Impact of Local Governance and Dalit participation in Nepal
The central theme of the article revolves around locating the discourse of dalit inclusion and participation in the development policies, programs and practices existing in Nepal. In other words, this text reviews the existing constitutional, legal and policy provisions for Dalit participation in local governance sector of Nepal. Starting with the historical development of local governance and dalit scenarios, this essay identifies key issues of justice, marginality and equity in defining major development policies and programs at local governance level. Taking the case study of major local governance projects and programs implemented under the framework of local self-governance act 1999 and regulation 2000, this text analyses the strength and loopholes of local governance development partners and initiatives in properly addressing the Dalit issues and ensuring their participation in local development. After acknowledging the contribution of various NGOs, CBOs and grass root level organizations in the upliftment of Dalit people, this essay attempts to locate the issue of inclusion in the overall discourse of local governance and federalist model that the new Nepal is going to adopt inner future. Avoiding the taken-for-granted culture of scholars for the particular policy of local governance, these essays also puts light on some of the critical issues of local governance issues and suggests paths for improvement. In addition, the text also intends to provide policy implications and impact of local governance in Dalit participation at grass root level.
Local governance is the widely accepted democratic system of governing people and addressing their local-specific need through participatory and inclusive development plans and policies, actions and programs. Local governance follows the decentralized principle of development with emphasis on the devolution of power from central authority to regional/local/sub-national level authority so as to address the problems and voice of target beneficiaries and ensure their participation in the development planning and implementation process through good governance.
Good governance incorporates budget ceilings, rights based development at the local level, notice boards, social/public audits, use of print and electronic media to ensure transparency in programs and budgets, monitoring & evaluation, and results based development. These functions are implemented by local government units. Scholars defines (Lamichane, 2011) Local government as the closest tier and unit of government to the citizen at the lowest level. According to them, local government institution like municipality, Village development committees and district development committees (in case of Nepal) are also the first entry point for people to gain access of and influence decision-making process in government.
Dalits in Nepal
Dalits are defined as “historically and traditionally, socially discriminated so called “lower caste” or “untouchable” according to Hindi caste division system. Among the marginalized groups in Nepal, Dalit population which counts to 2,201,781, or 11.91 per cent of the total population (census 2001) are kept in priorities by government as well as national and international agencies in their development plans and programs.
Among various social groups in Nepal, Dalits have been the most vulnerable and victimized one whether it is access to basic needs like education, employment and safe drinking water or political participation for basic human rights. Various development indicators also reveals that they have infact been excluded from the main development plans and policies as well as social gatherings and meetings. Despite various international and national commitments for Dalit inclusion, constitutional, legal and policy arrangements for Dalit provisions and various grass root level Dalit campaign in Nepal, Dalit stills continue to suffer from social exclusion and discrimination.
Daily media reports, agency reports and scholar’s views suggest that Dalits in Nepal are suffering from exclusion ranging from socio-cultural and religious and economic space. Their image building is still related with the tradition forms of occupation they were forced to do including blacksmith work, tailoring, leatherwork, goldsmith work, copper/bronze work, earth-digging, sweeping and cleaning, ploughing, musical instrument playing, human waste disposal and carcass disposal (Kharel, 2010).
They are denied to free access to water sources, rejected socially, kept out of discussion and debate, physical assault especially women and many other forms of abuse in various social settings including funeral or birth rites, wedding ceremonies, community feasts or Cultural programs, community meetings and training, non-formal educational classes and income-generating activities etc.
Various development indicators suggests that they have the lowest annual per capita income, expenditure, savings and investment. The magnitude of exclusion of Dalits is reflected by all indicators, including the Human Development Index, which is the lowest for Dalits among all listed groups.
Local governance and Dalit
Local governance can be seen as a very important step in Nepal to ensure the participation of marginalized section of society in development plans and programs of Nepal. Among the marginalized groups in Nepal, Dalit population which counts to 2,201,781, or 11.91 per cent of the total population (census 2001) are kept in priorities by government as well as national and international agencies in their development plans and programs. However, the introduction of Local Self-governance act in 1999 and subsequent Regulation in Nepal can been seen as the milestone legal effort to uplift Dalit in real sense.
