Government’s Policy Priority For Culture

Prem Khatry

If programmes are to be planned and implemented, one naturally thinks of two questions: a) Under what policy is this activity planned and implemented, and, b) Is there a policy to guide and steer through at all? Activity can be successfully implemented if the answer is positive. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) organised talk and review programmes the other day at the ministry hall at Singha Durbar. Noted culture historian, archaeologists, experts in the field of law and constitution, former ministers and activists, MoCTCA affiliated institutions, academies and former TU officials were among those invited. Noted cultural historian and centenarian Dr Satya Mohan Joshi, was the main attraction of the programme.
The writer will make a humble effort to note the main highlights of the programme as it concerns us all. First of all, centenarian Joshi was asked to make the formal inaugural speech. Joshi briefly highlighted the fact that publication of the First Cultural Policy of Nepal was initiated by UNESCO as a chain of publication of such policies of many member nations. But since that work was entrusted to an individual expert Dr Saphalya Amatya under the directives of UNESCO the then government of Nepal didn’t own the text. However, he added, the government felt the urgent need of such a policy and the work to prepare the Cultural Policy of Nepal began in early 2000s.

Senior ministry’s official Bharat Mani Subedi threw light on the history, compilation and current status of the Cultural Policy of Nepal, 2067 BS and major contents (proposed) of the new policy, 2074. The need of the new policy, he added, was due to the changed constitutional, administrative and political context of the country. Now that there are three tiers in the new structure - Federal or Central, Provincial or Pradesh and Local or the Municipalities or Village Councils - the new cultural policy must also adjust the new needs and follow the provisions made in the new federal constitution in this regard.
Subedi’s presentation focuses on the diverse cultural contexts and needs to be mentioned in the new policy. For example, he said: the new policy which the participants liked to call ‘Central’ rather than ‘Federal’, could include several domains such as – provisions made in the new constitution, central level academies, issue related to the intellectual property rights, historic monuments and archaeological sites, among others. Similarly, he added – the provincial governments would have museums, issues related to language, script, general culture, fine arts, faiths and usage, and the Guthi or Trust management. Finally, he proposed that the local government could deal with language, culture and fine arts. When some speakers understood the issue and spoke briefly and to the point, several well-known and gifted speakers diverted the issue time and again and took time to speak long and say less. Very few could really touch the issue. You are invited to think seriously about the cultural policy to be adopted in new, republican Nepal. And your expressions are all wayward, to say the least.
Moments came when the writer could restrain no more and had to design this write-up for the benefit of the esteemed readers of this paper. At least ten qualified and committed participants representing different institutions, including UNESCO and other institutions didn’t find time to express their views on the new cultural policy draft. For some participants who didn’t have time to speak, the four plus hour time was more or less a time wasted to listen to several boring lectures in the name of the review of the old policy book and recommendations on the new draft. This prompted this writer to jot down these two entries on the Facebook wall (March 7, 2018), as follows:
‘… even in academic fora scholars present themselves as satirists and speak irrelevantly. Typical culture? No.. individual instincts.’
‘.. scholars still need help on use of time and theme when they hold microphone. Important lessons from today’s cultural policy discussion session.’
This might sound a bit personal but the writer had worked for some time to help the ministry convene the session with the hope that people come prepared, they have read the old policy and the outcome will be fantastic. Similarly, there were concerns about the government’s ownership policy. If a policy is prepared but if there is no legal binding for the government agencies, what good would that policy be? It would simply be a piece of paper.
This is the time when local governments are bracing themselves against all odds and preparing to establish their new power firmly. Every Pradesh government is enjoying a new experience. The cultural policy must address the local domains to be incorporated into their authority list. There is always risk of some domains being issues of litigations. Tourism is one such domain the new policy will have to address. Archives and archaeology were two other domains to be addressed properly. Secretary Devkota said he was very happy and was experiencing flow of new spirit for the first time in his career to be among the galaxy of expert scholars. This was the biggest compliment for the participants.

Finally, cultural policy with clear delineation of rights and responsibilities of the Federation, the Provinces and the Village/City governments is the need of the day. UNESCO wants all member nations to take up the responsibility rather cautiously with the policy and scale up the policy to legal tools that govern the heritage and the community also receives its share in the process of programming and implementation. For a multi-cultural and diverse country like Nepal, risks are everywhere but proper coordination and delineation of tasks and terms will make things happen. The fact relayed to policy dynamism is: Policy can always be modified, adjusted and strengthened.

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