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Role of civil society post quake and statute promulgation

One-day seminar jointly organised by NEFAS and FES

12 December 2016 (Kathmandu)

Prepared by Ritu Raj Subedi

Dev Raj Dahal, FES Nepal office head

The state should have ownership of politics, law and development policy. The people and state are sovereign but they have now become weak. Quite the contrary, those institutions, which are not sovereign, are getting stronger. The civil society has to explore the middle ground to connect the divergent social and political groups. It should be should be autonomous and enlightened.

Nepal's politics has left the public life unsettled and posed obstacles to safeguard the human rights. Since 1990 the nation has witnessed 23 governments, marking an erosion of the state's legitimate power to create public security, rule of law, delivery of public goods and services to the ordinary people. The nation at the moment faced following challenging tasks:

  1. To implement the statute by bringing the agitating Madhes-based parties on board and holding the three-tier elections within the stipulated timeframe.
  2. To downsize the Cabinet as per the statute that sets a cap of only 25-member cabinet and place governance on the right track through proper coordination between cabinet, constitutional bodies, public administration and security agencies.
  3. To implement the agreements signed with China during prime minister KP Sharma Oli's visit to the northern neighbour.
  4. Another challenge is to deal with those radical forces that are outside of the peace process.
  5. To promote post -conflict reconciliation, reconstruction and peace and post earthquake resilient building of livelihood, relationship and development infrastructures and cultural sites and rebound the ailing economy.
  6. To maintain balanced ties with neighbours- India and China.

NEFAS executive director Ananda Shrestha underlined the need for giving a fair crack of whip to the youth in the political leadership so as to bring a viable change to the country. They should come up for the socio-economic changes. The people should be well-informed about the burning topic of politics, constitution and economic development. It is necessary to change the electoral process to bring fresh blood into the politics. There should be the age limit for the politicians; the Prime Minister should not be allowed more than two terms in office and one must be a graduate to be a lawmaker.

First Session

The gist of Roshan Pokharel paper 'Democracy, Constitution and Law'

Democracy is a competitive political system that is accountable to the people. It ensures the people's participation in the political decisions and policy making. It reflects their aspirations in the governance system and ensures their say in the matters of public concern such as food, shelter, cloth, health education, occupation, entertainment and physical security. The people send their representatives to formulate public policies, run government, make decisions on the important matters and implement them. Therefore, it is the fundamental principle of democracy that people are decision-maker and control over the public issue. It has method to maintain balance between the citizens' voice, welfare and respect. No individual's post or institution is above the constitution no matter how powerful they are. In the 21st century, Loktantra is invariably linked with the rights of state, good governance, development, pluralism, human rights and social justice.

However, our democracy has been entangled into the game of words - democracy, Loktantra, republic, and people's republic. It has become bourgeois, ritual and donor-driven. Almost two decades elapsed since the local polls have not been held but the policy makers seem reluctant to conduct the elections. In the name of civic supremacy, the political parties have imposed their partycracy in the country. In the name democracy, a handful of people have plundered the nation's resources and means. Nepal has never lost its dependence throughout its history but today's Nepali nationality and identity is in jeopardy. Politicians have made the nation weak and helpless. There is government but it is unable to respect the people's desires. It seems it is working at the instruction of foreigners to meet their vested interest. Owing to the partisan culture of bhagbanda (share and divide) and clashes of interests, the nation has not gained momentum in the post-quake reconstruction and statute implementation, and failed to achieve peace and security and good governance. The country faltered to internationalize the Indian blockade. Political movements are supposed to give a way out to the nation's problems but every political change added new problems to the country, inviting foreign meddling and pitting the people against each other. The new constitution could breed new lines of conflict if the people failed to enjoy fundamental rights enshrined in the new constitution.