The country report of International Labor office Nepal reveals the least political participation of Dalit at various levels. Its sample survey in 11 districts found out that as opposed to dominating groups of Bahuns and Chhetris, (ILO, 2005) an overwhelming majority of Dalits (86.56%) are not members of any political organizations. In the 1997 election for VDC chairpersons, Bahuns/Chhetris (54.42%) and Janajatis (39.86%) constituted the majority, whereas Dalits constituted a mere 1.63 per cent of the 735 VDC chairpersons. Such pessimistic scenarios of Dalit are similar in leadership positions in civil society organizations and political parties, as well as in trade, industry, science and technology. There was not even a single Dalit among the chief district officers and secretaries in ministries until 1959 and so is the case in 1999.
Various facts and figures suggests that Dalit needs special attention in the plans and policies of the government. (ILO, 2005) The Tenth Plan (2002-2007)/PRSP specifically incorporates the Dalit issues and accordingly specifies strategies, policies and programmes. It puts thrust on the alleviation of deprivation among Dalits. The last three budgets, for FY2002/03, 2003/04 and 2004/05, have categorically laid emphasis on the uplift of Dalits and have allocated about NRs 7 million, Rs11.50 million and Rs12.50 million respectively to the National Dalit Commission (NDC). However, the use of the fund for proper mission is still under questions.
Besides, line ministries such as those concerned with agriculture and cooperatives, industry, labour, forestry, education contain programs for their uplift. In addition, the Poverty Alleviation Fund also puts emphasis on disadvantaged groups, including Dalits. INGOs are also providing assistance for the general as well as DNGOs (Dalit NGOs) for the development of Dalits.
However, of the around NRs 521.40 million foreign aid received for the Dalit issues during the past nine years or so, only about Rs12.70 million has been spent, implying a very low (2.4%) absorptive capacity. Also, coordinated and effective implementation of activities of DNGOs is quite essential for the development of Dalits.
However, it should be noted that the implementation and enforcement part of these domestic and international legal provisions, as well as government policies and plans, is very weak. As a result, these have not been able to substantively reduce labor discrimination in Nepal.
Local Governance Community Development Program (LGCDP): A case study
LGCDP can be taken as a representative local governance project to assess the impact of local governance on the participation of Dalit in local development planning and implementation processes. This project was implemented from 2008 to 2012 under Ministry of Local development through local bodies including Municipalities, VDCs and DDCs. Its efforts at local level can be pointed out to assess the impact on Dalits.
Various mechanisms can be noticed that suggest the efforts towards enhancing participation of local people in local governance sector. The formation of Local Peace Committees (LPC) at 29 districts (intends to spread over 75 districts) ensures the participation of disadvantages and backward communities including Dalits through their involvement in local planning and funds flow process of the DDCs (MDL, 2010).
The project facilitates the formation of Interim Local Bodies at district, municipalities and village level whose main functions are directed towards the upliftment of socially and economically backward classes including Dalit trough their involvement in revenue mobilization and budge allocation process. These provisions were made under the constitutional arrangement of Interim constitution of Nepal 2007.
The Three Year Interim Plan (2007-10) has explicitly adopted the principle of decentralization as a means to enhance people’s participation in local governance process. Inorder to materials it mission of people’s participation, special focuses are laid upon the demand driven, targeted and community focused and specific goal-oriented schemes which will increase the access of people from disadvantaged groups including dalit. Commitments are continuously made to mobilize and share local revenue between local authorities for the development of socially and economically backward people.
The project also implemented the local level employment opportunities for Dalit as a part of positive discrimination policy. Under the Disadvantaged Group empowerment and community development components of the projects, Dalits along with other backward groups are targeted as a major beneficiary of development programs like Poverty Alleviation for Karnali region (One Family One Employment). It acknowledged the supplementary and complementary roles of NGOs, private and government sector in enhancing the participation of backward and disadvantaged socially and economically oppressed group like Dalit in local level Planning process and implementation.
