Getting access to basic government services is one of the core values of human rights especially from the viewpoints of economic, social and cultural rights. The accessibility of those services to nearest places is fundamental. The centralized power structure has already caused conflicts and tensions in Nepal in the past, such as Maoist Insurgency from 1996-2006 followed by People’s Movement 2006 and Madhes Movements (2007, 2008 and 2015/16). These protests are still fresh in the minds of people.

Against the backdrop, the decision of headquarters for the newly created seven federal provinces is an important task ahead. According to media reports, the meeting of the government today will discuss and decide those provincial capitals. This may create tensions among people across the countries. For some moment, it may not create any tensions since the government stated that the proposed cities for the capitals are provisional and temporary. However, it may have future impact especially while switching the provisional capitals to permanent headquarters. Past trends of extending service centers from the district headquarters in some districts, including Bara and Mahottari,  had caused tensions.

THRD Alliance urges the government, political parties, and stakeholders to engage in constructive discussions and choose a place through a mutual consensus among them to avoid possible tension and violence over the issue of provincial capitals.

Background

As per media reports, the government is going to discuss and decide temporary headquarters of state governments today. For this, the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPCM) has prepared some ground work to name the provisional headquarters. The members of the task force spoke to media that they would recommend the government to name the cities as provincial headquarters where all the basic infrastructure to house the Chiefs of State and buildings with the capacity to host at least 200-300 people would be available. The OPCM believes that 200-300 people could gather during the swearing-in ceremony.

Biratnagar for province – 1, Janakpur for province – 2, Thimi, Bhaktapur for province – 3, Pokhara for province – 4, Dang for province – 5, Surkhet for province – 6, and Dhangadhi for province – 7 have been proposed for the provisional/temporary headquarters of the state government across the seven provinces of the country, as per the media report.

However, even before the decision made by the government, demonstrations are taking place in all the provinces.

Province – 1

In province-1, Dhankuta residents have been staging a demonstration rally demanding that the city be named headquarters of province-1. They might have some valid reasons to make such a claim because, in the past, Dhankuta was the headquarters of the Eastern Development Region.

Emotions also run high in the residents of Dharan, Itahari, and Biratnagar to name their cities as provisional and permanent headquarters of province-1. These cities have the entire infrastructure need to be the headquarters of province-1.

In consultation with some Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML) and CPN-Maoist Centre leaders and cadres in Panchthar and Ilam, they said that they want Itahari to be named after the capital of the province 1. However, the Nepali Congress leaders, including its district president, insisted on naming Dhankuta for the provincial headquarters. The NC district president said that Ithari could also be accepted if Dhankuta fails to come under the required criteria. Leaders of Federal Socialist Forum Nepal from Panchthar claimed that Phidim should be made the headquarters for the province -1.

Province – 2

Although people of Birgunj have not demanded strongly to make their city the headquarters of province-2, there might be a protest if the government named Janakpur as the provisional headquarters of the province-2 because Birgunj is a commercial hub and the city remained in the forefront during the latest Madhes movement.

Province – 5

In province-5, there is the strong rival claim of people of Butwal and Dang to make their cities as provisional and permanent headquarters. In Dang, people of Tulsipur and Ghorahi also have rival claims about making their cities as provisional headquarters. Likewise, people of Kapilvastu staged a demonstration last week demanding that Kapilvastu/Taulihawa should be the capital of the province – 5. They argued that Kapilvastu was the old palace of King Śuddhodana, and this should be the capital. In Rupandehi, people shut down the operation of transportation for an hour.

Province – 7

In province-7, people of Doti and Kailali have rival claims about making their places as provisional headquarters.

Analysis

As per the OPCM officials, there is no dispute about naming Pokhara the provisional headquarters for province-4 and Surkhet the provisional headquarters for province-6 and Janakpur the provisional headquarters for province-2. However, the OPCM officials have said that there were rival claims about the provisional headquarters of other provinces- particularly in province-1, 3, 5 and 7. This means that demonstrations could break out in those provinces after the government names the provisional headquarters because it is most likely that the new provincial governments would also name the same places as permanent headquarters of previous administrative unit (development regions)

Before the polls for parliamentary and provincial assemblies, the government did not do make the decision fearing that the opposition parties could make it a poll slogan and their campaign could cost the ruling parties’ some votes. Nevertheless, some candidates contesting the recent-held parliamentary and provincial assemblies elections promised the voters to make the provincial headquarters in their respective cities or those close to the voters.

As per the Article 288 (2) of the Constitution of Nepal, a two-thirds majority of the provincial assembly shall decide the provincial capital/ headquarters.

(2) The capital of a State under this Constitution shall be as decided by a two-thirds majority of the number of the then members of the concerned State Assembly.

– Article 288 (2), The Constitution of Nepal 2015

Conclusion

Past trends show that political parties always have the tendency to make such issue a big political issue. Earlier in August 2015 before the constitution promulgation, the protests demanding the provincial capital in Surkhet had turned violent, resulting in the death of three persons when the law enforcement agencies exercised the excessive use of force during the demonstrations.

When the government declares provincial headquarters, opponents could seek to score political brownie points which could give rise to protests. Declaring provincial headquarters will increase the burden of new provincial governments to name their cities as permanent headquarters. Naming a city as a headquarters of a province brings the huge opportunity for the residents of that city and hence this becomes a very emotive issue as well.

Although the accommodation of everybody’s aspiration to have capital in his/her city is not possible, a moderate solution has to be sought through consultation political parties and key stakeholders in the respective districts, keeping in mind “equal development of all city in provinces”. Otherwise, this problem could cause another conflict and violence.

THRD Alliance urges the government, political parties, and stakeholders to engage in constructive discussions and choose a place through a mutual consensus among them to avoid possible tension and violence over the issue of provincial capitals.

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