Bundling of many legal amendments in a single bill raises question of intentGovernments with hidden motives do so to evade close scrutiny by lawmakers, says National Assembly member.
The government on May 9 registered a bill to amend some Nepal Acts in the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to revise 80 Acts—around a third of the country’s total.
With the single bill, the government is preparing to amend the Acts related to criminal office, forest use, environment protection, university education—and what not. In case of minor revisions, there is a practice of amending multiple Acts through a single bill. But in recent years, successive governments have been introducing such bills even for crucial changes to multiple Acts in a single go.
Former Speaker and CPN-UML leader Subash Nembang sees the practice as a deviation in the lawmaking process. “This is a very serious issue. How can lawmakers study 80 Acts and make up their mind in the limited time?” he said. “I don’t think we are headed in the right direction.”
He said each lawmaker has three to five minutes to comment on the bills, which is barely enough to discuss the provisions related to just one or two Acts. Regarding the May 9 bill, he said each lawmaker needs to study all the 80 Acts to file amendments to the bill. “This is not practical,” he said.
The bill comes at a time when there are allegations that Nepal's lawmaking process is not consultative.
In his research article titled “Law-Making Processes in Federal Nepal” published in 2021 in the journal of the International Center for Public Policy under Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at the US-based Georgia State University, National Assembly member Khim Lal Devkota has claimed the government barely consults stakeholders and parliamentarians before drafting the bills. A select group of bureaucrats and the people selected by the government draft the bills, he has claimed.
Talking to the Post, Devkota said governments bundle up amendments to multiple laws into a single bill so as to facilitate the passage of some provisions, often favouring certain interest groups, by evading close scrutiny of lawmakers.
“As such bills aim to amend dozens of Acts at once, it is impossible to study them all,” he told the Post. “This is an example of policy corruption.”
As he recounts, on December 24, 2018, the government led by KP Sharma Oli had registered a bill in the federal parliament to amend 56 various laws including the Nepal Trust Act. The bill was tabled for deliberations in the House of Representatives on January 1, 2019 and was endorsed in the following February 15 without opposition.
The National Assembly endorsed it on March 2 of the same year and it was authenticated by then President Bidya Devi Bhandari the very next day. However, only after the government decided to lease out some of the Nepal Trust land to the Yeti Group, a business group regarded as close to the UML leader, did the lawmakers realise their mistake in approving the amendment.
The recent bill has a provision which says sub judice cases in any court against anyone from a party or a group which conducted violent protests in the past, but is carrying out its activities peacefully now based on the constitution and the law, can be withdrawn.
Through the bill, the government has added a sub-section to section 116 of the Civil Code for Criminal Procedure with the goal of withdrawing cases from all tiers of the court system—Supreme, High and District—against political leaders and cadres.
Similarly, a provision in the bill envisions revision of the Forest Act to authorise the government to allow the use of national forest areas for infrastructure projects approved by the Development Board. Similarly, it aims to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act to increase the penalty in wildlife crimes. It also seeks to revise the criteria regarding environment impact assessment for development projects in the Environment Protection Act.
“It took us more than seven years to draft and endorse the criminal code, but the government does not even find it necessary to bring a separate amendment bill to revise it,” said Nembang. “Several amendment provisions in the bill have far-reaching consequences.”
Legal experts say, in principle, a bill to amend some Nepal Acts is introduced to revise laws of similar nature. They say, such a bill, for instance, can revise all the laws related to women rights in one go. “However, these days such bills are being introduced to amend laws of diverse nature which is a wrong practice,” Mohan Lal Acharya, a constitutional lawyer, told the Post. “We can easily say this reflects the executive’s ill intent.”