LGCDP after its project completion period came up with outcome, though not satisfactory but certainly encouraging for future efforts in local governance sector. It enhanced the capacities of socially and economically backward communities including Dalit to articulate and assert their demand and voice against government and advocate against caste discrimination in education, employment and various sectors. Their interactions with the local governments units like VDCs and municipalities, their space for decision making in local development planning and implementation process, budgetary allocation and empowerment. The project indentified ‘social mobilization’ as the major strategy embedded in local governance processes and oriented towards helping communities and community organizations to interface with local governments and other service delivery agencies (e.g. health centres, NGOs, etc.) at the local level.
Development partner in local governance and Dalit advocacy
We can see the mushrooming number of NGOs, CBOs, cooperatives groups and self-help groups working for the upliftment of Dalits at grass root level with the support from multilateral and bilateral donor agencies and INGOs. Around 600 Dalit NGOs are estimated to be operating in Nepal (Dahal, Social Movements in Nepal, 2004). However only handful of them has been able to meet the objectives and inspires the scenario. Nevertheless these Initiatives from INGOs, NGOs and multilateral and bilateral donor agencies INGOs, NGOs and multilateral and bilateral donor agencies have been widely acknowledge for their supportive role in the Dalit upliftment sector. Because of the activism of these organizations, Dalit issues have received increased national and even international attention.
Several agencies are seen working to ensure the participation and empowerment of dalit on multiple sectors. Action Aid, Save the Children-USA, Save the Children-UK, Save the Children-Norway, Lutherans World Federation, MS-Nepal and Helvetas are some of the INGOs involved in Dalit support activities. Among multilateral agencies, the UNDP and the ILO have begun their cooperation with Dalit organizations. Among bilateral agencies, Danida, through its Human Rights and Good Governance Advisory Unit (HUGOU), has been a pioneering agency in working directly with three national-level DNGOs with the explicit objective of alleviating caste discrimination. This support activity has been ongoing for the past two years. Danida/HUGOU supports the DNF. The Dalit Welfare Organization (DWO) and the Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO) are the other organizations that receive financial and technical support from Danida/HUGOU (Gaventa & Valderrama, 1999).
Critical Scenario: failure of LSG and Politicizing Dalit issues
Initiatives at local governance sector for Dalit upliftment and advocacy is not always appreciative as it intends to be in theory. In Nepal local bodies like VDCs and municipalities suffer from acute resources needed to address the Dalit section of the society. Whatsoever NGOs and CBOs are seen in the Dalit empowering activities are often seen with suspects for their ‘dollar farming’ characteristics and politicizing the Dalit issues for switching to power.
Often the data and facts related to Dalits are manipulated. For instances, a study shows that 65% Dalit students in schools enjoy scholarship which is positive in one way but the social reality that only the elite or privileged section of Dalit groups are grabbing the opportunity is often missing and not disseminated among general citizen by so called development partners and agencies. That means, Dalits issues and their positive indicators are often used for fulfilling the organizational and political interest.
Various efforts can be seen to uplift Dalit and incorporate them in mainstream governance system through capacity development initiative at international scenario (PRC, 2011). Nepal is not the exception as Nepalese governmental as well as private institutions follow reservation/quota policies to increase the presence of Dalit and other excluded group in power and bureaucratic structure and positions. Efforts are also being reinforced towards enhancing the leadership qualities so as to empower them and enable them to fight their rights and justice against discrimination. Through the capacity development of local institutions like municipality and village development committees, local Dalit people can assert their voice and participate in the local development planning and implementation process. They can put forward their optimum demand and negotiate with the local governmental authorities for proportionate participation in the governance activities.
Dalit empowerment through local governance in Nepal ranges from educational enrollment of Dalit to dalit employment and income generating initiatives. Sufficient resource have been allocated for enriching their advocacy and leadership skills so as to enable them to break the restrictions against them upon the economic, cultural and social aspects of daily life.
