Police in a federal modelThe Nepal Police is experiencing the most fundamental change to its structures, policies and practices in recent history. As the country moves ahead in adopting a federal political system, the police will also undergo a federalisation process in accord with the Constitution of Nepal.
The Nepal Police is experiencing the most fundamental change to its structures, policies and practices in recent history. As the country moves ahead in adopting a federal political system, the police will also undergo a federalisation process in accord with the Constitution of Nepal. According to the guidelines set forth in—amongst others—Article 268 of the constitution, in the future, Nepal will have three layers of law enforcement at the federal, provincial and municipal level. Each layer will be under the jurisdiction of the respective governance level.
This transformation of the Nepal Police from a centralised to a federal force is both a necessary and remarkable project. This is not least because the focus of previous security sector reforms in Nepal has so far been the Nepal Army, most notably the incorporation of former Maoist combatants into the Army in 2013.
However, it does not look like the Nepal Police and the political parties are sufficiently prepared for the profound structural changes the most visible arm of the government is about to go through. This is because political leaders have, in previous years, devoted much attention discussing the models of federalism, as well as the number of states and their names. They have, however, spent little time on the role and structure of the police in the federal system, the implications of a shift to federalism for day-to-day policing, or the steps to be taken while transforming the policing system. It is yet important that politicians understand what policing means in a federal context, and what it entails in terms of legal and organisational features.
Centralised to federalised
The Nepal Police currently functions as a centralised government agency—administered by the Ministry of Home Affairs—that maintains a rigid top-down hierarchy. This system has been in place since the anti-Rana revolt in 1950 and the subsequent modernisation of Nepal’s law enforcement system. It is enshrined in the Nepal Police Act of 1955 and the Nepal Police Regulation of 1958.
Federalising the police is a topic that has only been picked up in recent years. Since 2007, the debate on federalism has dominated Nepal’s political discourse. The country was declared a federal republic in 2008, but it took eight more years until, in 2016, the government formed a high level taskforce for restructuring the Nepal Police under the federal set-up, as envisaged by the Constitution of Nepal. The taskforce has already submitted a framework, which will likely come into operation in both the federal and the provincial structure of the Nepal Police.
This decision of political leaders to move towards a federal model of governance and policing is in line with a recent trend among post-conflict states to adopt federalism. It is expected that federalism eases regional, cultural and centre-periphery tensions. In this context, federalism in Nepal is also a reaction to a prior system of a centralised government that benefitted a single political and identity group. The recent shift from centralised to federal rule in Nepal thereby takes place as part of a peacebuilding process aimed at creating stability and promoting national unity in a polarised political environment.
Much to be done
While it is frequently international development and peacebuilding practitioners who promote federalism as a tool for state and peacebuilding in post-conflict contexts, it was local elites who drove the process in Nepal. This facet of local ownership is usually regarded as beneficial for reforms in the security sector in particular. Then again, the taskforce’s proposed framework foresees policing in Nepal to resemble the federal policing structures of Canada, the UK, or Belgium.
This copy-and-paste system to restructure the Nepal Police that is guided by a western model could turn out to be problematic—and it does not take local ownership into full consideration. Political leaders should more vigorously discuss and take into account the nation’s history and the contemporary configuration of political, economic, and socio-cultural relations. These concerns should inform the choice of a police system for Nepal.
This begins with more thoroughly taking into account the representation of minorities in the Nepal Police. At the core of how the police will discharge their duties in future is the challenge to guarantee that the force will not be used as a weapon of political, ethnic, or regional oppression, but as a vanguard for human rights. This matter does not miraculously and automatically get solved by adopting a federal police structure. For instance, currently the police are working under one system of minority representation applicable to the whole country. It will be important to discuss whether the federal units will employ distinct systems of representation in line with the composition of the population residing within each unit.
Creating a federal police system also does not tackle other challenges that the Nepal Police faces in its day-to-day work. These issues include a lack of public trust in the force, especially from marginalised communities, public complaints about rights violations, officer impunity, or ineffective service delivery. Also a lack of resources, corruption, and the politicisation of the police remain among the challenges. The design of a new federal police should address these substantive concerns of citizens, which is only possible under a democratic government where good governance, human rights, and equality of citizens are recognised, protected, and promoted by the government at all levels.
Bogati is the Chief Executive of Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative; Strasheim is a researcher at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies