Nepal’s Dilemma Rights Galore Amidst Shabby Economy
Ritu Raj Subedi
Nepal’s quest for a robust welfare system has gained ground with the enactment of altogether 16 Acts that will enable the citizens to enjoy 31 fundamental rights spelt out in the new constitution. Despite being a poor and fledgling republic, Nepal, in principle, stands along with the advanced industrial nations when it comes to ensuring the basic rights of its citizens. These new laws guarantee the people’s rights to food, health, education, job social security, residence, land, safe motherhood and reproductive health. The laws protect the individual’s privacy and set out stringent provisions against racial discrimination and untouchability. The guarantee of consumer rights, protection of the victims of crime and rights of children, environment conservation and rights of disabled people make Nepal a civilised nation. As per the constitution, the federal parliament had to frame the laws on people’s fundamental rights within three years of its promulgation. The elected Constituent Assembly (CA) had issued the new charter on September 19, 2015. Articles 16 to 46 of the constitution have the provision fundamental rights. Now the people can knock the door of court to press the government to implement the fundamental rights in case it fails or delays in doing so.
Nepal’s constitution envisions building a socialist-oriented nation in order to deliver social justice, equality, peace and prosperity to the people. So the above laws are in sync with the spirit of main law of land. Under the Social Security Act, 2075, the needy and poor people are not left in the lurch. It obliges the state to provide social security allowance to senior citizens and other five types of persons in dire need of support for their survival: economically destitute; weak and helpless; the disabled; helpless single women; vulnerable children; the people who cannot take care of themselves owing to serious diseases such as dementia, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s, brain haemorrhage, paralysis, autism and mental disease; and the people from the ethnic groups on the verge of extinction. The government has categorised such 10 ethnic groups - Kusunda, Raute, Hayu, Kisan, Meche, Bankariya, Surel, Raji, Lepcha, and Kusbadiya. The government must provide nutrition allowance to the children from the ethnicities that are on the verge of vanishing, impoverished families and those below five year as specified by the government. It will distribute ID cards to the persons eligible to enjoy allowances from the state. The local government has been assigned to provide social security allowances to them.
But the Act bars the people from taking double social security allowances. Those getting pension or other facilities from the state, holding public posts, and elected and nominated to the public positions are not entitled to the dole. Virtually, all Acts are supportive of those contributing to the political changes and revolution. The government can grant ‘security’ to or bestow ‘respect’ on those involved in the democratic movements and armed struggles, the martyrs’ families, the families of disappeared persons, democratic fighters, those rendered disabled and injured while fighting for Loktantra and political victims. The first democratically elected communist government, led by late Manamohan Adhikary, started distributing the old age allowance to those aged 70 and above. The initial amount of allowance was Rs 100. This proved to be a popular scheme which the subsequent governments gave continuity to by increasing its amount. Perhaps the Manamohan government is credited to lay the foundation of social security scheme in Nepal. The new constitution has institutionalised it and supporting Act has added more beneficiaries from diverse areas.
As per the Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2075, the onus is on the state to impart education to children up to secondary level free of cost. The federal, provincial and local governments are responsible for providing basic education to every child from five to 12 years of age. Every citizen has the right to be literate, and obtain initial, basic, secondary and higher education. Every Nepali community has the right to receive education in his/her mother tongue. The economically deprived, disabled and Dalit citizens have the right to obtain higher education freely. It also makes mandatory for the private schools and colleges to be service-oriented, run as per the public welfare system and provide free education to students (from five to 15 per cent based on the size of students).
Right to Food and Food Sovereignty Act, 2075 guarantees the citizen’s regular access to nutritious and quality food without discrimination. The Act rekindles the hope of Karnali residents who often face food shortage, hunger and malnutrition. In the Act to amend the Land Act, 2075, the state has promised to provide land to homeless Dalits once within next three years. As per the new law, they are not allowed to transfer the ownership of land to others for 10 years except in case of transfer of registration in other’s name and division of share of property. Likewise, Acts related to health and employment rights ensure people’s full economic and social rights under the new setup.
Of course, Nepal’s constitution seeks to usher it into a socialist state with oodles of progressive constitutional measures such as inclusive and proportional representation of marginalised, backward and disadvantageous social groups, ethnicities and regions. But there lies a big paradox: the policies, adopted by successive governments from 1990 to the present day, hardly support these constitutional provisions. The neo-liberal and free market economy that Nepal has been following for decades simply rejects the constitution’s roadmap and vision. There is a mismatch between the constitution’s spirit and the state’s public policies that are mostly formulated by the donors, INGOs, NGOs and international institutions without considering the national realities and context.
Weak economy is another big challenge to implement the fundamental rights of citizens. Captured by the comprador class, Nepali economy is sustained by its unsung heroes –the migrant workers (six million), whose remittances stand at around 30 per cent of the total GDP. Then comes the role of foreign aid and imports to keep it rolling. This is indeed an unsustainable economy as the contribution of taxes to the GDP is barely 18 per cent with business community engaged in tax evasions and unwilling to buttress state coffers. One of the 28th poorest countries in the world, Nepal ranks third most corrupt country next to Afghanistan and Bangladesh in South Asia. Corruption has infested every sphere of public life, hampering the initiatives to promote good governance and ensure effective service delivery. Nepal is known as an agricultural country but ironically it is dependent on India and other nations for food, vegetables and fruits. With the expensive federal system, a lion’s share of national budget goes in meeting salary, perks and other facilities of over 800 elected representatives and building infrastructures needed to run their offices. This will surely constrain the state’s capacity to mobilise development budget, build basic infrastructure and increase new jobs.
However, the biggest hurdle to the realisation of welfare state is the extractive nature of political leadership and rigid bureaucracy. The self-centred politicians get ready when it comes to incorporating the progressive provisions in the constitution, but they show little commitment and sacrifice to meet them. Their rent-seeking and parochial attitude has created problems at every layer of implementation of constitution. To put socialist/democratic elements into practice, the leadership must imbibe democratic and socialist cultures, values and ethics. It is imperative for them to shed their hypocritical garbs if they really want to evolve Nepal into a truly egalitarian and prosperous democratic state.