Delay in deciding names and capitals of four provinces raises concerns over federalism implementationExperts say provincial assemblies should make independent decisions and not wait for orders from leaders in Kathmandu.
Tika R Pradhan
On September 20, 2015, Nepal adopted a new constitution, federating the country into seven provinces with three tiers of government—federal, provincial and local.
Two years later, a federal parliament and seven provincial assemblies were elected.
As per the constitutional provisions, provincial assemblies have the right to decide the names of the provinces and their capitals. Each provincial assembly has to endorse the name of the province and its capital with a two-thirds majority.
It has been more than a year and a half since the provincial assemblies were elected, but four of the seven provinces still don’t have their names and permanent capitals. This, experts on constitutional and federal affairs say, is due to a lack of seriousness in provincial governments.
“It is sheer negligence on the part of the provincial governments and assemblies,” said senior advocate Purna Man Shakya, an expert on constitutional matters. “The delay in naming the provinces and capitals shows the incompetence of the respective governments and assemblies.”
One of the reasons the first Constituent Assembly failed to deliver the constitution, according to experts, was the number of provinces, their names and capitals.
The second Constituent Assembly finalised the constitution—amid reservations from some parties—but due to conflict among the leaders, the names and capitals of provinces could not be decided. The authority to take a decision on the matter was given to the respective provincial assemblies.
The provinces hence were identified numerically—1 to 7.
Province 6 was the first to choose its name as Karnali and Surkhet as its capital in February last year. Since there was no dispute in Province 4, its provincial assembly in July last year chose its name as Gandaki and Pokhara as its capital. In September last year, Province 7 was named Sudurpaschim and Godavari of Kailali was picked as its capital.
But the remaining four provincial assemblies are extremely divided over the names of the provinces and their capital cities.
In three of the four provinces—1, 3 and 5—the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) holds a majority in the provincial assemblies, but due to conflicts among party members, the respective provincial assemblies have failed to arrive at a decision.
In Province 2, Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal run a coalition government but no party has a majority in the provincial assembly.
In Province 1, the government has failed to present the proposal at the provincial assembly about the name of the province, even though the last session had decided that the provincial capital would be Biratnagar and the surrounding area.
Province 2 government had formed a three-member panel—Dialogue and Suggestions Commission—led by Haribansha Jha, vice-chair of the Niti Aayog, the provincial planning commission.
The government of Province 2, according to officials, is preparing to adopt the model of Province 1—finalising the capital as Janakpur before zeroing in on the name.
Due to the conflict in the name of the province, the government has been delaying presentation of the Jha panel’s report to the assembly. The committee had submitted its report two months ago.
And provinces 3 and 5 have more complexities.
According to sources familiar with the matter, provincial assembly members have a tendency to band together based on their regionality rather than the party they belong to.
For example, in Province 5, Chief Minister Shankar Pokhrel is for making Dang the provincial capital, as it is his hometown, and provincial assembly members of his own party from Rupandehi or Palpa districts object to his idea. Provincial assembly members are divided—some want Butwal to be the provincial capital while others are making a pitch for Dang.
Currently, the Province 3 government is operating from Butwal.
But given the composition of the 87-member provincial assembly, a two-thirds majority is unlikely to back either Dang or Butwal.
The assembly members are also divided over the name of the province. Buddha Bhumi, Lumbini, Rapti, and Tharuwan-Magarat are some of the names under consideration.
A 15-member special committee led by provincial assembly member Dipendra Pun was formed to finalise the name and the capital more than nine months ago. Its term was extended by six more months on Thursday.
“The committee has already collected suggestions from all 12 districts. We are analysing the suggestions and seeking opinions of experts,” Pun told the Post over the phone.
Sources claimed that Chief Minister Pokhrel, who has close relations with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, is waiting for Province 3 to take a decision.
If Province 3 decides to have its capital in Dhulikhel—the provincial government now is functioning from Hetauda, it would be easier for Pokhrel to make a push for his hometown Dang as the capital, the sources said.
In Province 3, while a majority of provincial assembly members are for making Dhulikhel of Kavre its capital, there are concerns over this because it will be too close to the national Capital—Kathmandu.
The Province 3 Assembly, however, is likely to finalise the name of the province after the budget. Gaurishankar, Bagmati, Newa-Tamsaling and Kasthamandap are some of the names that the provincial assembly is considering.
A minister in Province 3 government attributed the delay in naming the province and choosing the capital to “procedural issues”.
But concerns are growing that the delay in naming the provinces and fixing their capitals could become an impediment to federalism implementation and development.
“The provincial assemblies should finalise the names and capital cities at the earliest as the delay has adversely affected the functioning of the provinces,” said Khimlal Devkota, an expert on federalism affairs. “Delay in naming the provinces and their capitals is also one of the reasons behind the poor performance of provinces.”
Since the whole idea of federalism in Nepal was also linked with identity politics, constitutional experts say provincial governments and assemblies should not delay the naming.
“There is no cut-off date for the provinces to finalise their names and capitals, but the delay could give rise to identity issues,” said Bipin Adhikary, an expert on constitutional matters. “Delay in naming the capital could maximise the chances of turning the temporary capital into a permanent one as per the convenience of political elites and business people.”
Though the constitution authorises provincial assemblies to make independent decisions, their members have not been able to do so.
A senior official in the Province 3 government told the Post that if the process to pick the capital is moved to the assembly, the likelihood of voting in favour of Dhulikhel is high. “But there is some sort of pressure from top leadership in Kathmandu not to make Dhulikhel the provincial capital,” the official told the Post on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.
Devkota said the delay is also because provinces are expecting top leaders of major parties to help them take a decision on the names of provinces and their capitals.
“Such delay in naming the provinces and capitals,” said Devkota, “could erode people’s faith in federalism.”