KATHMANDU, Aug 24: Just as the major political parties are sharply divided over the number of units at the local level under the new federal structure, experts are also at odds among themselves.
Noted geographer Pitamber Sharma said that the number of local units -- village councils and municipalities-- under the federal structure should be somewhere around 500 to 600, while two other experts argued that reducing the number of local units drastically from over 4,000 VDCs to a few hundred would be impractical.
The commission formed to fix the number and boundaries of local units has proposed 565 local units.
The Nepali Congress is strongly opposed to this, and has lobbied to increase the number to as many as 1,000, whereas the CPN-UML is okay with the commission's proposal. Leaders from the ruling CPN (Maoist Center) for their part said they are flexible over the number and want to see the matter settled through mutual understanding among the major political players.
Geographer Sharma found the commission's proposal a rational one. He accuses the opposing political parties of protesting without even understanding the basic rationale for local governments.
"The political parties opposing the proposed number of local units might have taken such units merely as village development committees just as in the past. That is wrong," said Sharma.
He argued that the new constitution has devolved enough power to the local governments as autonomous bodies. "Some political leaders have also opposed the proposed number of local units, fearing that changes in the composition of their electoral constituencies may put them in difficulties at the next election," he said.
However, Sharma said that the basis for the delineation of local units was not appropriate. He maintained that the criteria adopted by the commission did not take into consideration the issue of economic viability while delineating local units. "As we have delegated lots of authority to the local units under the new constitution, economic viability must be considered as a major basis while delineating these units," he said.
However, former secretary at the Ministry of Local Development Khemraj Nepal said that there should not be any disputes over reducing the number of local units as various previous study reports also suggested reducing the number of local units. "But any drastic reduction in the number of local administrative bodies can be inappropriate," Nepal added.
Stating that no detailed assessment of economic viability at the local levels has been conducted so far, he said there are only a limited number of study reports available for reference.
Local governance expert Gangadatta Awasthi said that the dispute over the number of local units would have yielded some result had the commission fixed the number only after holding extensive deliberations at the local level. "The dispute has emerged after the commission fixed the total number of local units before holding any such debate," he said.
According to him, a committee led by Tirtha Man Shakya a decade ago had suggested fixing the number of local units at around 927. "The commission and the political parties should finalize the number of local units only after holding extensive discussions at local level," said Awasthil adding that the number proposed by the commission would be insufficient for service delivery.