People are increasingly adapting to the new federal setup, report saysThe overall perception of the country’s direction has been negative but people in remote areas and marginalised groups are more optimistic than others, according to the report.
Nepalis are increasingly seeking the help of state institutions and elected representatives to settle their disputes, a development that indicates growing adaptation of the state institutions under the federal system, a survey report prepared by Kathmandu University has said.
The report comes at a time when a section of political forces have been making their voices louder against federalism, terming it expensive and unwanted. The report titled ‘A survey of the Nepalese People 2022’, which was released on Monday, showed that Nepalis are increasingly seeking the help of state institutions and people’s representatives instead of traditional dispute settlement practices, such as with the mediation by mukhiyas, religious leaders and other locally influential people who have no legal validity.
According to the survey conducted in August and September last year, the reliance on traditional mechanisms decreased sharply in 2022, compared to 2020, while the number of people seeking help from state institutions soared during the three-year period. For example, in cases of domestic violence, the majority of people sought help from their elected representatives, such as the ward chairperson or members, followed by the police.
Up to 45.9 percent of those who reported domestic violence sought the help of the ward chairperson or ward members, while 42.6 percent sought the help of the police. As many as 32.6 percent sought the help of village or municipal assembly, 22.6 percent the help of members of the provincial assembly and 19.7 percent sought the help of provincial ministers. Nobody sought the help of traditional justice mechanisms, according to the report. In the previous survey conducted in 2020, 17.6 percent had sought traditional justice mechanisms.
Likewise, people seeking the help of state institutions like the police, elected representatives at local and provincial levels, civil servants, district courts, and land revenue offices to settle disputes related to lands, theft, debt, and violence increased in 2022 compared to 2020, according to the report. “This suggests that there is a growing trust in the state institutions formed after the state restructuring,” Kathmandu University said in a press statement.
According to the University, the survey, which is in its fourth edition, was conducted among 7,060 respondents aged 18 years and above from 588 wards in all seven provinces. The Kathmandu University School of Arts led the survey works, which it has been doing since 2017.
Co-Principal Investigator of the report Uddhab Pyakurel, who also teaches political sociology at Kathmandu University, said the trend of people increasingly seeking help from state institutions shows that people’s ownership towards the newly restructured state bodies has been growing. “Now, more people are aware of the functions of the provincial government than before,” he said.
According to the report, people’s perception about whether the country was moving in the right direction has been found diverse, depending on the province and across socio-ethnic groups.
Overall positive perception has come down to a record low 41.7 percent in 2022 from a record high 65.6 percent in 2020 among the four surveys.
According to the survey, only 30.5 percent of residents in Bagmati Province, the most developed in the country, responded saying that the country is heading in the right direction.
Good perception about the country’s direction stood at 42.1 percent and 46.9 percent, among respondents from Karnali and Sudurpashchim provinces, respectively.
In fact, in all of the surveys, the people of Karnali and Sudurpashchim provinces are found to be more optimistic than those from Bagmati Province, according to the report. Likewise, people from the mountain and Tarai regions, less educated people, the marginalised Madheshi Dalits and Muslims are more optimistic about the country’s present direction.
“The survey showed that trust in the new state structure is higher among the people from marginalised groups and regions than those who are from privileged classes and regions, particularly Bagmati,” Pyakurel said. “This suggests that federalism is delivering in those areas compared to the past.”
However, a group of political forces, especially those on the right, has also been leading anti-federal discourses as well. They have been stating that federalism has been expensive for the country.
In June last year, Rastriya Prajatantra Party had submitted a memorandum to the former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba demanding that the structure of provinces be scrapped, blaming the added layers of the government for causing a great harm to the nation’s economy.
Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), the third-largest party in the ruling coalition, has not made its position on federalism clear. The party didn’t field candidates for the provincial assemblies. The party’s leaders, including its president Rabi Lamichhane, publicly announced their boycott of provincial voting, saying the provincial structure has been adding an additional burden for the state’s coffers.
Its leaders argue that the current structure of the provinces should be changed to make it less expensive.
However, Khim Lal Devkota, a lawmaker at the National Assembly and an expert on federalism, said that federalism has facilitated the government’s service delivery to the doorsteps of people.
“The powers held by District Education Office, District Public Health Office, District Education Office, which were all based at the district headquarters, have now gone under the local governments and have become more accessible as compared to the past,” he said.
However, the implementation of federalism in the country has faced many roadblocks, particularly the introduction of necessary laws.
Dozens of laws and regulations are needed for a full-fledged implementation of federalism. The government led by former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was blamed for being reluctant to allow the provinces and the local levels to fully discharge their constitutional duties.
Little was done towards endorsing the laws needed to strengthen federalism.
For example, the government withdrew the Federal Civil Service Bill in October 2021. The Federal Education Act was also not introduced and the measures necessary to overhaul Nepal Police were also not taken.
Speaking at the National Assembly on Tuesday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal regretted the non-endorsement of the Federal Civil Service Act. “It is a strategically decisive law to show whether we are honest to implement federalism,” he said, responding to lawmakers' questions. “But the bill returned to the government after being presented in parliament. Only by making this law and implementing it will the country see the impact of federalism.”
Stating that the constitution had envisioned different governments at the provincial and local levels too, Dahal said that political, economic, and security rights should be given to the sub-national governments as well to enable them to function as separate governments.