Despite these positive outcomes and scenario, the development plans and policies of Neplease governments and private institutions are criticized as ‘welfare oriented’ without intervening in the overall structure of the policy formation and beauracracy. This scenario suggests a comprehensive inclusive model to be implemented at grass root level to address the Dalit issues and ensure their participation in local governance.
Failure of Local governance and voices for federalism
Scholar often traces back the history of local governance of Nepal in relation to the discussion and debate of federalism in Nepal or decentralized system of government. The interim constitution of Nepal 2007 has declared Nepal as a ‘Federal Republic of Nepal’ and that is the strongest evidence that local governance issues in Nepal is as important as any democratic principles and practices but the problem is that till the date, Nepal has not been able to come up with appropriate model of federalism. The debate over the models of federalism was at high during the fourth extended deadline of constitution drafting process in Jestha 14, 2069 and When Constituent Assembly got dismissed, the debate over the federalism went down. The government of Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai declared the new election date and everyone’s attention was directed over how country is going to see the new election being held is such political crisis.
Though the debate over federalism has been not as prominent as it was before Jestha 14, 2069, I believe that even after the country become able to form the new CA or revive old CA, the political leaders ultimately have to form consensus over which model of federalism to implement for Nepal. Since there has been around 14 models of federalism proposed by political parties, individual experts
The issue of federalism got momentum in main stream politics only after the April uprising of Terai in 2007. The demand was basically that of regional autonomy of Madhesi people i.e. declare the lower southern belt of Nepal extending 1000 km east to west till Chure region as ‘Madhesi State’. That demand was aimed at ending more than century long domination from central regime and hill caste Hindu caste people over Madhesi people. Madhesi people are often characterized as the terai people who have historical background of immigration from India and their demand of ‘One Madhes One state’ is often suspected as ‘secessionist’ movement (Aalen & Hattebakki, 2008, p 4).
Before Madhesi uprising of 2007, the comprehensive peace accord between Maoist and the then Seven party alliance in Novemebr 2006 legitimize the need of state restructuring for Nepal.
Before CPA, during 2004, Maoists when they were still a insurgent group formed different autonomous regional government focusing on ethnic identity and autonomy to gain the military support of different ethnic groups and support the sentiment of marginalized ethnic groups.
Before 2004, the 1990 constitutions can be considered as the major turning point in given space for demands like ethnic autonomy through institutional agents. Such voices of autonomy for ensuring identity of marginalized and victimized ethnicities and backwards communities were put forwarded and socially mobilized by the ethnic based institution like NEFIN. Only The establishment of multiparty democracy in 1990 gave space for the proliferation of ethnic based organization like NEFIN which represents hill Janajatis or ethnic groups (Aalen & Hattebakki, 2008). Their ethnic agendas were centered on secularism, inclusion, multilingualism, proportional representation, reservation system etc.
Before 1990, such demand of ethnic rights and autonomy echoed from ethno-regional political party like Nepal Sadhbhavan party and hill-based ethnic parties but they failed to influence the public option (Khanal, 2009).
The starting point for aforementioned movement of demand for autonomous region was for the first time put forwarded by Terai Congress Party in 1959 election but it only garnered 2% vote. B.P Koirala led Nepali Congress party won with majority in the 1959 election.
Hence we see the ‘Federalism’ which we understand today was put forwarded in the form of ‘Terai autonomous province’ by Terai Congress Party in 1959 and it was legitimized as ‘Federalism’ in 2007 Interim Constitution after the success of Terai uprising in 2006 April.
Despite these fluctuating political agendas, Local governance can be the solid base to address the chaos as from either side the devolution of power to the local authorizes should ensure the participation of marginalized and unprivileged group in the local development.
Context of Local Governance in Nepal: Present and Past
The interim constitution of Nepal 2006 explicitly stated that after state restructuring process the country would adopt federalistic model of democracy. Though intense debates are on-going regarding which model of federalism is suitable for the multiethnic multi-lingual and multi-religious (Hindu dominance) country like Nepal, there should be no denying in the fact that whichever federalistic model Nepal will adopt, it will be solely founded on the principle of decentralization and devolution of power among local bodies (DDCs, municipalities and VDCs). Unfortunately major political parties and concerned stakeholders are investing their more energy and time on ‘less’ important issues like nomenclature and number of states instead of power structure and resources mobilization mechanism between central and regional or local sub-national governments.