Comments from the floor

Keshav said that the civil society has been unable to push the national agenda and play a role in implementing the statute. Lal Babu Yadav said that the political parties should be accountable to the parliament. They failed to go to the people in the aftermath of the promulgation of the new constitution and inform them about its positive attributes. The role of civil society is to connect the society. Ashwin Kumar Pudasaini said that the role of civil society is not effective. Professor MP Lohani said that it had become tricky to define the term 'civil society' as it had been highly partisan and incoherent. They have been affiliated with different parties. The Nepalese civil society has not learnd from the activism of civil society of South Korea. Indira Panta said that the vision of welfare state, enshrined in the statute, is incompatible with the economic policies. Dr Prem Sharma the discussions should be theme-oriented. Jit Bahadur Chaulagai said that new constitution is vague. More one reads it, more one is confused by it. It has guaranteed many fundamental rights but the implementation status is almost disappointing. Ajit Rai said that the statute risks being failed if the constitutional rights are not ensured. It is necessary to have robust economic development to implement the welfare provisions of state. Senior journalist P. Kharel said that the Nepalese civil society had been divided into different political groups and, therefore, they were unable to play their effective and independent role. It has become a challenge to find genuine civil society. Krishna Acharya said that a welfare state is possible even in a market economy. Lalan Chaudhari said that it is imperative to examine whether the statute has given solution to the crisis or created anomalies. Ram Chandra Upadhyay said that it will not be sufficient by just mentioning the people's rights in the statute. There should be enabling lawas, regulations and directives. Chiranjibi Katuwal asked the civil society to go to the nook and cranny of the nation to take the stock of social reality. Jagat Kumar Mandal said that it appears that our curriculum and statute are similar. It is necessary to amend it to increase the people's faith in it. All want to take from the state and no one is ready to contribute to it.

From the chair, former vice-chair of National Planning Commission professor Gunanidhi Sharma said that Nepal is an ancient civilizational state and its legacy is glorious. It is not based on one school of thought. There has been a moot question: Did the West learn from the East or vice versa? In the free market economy, individual rights are given primacy over the interest of community and society but society and state are bigger than a person. The identity of the state will be in jeopardy if every ethnic and cultural groups attempt to seek their own identity at the expense of national identity. It is urgent to discourage the elements that weaken the people and nation. The politicians have developed a bad habit of not listening to the voices of grassroots people. The state should bring programmes to redress the balance.

Second Session

The gist of Naresh Rimal's paper 'Post Reconstruction in Nepal: Civil Society Perspective'.

Understanding disaster dynamics of earthquake in Nepal offers physical, social and psychological context that affected communities' innate ability to rebounce from helplessness to helpfulness and hopeless and hopefulness. These characteristics cannot be disembedded from communities' experience of civil was complexities for contextual learning about healing brutalities and developing collaboration and solutions to socio-ecological chaos driven by market-based social disorder, political instability and long standing political stalemate with bordering India. Various studies and even the experience of Nepal offer multiple disaster impact narratives and survivors' ability to bounce back to their normalcy on livelihood trajectory including the psychological well-being. However, resilience characteristics are place bound and the nature of healing process through self-help within community is faster than large institutional support. The narratives indicate that while national government were much help in mobilizing immediate relief, longer term healing has been mostly possible through communities' own network and familial and cultural support.
There is a need for meta-disciplinary public administration and management for offering solution and readiness for disaster risk minimization for community resilience. It also requires mobilizing local natural and human resources for effective and efficient outcomes. As Nepal is a seismically active region, threats from earthquakes must be addressed by protecting people with appropriate infrastructure development and urbanization.

Comments from the floor

Ajit Rai said that return to normalcy from the quake's trauma is very significant. Jit Chaulagai said that the quake had left serious social, mental and psychological impacts on the victims. Social counselling is necessary for the quake victims who are suffering from emotional disorders. Hikmat Chanda called for immediately addressing the mental and economic problems of the victims. Krishna Acharya said that the civil society is not equipped with the required resources so it is not practice to expect much from them. Lal Babu Yadav said that the Nepalese society is integrated, and the volunteers from Parsa and Mugu went to the quake-hit sites to provide relief material to the people. Santosh Pariyar said that Nepali culture and religion helped to be resilient during the quake. Ingina Panthi said that even in the midst of social crisis, the norms of accountability should not be undermined. Gunanidhi Sharma said that the resiliency of Nepali society is rooted in culture but its growing dependency on the West has damaged our power of resiliency. Our tilt towards the market fundamentalism has dented it.

From the chair, Chuda Bahadur Shrestha said that most of the damage is caused by the destruction of man-made structures. The civil war had weakened the state. The disaster preparedness should be carried out at macro and micro level. Information centres need to be set up to ensure the response of community. First aid, public awareness and rehearsal (drill) are necessary. Preparedness, relief, rehabilitation, and recovery are interlinked. In the absence of local government, many victims have been deprived of relief materials and grants.

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