Centralisation of power reflected in drinking water projectsMove to bring 700 drinking water projects under federal government tramples upon provincial jurisdiction, province officials say.
The federal government in May decided to take control of smaller drinking water projects, which in the past were under the jurisdiction of provincial governments. For this, the federal government reduced the threshold of the population to be served by a drinking water project implemented by the federal government.
By endorsing a standard on the division of development projects among federal, provincial and local governments, the Cabinet decided that the federal government would handle drinking water projects that can serve more than 15,000 people in the Tarai region. Earlier, the threshold was at 30,000 people for each drinking water project.
Similarly, the population threshold was reduced to 5,000 and 1,000 from 10,000 and 5,000 in the hill and mountainous regions respectively to implement the projects under the centre.
It paved the way for the federal government to reclaim drinking water projects that were handed over to provinces as per the constitutional provisions.
“Around 700 drinking water projects, which were handed over to provinces, have come under the federal government,” said Ritesh Kumar Shakya, spokesperson for the Ministry of Water Supply.
The federal government has taken charge of 124 out of 581 drinking water projects which were previously under Sudurpaschim Province.
The federal government has even taken over those projects which should have remained under the provincial government as per the new criteria, according to Sudurpaschim government officials.
“For example, the federal government reclaimed 33 drinking water projects from Kailali and Kanchanpur districts which were earlier under the provincial governments. But only two projects—Masuriya Drinking Water Project in Kailali and Krishnapur Drinking Water Project in Kanchanpur—had the capacity of delivering drinking water to over 15,000 population. Thirty-one projects had the capacity of delivering water to less than 15,000 population,” a senior official at the Sudurpaschim provincial government told the Post on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak with the media.
According to the official, projects like Chaumala Drinking Water Project and Thapapur Drinking Water Project in Kailali as well as Bani Drinking Water Project and Ramnagar Drinking Water Project were brought under the federal government, despite having a capacity below the revised threshold.
Ministers concerned in Sudurpaschim and Gandaki provinces complained that the federal government took over a number of drinking water projects without consulting and coordinating with them.
Pathan Singh Bohora, minister for Physical Infrastructure Development of Sudurpaschim Province, told the Post that the federal government took a decision unilaterally.
“They didn’t consult or coordinate with us. Nor did they ask if we were capable of implementing the projects,” said Bohora.
The federal government also took back around 70 drinking water projects from Gandaki Province.
Ram Sharan Basnet, Minister for Physical Infrastructure Development of Gandaki, echoed Bohora.
The provincial government had already started implementing them, according to Basnet.
The ministers said the federal government’s decision was against the spirit of federalism.
“It is part of a series of actions that the federal government has been taking to snatch away the rights of the provincial governments,” said Bohora.
Last month, Province 2 government filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court challenging the federal government’s move to merge the Sagarnath Forest Development Project with the Timber Corporation of Nepal and bring them under the federal government as part of Forest Corporation. A constitutional bench of the apex court has issued a stay order against the federal government’s decision.
The federal and provincial governments have been in a tug of war over a number of issues, including the former’s plan to appoint chief district officers.
When the constitution has given provinces the jurisdiction of maintaining law and order, provincial authorities say, keeping CDOs as representatives of the federal government is against the jurisdiction of provincial governments.
Recently, the Public Service Commission’s effort to recruit new staff at local units on the request of the federal government also mired in controversy, as provinces complained that the centre interfered in their internal affairs.
Federalism experts say that the centre is working to expand its influence on provincial and local levels in various ways.
“For example, the federal government is increasing the size of the drinking water projects under it,” said Khim Lal Devkota, an expert on federalism.
Devkota, who resigned as vice-chairman of policy commission under the Province 3 government, said he was also unaware of the National Planning Commission’s new standards aimed at bringing the number of drinking water projects under the federal government.
“Although I was the vice-chairman of the Policy Commission, a provincial body akin to the National Planning Commission, I was not consulted for preparing the standards,” Devkota told the Post.
Many drinking water projects were brought under the federal government from provinces because many government employees did not want to work under provincial governments. And the federal government needed more projects to employ them, Devkota said, “This is happening due to centralised mindset.”