Government preparing to push long-awaited citizenship billPrime Minister Dahal plans to pass around 20 bills over the next one-and-a-half months.
With both the Houses of Parliament getting their leaders following the appointment of Urmila Aryal as vice-chair of the National Assembly on Tuesday, the government is set to push several crucial bills including the long-awaited and divisive citizenship bill.
On Monday, Prime Minister Dahal held a meeting with chief whips of all major parties at his official residence in Baluwatar where they all are said to have agreed to move forward important bills including the citizenship bill.
The prime minister while seeking a vote of confidence on January 10 in Parliament had promised to endorse the citizenship bill within six months.
“The bill endorsed by both the Houses of [the previous] Parliament and rejected by the President is already there. Now the government will start discussions on it again and present it in Parliament,” said Rekha Sharma, government spokesperson and minister for Communication and Information Technology. “Based on the discussion among parties, it will be decided whether to make any changes to the bill.”
With no Citizenship bill in place, a large number of Nepalis have been deprived of their constitutional rights and remain stateless in their own country.
For the first time since the promulgation of the federal constitution in 2015, the head of the state Bidya Devi Bhandari defied parliament by rejecting the citizenship bill in September last year.
The citizenship bill has been languishing for several years due to disputes over some of its provisions among political parties.
Now, with Bhandari preparing to exit Sheetal Niwas by the second week of March and the Election Commission already scheduling the presidential polls for March 9, the government is working to move ahead with the Citizenship Bill hoping it will pass this time.
An amendment to the Citizenship Act 2006 is necessary to make it compatible with the Constitution of Nepal. Because of differences among political parties, a planned amendment remains stalled since August 2018, when a bill to revise the Act was first registered in Parliament. As the then State Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives couldn’t forge consensus among parties on the bill despite discussing it for over two years, the government on July 9, last year withdrew the bill and registered a new one, which was endorsed by the lower house on July 22 last year and subsequently by the upper house and was forwarded to the President.
The President, however, returned the bill requesting Parliament to revise some of the provisions. But Parliament again sent the bill back to the President without any revision and she sat on the bill and allowed it to lapse.
Due to such arguably unconstitutional actions of President Bhandari, who was accused of stopping the bill at the behest of the CPN-UML, political parties are now seeking a neutral candidate for the new head of the state.
Officials at the prime minister’s secretariat said the meeting was called to discuss several crucial bills that have prevented a full-fledged implementation of federalism.
The integration of civil servants has been affected for a long time in the absence of a law related to the federal civil service.
“Parliament is without any business, so we demanded business and discussed the bills, including those related to citizenship and the federal civil service. The prime minister was positive and serious about our proposals,” said Pradip Yadav, the whip of the Janata Samajbadi Party. “This parliament session will continue for around the next one and a half months during which the prime minister expressed his commitment to passing up to 20 bills.”
The meeting was attended by UML leader and lawmaker Subas Chandra Nembang, Congress chief whip Ramesh Lekhak, Janata Samajbadi Party chief whip Pradip Yadav, Prem Suwal of the Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party, and Chitra Bahadur KC of the Rastriya Janamorcha.
Also present were Rastriya Swatantra Party Chief Whip Santosh Pariyar, Rastriya Prajatantra Party Chief Whip Gyanendra Shahi, and Hitraj Pande, the chief whip of the CPN (Maoist Centre). The chief secretary of the government, Shankar Das Bairagi, and the Law Ministry secretary Dhanaraj Gyawali were also in attendance.
According to Gopal Nath Yogi, secretary of the House of Representatives, 27 bills became inactive during the previous session of Parliament. Among them, 22 were registered in the lower house and five were endorsed by the Upper House.
Other major bills to be presented in Parliament include those related to the Media Council, Federal Civil Service, Civil Aviation and Air Service, Truth and Reconciliation, as well as amendments to some Nepal acts.
Government’s spokesperson Minister Sharma also said the government is preparing to move ahead with the Media Council Bill, at the earliest along with a work plan. “I request all media experts to provide suggestions on the bill,” said Sharma during her meeting with officials of the Press Council Nepal and the Federation of Nepali Journalists, on Monday.