Last month, Nepal finally passed a formal constitution after nearly a decade of political paralysis. However, it has not been smooth sailing for the nation still recovering from the devastating earthquakes in April and May this year. Protests, violence and a blockade from Nepal’s powerful neighbour India have created many challenges for the nation over the past months. We had a chat with Pralhad Dhakal, Adara’s Nepal Country Director about the new constitution, what it means for Nepal, and the impact of the disruption on Adara’s work.
Pralhad Dhakal, Nepal Country Director, Adara Development
1. Hello Pralhad! Can you tell us about the new constitution? What does it mean for Nepal? What has the constitution changed for the nation?
This constitution is long awaited by Nepal. For more than six years, the Constitutional Assembly have struggled to agree on different provisions of the constitution. There are communist parties, parties who are pro-monarchy and Hinduism, democratic parties and other regional and ethnic parties who have their own interest and agendas which are all very different to each other. Finally on 20 September 2015, a 90% majority of the Constitutional Assembly passed and brought into law the Constitution of Nepal 2015.
The Constitution of Nepal 2015 is progressive and inclusive. Nepali politicians claim it as one of the most democratic constitutions in the world. It assures 33% representation of women in the parliament, and that all cast, ethnicities and people in the regions will have representation in parliament and all decision making bodies. Different national level commissions have been established to protect the rights of disadvantaged people. The constitution has divided Nepal into 7 federal states to decentralise power to local government bodies.
Implementation of the constitution is going to be the real challenge. If it is well implemented, we can expect decentralised democracy and development in Nepal so that all segments of Nepali society enjoy social justice and economic growth.
2. What do you think is the most positive change to be brought about by the constitution?
I think the most positive changes to be brought by this constitution are the granting of rights to underprivileged segments of society, gender equity and decentralisation of power and resources. Apart from that, we hope and expect that the constitution will end political instabilities and restore peace in the country so that the nation moves towards a direction of social justice and economic growth.
3. What do you think could be improved?
There is always the possibility to amend the constitution as per the needs of the nation. At this point, I wish that before the constitution was brought into effect, that the voice of ethnic minorities like Tharus and other groups were addressed in the constitution. It would have helped to minimise agitation and demonstrations that are currently affecting the nation.
4. The international news is currently reporting a blockade across the India border. What does this mean for our work?
Just for some context, there have been strong and continuous agitations for more than 50 days in the Tarai part of Nepal (the area bordering with India). Agitating groups wanted to stop the constitution from coming into effect. When it was introduced, the region continued protesting against it. 46 people have lost their life, including eight security personnel.
When the constitution was passed on 20th September 2015, India put an unofficial blockade on Nepal. Supplies of petroleum products, food, and other commodities have been stopped by India. Adara have not even been able to purchase medicines for our Mobile Medical Camp, as even medicine supply to Nepal has been barred.
The governments of Nepal and China are trying to fix the roads to Tibet so that we have an option to get supplies from Tibet. Lives in Nepal have been totally affected by the blockade and agitation in Tarai, makes our life and work a bit difficult, although we are mentally prepared to face it. There is serious lack of fuel and food.
5. Have the controversy and violence had any other impact on Adara’s work in Nepal?
We are facing problems like a shortage of fuel, cooking gas and food. Our staff are having a hard time commuting to the office and back home due to the fuel shortages.
In addition, schools and colleges are irregular which has affected the study of some of the Adara Kids who are preparing for their School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams, as well as some of the youth who are in college. This is partly because of the strike in Tarai Nepal on top of the blockade put by India.
Early on there was some agitation in Humla and other surrounding districts, but it was addressed quickly and managed well, so our work in Humla continues without too much disruption.
6. How are you feeling about the future for Nepal?
I am optimistic and positive about the future of Nepal. The new constitution opens door for the decentralisation of power and resources to the local level. It assures 33% representation to the women in political and major decision making bodies. Apart from that it ensures rights of disadvantaged groups and minorities. I hope this constitution restores peace in the country so that all development agencies and actors can have meaningful engagement with the people for their development and prosperity.