For four years, commissions mandated to empower marginalised communities have remained largely vacantWhile five commissions—Madhesi, Dalit, Tharu, Muslim, and Inclusion—have chairpersons but no members, two others—Women and Indigenous Nationalities—don’t even have chairpersons.
In 2015, when the new Constitution provisioned seven inclusion commissions to advocate for the rights of marginalised and deprived communities, it was hailed as a progressive step forward. The constitution provided the seven commissions—Madhesi, Dalit, Tharu, Muslim, Women, Indigenous Nationalities, and Inclusion—with a 10-year mandate, beginning from the day of constitution promulgation, to work for the empowerment of their respective communities and ensure their participation in socio-political life.
But four years into their mandate, none of the commissions has a full office.
Successive governments—led by then CPN-UML, then CPN (Maoist Centre) and Nepali Congress—have repeatedly failed to appoint office bearers to the commissions. The incumbent government, in July, appointed chairpersons to the Madhesi, Dalit, Tharu, Inclusion and Muslim commissions, but they still lack members. The Women and Indigenous Nationalities commissions don’t even have chairpersons, let alone members.
Each of the commissions has been provisioned to include five members, led by a chairperson. But the commissions that have chairpersons are as defunct as the ones that don’t, as they cannot take the policy and legal decisions without members. They also lack crucial human resources and necessary infrastructure.
The constitutional council, which is led by the prime minister and includes the leader of the main opposition, is the body that selects the names of chairpersons and commission members. The prime minister has the direct authority to call a meeting of the council and appoint office-bearers.
“We are limited to administrative work. The chairperson alone cannot endorse plans and formulate regulations,” Bishnu Prasad Chaudhary, chairperson of the National Tharu Commission, told the Post. “Crucial four years have been wasted and now there are just six years to complete our constitutional responsibilities.”
Article 265 of the constitution has tasked the federal parliament to review the commissions 10 years after the commencement of the statute.
Rights activists say that leaving the inclusion commissions vacant for years is a manifestation of the apathy of the people in power.
“Those running the state machinery aren’t concerned about marginalised communities,” Kapil Shrestha, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Post. “The apathy towards the commissions shows that they were formed just to create an illusion among these communities.”
Holding the state accountable towards its people is one of the major jurisdictions of these commissions and the government doesn't want them to function in this role, said Shrestha. Although Article 265 of the statute allows Parliament to extend the commissions’ terms after evaluation, chances are slim that the parties will want to prolong their terms, he said.
Appointments have not been made largely due to the failure to reach consensus among the ruling and opposition parties. In January, the constitutional council picked chairpersons for five commissions without the agreement of the Nepali Congress, the primary opposition. That is the reason why Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba is now seeking a commitment from the government that the council will make a decision with consensus, not with its parliamentary majority, say officials.
A meeting of the council called for Tuesday was postponed indefinitely after Deuba refused to participate in the meeting.
“Appointment of chairpersons and members in the inclusion commission was the primary agenda of the meeting,” Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe, deputy-speaker of the House of Representatives and also a member of the council, told the Post.
The next meeting of the commission will only be held after Tihar, owing to the busy schedule of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who is travelling to Azerbaijan on Thursday to attend the 18th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.