The concept of decentralization and participatory development has a long history in Nepal. A significant process of decentralization was initiated with the enactment of the Decentralization Act in 1982 and the adoption of relevant regulations in 1984. These legal frameworks forwarded the process of de-concentration of functional responsibilities to the district level of governance. Formally, decentralization was inscribed in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal-1990 as a fundamental element of democracy. Three separate Acts — The District Development Committee (DDC) Act, the Village Development Committee (VDC) Act, and the Municipality Act — were enacted in 1992 (Dahal, Uprety, & Subba, Good Governance and Decentralisation in Nepal, 2001).
Based on the recommendation of a High Level Decentralization Coordination Committee formed under the Chairpersonship of the Prime Minister in 1996, the Local Self-Governance Act (LSGA) was enacted in 1999 to consolidate the three separate acts of 1992. The Act laid the foundation for a local self-governance system in the country. It has statutorily recognized the role of local self-governance and devolution to make Local bodies more responsive and accountable to their populace.
Full commitment for local self governance through constitutional and legal provision echoed at global level only after the decade of 1990s (Sapkota 2007, p. 7). Local self governance booklet series 4 published by Center for constitutional dialogue states that – ‘In April 2007, the Governing Council of the United Nations Human Settlement Programme approved Guidelines on Decentralization and Strengthening of Local Authorities as a key instrument to promote good governance at all levels and to strengthen local authorities. The Guidelines were endorsed by the UN General Assembly’ (p. 8).
In Nepal, the policy of local self-government didn’t see its solid legal foundation until 1999 AD when LSGA 1999 was enacted along with LSG Rules and regulation 2000. The constitution of 1962 promulgated during the Panchayat system tried to establish the system based on the principle of decentralization. That can be confirmed from the formation of local bodies at village, city, district and zonal levels during the direct rule of King Mahendra.
Similar development policies were mentioned under the ‘Directive Principles of the State’ of 1990 Constitution but without any constitutional guarantee of ‘local Self-governance’. The objective of 1990 constitution was to ensure people’s participation without clearly defined laws however local bodies were established only after 1991 legislation made by the then multiparty democratic government led by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai of Nepali Congress.
The existing legal base which guarantees the development policy of local self-governance is LSGA 1999 and subsequent LSG Rules and Regulations 2000 which replaced the previous VDC Act, Municipality Act and DDC Act.
The constitutional guarantee of local self-governance was given by The Interim Constitution of 2007 in its separate section of LSG Part 17, Art 139. It includes “Election shall be held to set up local self governance bodies on the basis of principles of decentralization and devolution of power by creating a congenial Local Self Governance”. Also the Art 140 stresses the strengthening of local bodies with their maximum access to resources however the constraints can be sensed through another statement -“there shall be sharing of accountabilities and revenues between the Government of Nepal and local self governance bodies according to the provisions in the law.” (LSG booklet series, p. 5)
The institutional development of the LSG policy in Nepal is found through formation of local bodies without legal base at during 1960s to the legal act of LSG in 1999 and constitutional guarantee of 2007 Interim constitution.
We see that the inclusion of Dalit is highly underscored in the development plans and policies of the government but the implications of those policies still are not free from financial and bureaucratic hassles. It is a widely accepted thought that the inclusion of dalit in the new constitution to be drafted is very necessary not only from the dalit upliftment perspective but also for the constitutional declaration of the Interim constitution of Nepal 2007 which explicitly states that the new Nepal will be inclusive, participatory and gender sensitive. These sentiments are reflected in various local governance based projects including LGCDP and their particular focus on dalit upliftment.
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 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper
 Community based organizations
 a belief or policy in favor of withdrawal from a nation, state, organization, or alliance
 However, the same concept of the system of local governance was attempted to be utilized by Panchayat regime as a vehicle to enforce central control and mostly to track and suppress the political opponents (Dhakal 2007, p. 6)