against the federal government.
“This case would be the litmus test for us to know how the court’s trend would go. We will continue to challenge the federal government on several other issues,” said Jha, who argued on behalf of the provincial government in the court on Friday. “Ministries have been complaining of difficulties in accomplishing their duties due to the federal government's reluctance to devolve power.”
One of the most pressing issues in recent times has been the security arrangements in the provinces. The federal government’s plan to deploy chief district officers as its liaison officers has met with criticism from provincial governments. Despite objections, the federal government is trying to empower the chief district officers, a move that is certain to flare up the ongoing legal battle between the provincial and federal governments.
“The Province 2 government’s step [of filing a case against the federal government] is an important move,” said Shalikram Jammarkattel, internal affairs and law minister of Province 3. “It was inevitable.”
Jamarkattel, a former trade union leader of the Maoist party, said there are several issues related to the provincial police, forest, education, health and agriculture administrations where legal battles are expected between the two tiers of government.
Though this is the first case in which a provincial government has moved the court, two years ago Ashok Byanju, chairman of the Municipal Association of Nepal, had filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court on four different issues including employees' adjustment and finalisation of the concurrent powers of the three tiers of government. The case is pending at the constitutional bench.
“Some 13 bills related to the rights of local governments are at the federal parliament, which breach their single authority. We are now lobbying with the concerned lawmakers, ministers and their secretaries,” said Byanju, who is also the mayor of Dhulikhel Municipality in Kavre. “If the bills are endorsed without incorporating our concerns, we are all prepared to seek legal remedy.”
Secondary level education and basic health facilities are some of the rights that fall under the sole authority of local governments but the federal government has been trying to infringe on their rights through legal means.
In principle, as per the concept of federalism, the federal government should draft policies, provinces should devise the plans and local governments should implement them. “However, none of the governments has followed the actual norms of federalism,” said Byanju.