Better late than never, the government withdrew the controversial Guthi Bill on Tuesday. That was the only way out since the protests against the bill were intensifying in Kathmandu Valley. People from Newar communities took to the streets to protest the bill, which they thought, was against the traditions and cultures they had preserved since time immemorial through community initiative. Pressure was building from all quarters and the government was left with no option. So in a hastily organized press conference at Singha Durbar Tuesday afternoon, Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation Padma Kumari Aryal announced the withdrawal of the bill. She claimed that the purpose of the bill was to increase the productivity of land owned by Guthis while protecting the rights of those using Guthi property as well as Guthis. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli communicated the same message during the Tuesday’s press conference. He also claimed the bill was introduced to protect culture, religion and centuries-old traditions.
Withdrawal of Guthi bill should serve a lesson or two for the government. The government brought this bill without wider consultation with the concerned stakeholders, which is why the bill was rejected by larger section of the society. If adequate consultation and interactions had been done over the bill before registering it in the upper house of the parliament, there would not be so much uproar in the streets. The message is clear and simple. The government needs to hold wider consultations with the stakeholders before taking any decision of wider national importance. But this is not happening. The government seems to be guided by the notion that since it has nearly two-thirds majority support in the parliament, it can shove any agenda down the people’s throats. This is a faulty approach and it should be corrected. People have said loud and clear: We gave you the mandate for development, prosperity, peace and rule of law. You have no right to curtail our rights in any pretext.
Though the government announced to withdraw the bill on Tuesday, locals of Kathmandu and members of various civil society groups hit the streets in Kathmandu on Wednesday as well. This could be partly in response to Prime Minister’s rather impolite and rude remarks against the protestors. The lesson the prime minister and his government should learn from the whole episode is that people are closely watching every move of the government and they will stand against the government if it takes the decisions that curtail their freedom. The prime minister and his ministers have been quite reactive to the public concerns in recent times. They stand affront to even the media recommendations made in good faith. Even within the ruling party, there are voices of grievances that the government has stopped consulting with party leaders on key decisions it makes. Such approach will erode the credibility of the government even within the party. Prime Minister needs to be humble and accommodative of the legitimate concerns raised in the parliament by the opposition party as well as those raised by the people. Withdrawal of Guthi Bill was the step in the right direction. But there are other controversial bills which need to be revised and reviewed. We would like to believe that the government will no longer be dismissive of alternative views in the days to come.