Rapti River at Deukhuri. One municipality and three rural municipalities claim authority for awarding contracts for utilizing the river’s resources. Photo: Devendra Basnet/Republica
DANG, July 1: Last year Babai Rural Municipality of Dang confronted the District Coordinating Committee (DCC), over the handling of some contracts that were related to resources within the area of the municipality. Officials at the rural municipality claimed that the DCC cannot award contracts related to resources are within their territory. Subsequently, they handed contracts to other contractors by brushing aside the contractors who had won the contracts from DCC.
Citing existing regulation, DCC claims that it has the authority of awarding contractors for the utilization of natural resources in all rural municipalities across the district. However, the rural municipality claimed that the DCC cannot govern the use of its rivers, jungles and other natural resources. As the row escalated, excavation of mines came to a halt in many places across the rural municipality.
In Banke district also, Raptisonari and Baijnath rural municipalities had similar confrontations with DCC, Banke. The two rural municipalities and the DCC could not settle down conflict of interests over the utilization of resources in rural municipalities. The municipalities were not happy that the DCC was taking unilateral decisions over the utilization of resources from their rivers, jungles, among others. Consequently, the rural municipalities challenged DCC’s authority at the district court, which ruled in favor of DCC.
These are a few cases where tussle over the authority to utilize resources at the local level that delayed and hampered development. Such cases have brought to the fore the increasing rift between local bodies. Various local authorities are contending authority over the utilization of natural resources at the local level. Local government bodies are given the rights to utilize, conserve and promote their natural and other resources. However, utilization and conservation of natural resources like rivers and forests that don’t have clear demarcation and fall within territories of many local government units has been inviting many contentions among stakeholders.
Since the new fiscal year, all the contracts that were earlier awarded by the DCC have been transferred to respective local governments. However, existing laws don’t give clear directions for awarding contracts related to natural resources like rivers and forests that are spread across the territory of more than one local government. This has created confusion and confrontation between local governments.
One of such contentions is the utilization of resources of Rapti River in Deukhuri area. The river’s segment in Deukhuri touches territories of four local units- Rapti, Gadhawa and Rajpur rural municipalities and Lamahi municipality. All of these local units claim that they have the sole authority to award contracts for the utilization of the river’s resources in the area. None of them is willing to distribute the rights based on the territory of the river that falls within their domain.
Officials at these local units back their claims citing historical land mapping records. “Our rural municipality has the rights to utilize the resources of the river. Land mapping records done 50 years ago clearly show that all the river area was in our territory,” said Sahajrm Yadav, president of Gadhawa rural municipality. “Even if they want to divide its resources, our municipality should get the biggest share,” he said.
Rapti rural municipality and Lamahi municipality are also very close to the river. They claim that the river flows through their territories. Mayor of Lamahi Municipality, Kul Bahadur KC, claims that it is not scientific to distribute resources based on decade old maps. “It is very illogical to divide resources based on maps and land measurements taken decades back. We have to update territorial maps by measuring again,” he said adding that for distributing resources maps and land measurements alone cannot be the sole basis.
He argued that any local government unit cannot stake ownership claims stating that rivers change courses over the time. “So, we must take a decision in mutual understanding,” KC said adding that the issue of finalizing authority on certain resources have been challenging for local authorities.
“This is not a problem that only our municipality is dealing with. Most local bodies are dealing with such challenges. New provisions that address such issues in depth should be formulated,” he said. He added that the central and provincial governments should work towards this end.