A year after its formation, the government of Province 2 has not been able to address the concerns of the people in line with the spirit of federalism
February 15 marked the first anniversary of the formation of the Province 2 government. The provincial government is the result of the Madhesh movement and sacrifices made by Madheshi youth. One of the demands of the movement was an autonomous Madhesh province under federal structure, and that is yet to be realized. A month after the provincial government was formed, Governor Ratneshwar Lal Kayastha, on April 11, 2018, presented the government’s 60-point policy and programs which addressed many issues.
Federalism is an opportunity to break down the country’s evolving central syndicate and to address development issues in one’s own region. How have countries with federalism transformed from poor nations to developed nations? The answer lies in how they identified the most important resource in their province and how they exploited them. A provincial government’s success is linked directly with development of its people and the overall development of the country. But this has not happened in Province 2.
Province 2 is endowed with plenty of fertile plain land, cultural diversity, linguistic history, tradition, and young population. An effective movement against social ills and bad culture will help in overall transformation of the province. Again, this is yet to happen.
There has been exchange of words between the federal government and Province 2 government. The spirit of federalism lay in the slogan, “Singha Durbar in every village.” On the contrary, singhas have surfaced in every village. They are building durbars for themselves. Provincial governments have failed to address the people’s concerns.
Beyond populist programs
Data shows that bad treatment of women and children is the reason behind increasing crimes against them. Province 2 came up with the “Educate Daughter, Save Daughter” campaign under the leadership of Chief Minister Mohammad Lal Babu Raut. The idea is that if girls are educated, they will be strong enough to protect their life. Who does not want to send his/her daughter to school? But there was no thorough study done to figure out issues that women and girls are facing in Province 2. The government is bent on making a big deal about the campaign, without actually looking at deeper issues that afflict women and children.
Eliminating gender-based violence and taking measures against abortion of female fetuses should have been the provincial government’s first initiative. Ensuring the protection of a girl’s life, starting from the time she is in the womb to when she goes to school, is an eminent challenge in the southern plains. Education and empowerment comes next. When a girl is born, families feel that their responsibility has increased. Many Madheshi parents worry more about dowry than girl’s health, education and safety.
Are the schools in Madhesh girl-friendly? What kind of educational environment is available for them in school and at home? What kind of coordination and collaboration is the provincial government carrying out with the local government on these issues? At a time when such questions loom large, the provincial government seems to be holding inaugurations and placing banners with the slogan “Educate Daughter, Save Daughter” outside a rickety house of a father who, with his low income, has to provide for a big family. At the same time, transforming the mindset of teachers who teach these girls should also be prioritized. And building confidence in households, neighborhoods, and communities that daughters too can go to school and move forward in life, can only make such a campaign a success.
Madhesh is grappling with lack of access to nutritious food and organized housing. According to a latest study by the National Planning Commission, 51 percent of the entire population in the Karnali Province and 48 percent of the people in Province 2 are poor. Among the poor, 19 percent are Madheshi Brahmin-Chhetri while 40 percent are Madheshi Dalit. According to the same study, nearly 11 percent of the Madheshi Dalits are literate, and only 11 percent of the Madheshi Dalits live in organized housing. In terms of the child mortality rate, an average of 54 children per 1,000 children born in Nepal die, while for the Dalit, this number is 77. Among the Madhesh Dalit, 37 percent, or 516,000 in number, do not have access to land, 224,000 of Terai Dalits are Musahars, 79 percent of whom, or 158,000, do not have plots of land to build a house. A holistic campaign to bring these numbers down would enable a good environment to educate daughters.
With the slogan “Clean Madhesh, Prosperous Province,” Chief Minister Raut and his team were seen sweeping the streets of Birgunj with broomsticks a few weeks ago. This activity marked the formal beginning of the provincial chief minister’s cleanliness campaign. Cleanliness is linked to health and civilization. Is cleanliness only about having toilets at home and cleaning towns and households? What is being done in the eight major cities and thousands of villages and towns of Province 2 to provide them with clean drinking water, proper sewage system and education? Are we teaching our children about cleanliness and hygiene? Are teachers still entering classrooms with their mouths full of stained paan and tobacco and spitting out from classroom windows?
The cold wave in winter and mosquito terror in summer, and the resulting epidemic and communicable disease need durable solution. A photo-op by CM and others in power does not change anything. We have seen such gimmick year after year, both in Kathmandu and elsewhere.
Sirsiya River in Birgunj has become sewerage canal. The river has a direct relationship with the development of human civilization in Bara and Parsa. The river is the lifeline of the region but has now become a dumping ground for nearby factories. Untreated water and household sewage are directly linked to the river.
Cleanliness and hygiene are directly linked with awareness, education, infrastructure and services. Education is the first priority here. Second is the awareness that comes from education, and third is the infrastructure. Unless local governments are mobilized for this purpose, any cleanliness campaign won’t provide a desired result. The provincial government should work closely with local governments in policy formation and execution.
The provincial government has not initiated projects aimed at raising the living standard of farmers and bringing about revolutionary transformation in farming. The foundation stone for making livestock development, fishery, and organic vegetable farming have yet to be formulated.
The highest numbers of young people who travel to the Gulf countries for migrant labor are from Province 2. The practice here is to focus more on formal education than on technical and employment-oriented education. Out migration has created a host of social problems. Drug abuse among youth is equally serious problem, which needs to be addressed.
Conflict with center
Province 2 government has been on the bitter side of the federal administration in Kathmandu. The federal government has failed to change its perspective on Province 2 and the entire Madhesh. Why do the federal government and its advisers view Madhesh from color and language discrimination, rituals, and lifestyle? They keep on creating an illusion that the country will split if the provinces are given rights. If that were to be the case, India’s Kerala would have become a part of Sri Lanka a long time ago. Also, India’s Mizoram would have been part of China, Nepal or Sikkim.
Why is the federal government interfering with the workings of provincial governments? The provincial government needs to carry out rigorous analysis of its own standing. It makes sense for provincial governments to increase people-to-people relations. Corruption in different projects and programs in Province 2 have been in the press recently. Change should be tangible and visible.
Madhesh movement was a success because of Dalit, minority communities, Muslim, and backward communities of Province 2. In order to give the Madhesh a facelift, these communities should be mainstreamed in our development efforts. The provincial government should represent the farmers, laborers, workers, students, and housewives in Madhesh. But the provincial government is copying programs from the neighboring Indian states, much to the disappointment of its own people. Let us hope that the federal government will soon create an environment to encourage and support provinces to work for the wellbeing of their people.
The author is an independent journalist, an Emmy 2016 Nominee, social activist and commentator on politics and crime in Nepal