Call to let local levels decide names, HQ

LAWYERS QUESTION FEDERAL GOVT’S INTERFERENCE IN THE MATTER

The federal government has been changing headquarters and names of local governments violating principles of federalism and lawyers are demanding that laws allowing the federal government to exercise this power should be changed.

So far it has changed names and headquarters of 102 local governments — headquarters of 62, names of 18 and names and headquarters of 22, most recent being the headquarters of Bhimsen Thapa Rural Municipality, Gorkha.

Advocate Sunil Ranjan Singh said the federal government’s role in changing the headquarters of local levels was against the principle of federalism, as the law requires local levels to seek approval of the federal government even when they pass their proposal by two-thirds majority.

“Decisions taken by two-thirds majority in any organisation become valid, but local governments, which are autonomous governments, have not been able to take decisions independently,” he said. He added that the barrier that local governments were facing in changing their headquarters should be removed. “This is one example how the federal government is remote-controlling local governments,” he said, adding that local governments were elected governments that were as responsible as any other government.

Advocate Sunil Kumar Patel said the power to endorse local governments’ decision to change headquarters should rest with provincial governments and not the federal government. “The federal government is unnecessarily interfering in provincial government’s jurisdiction with the motive of diluting or foiling federalism,” he added. He said provincial governments should promote linkage and power sharing between the two lower tiers of government.

Senior Advocate Bipin Adhikari said lawmakers might have incorporated the provision in Local Governments Operation Act with the objective of preventing local governments from unduly exercising their powers, but the best thing would be to grant the right to local governments with some riders.

The laws can be changed to ensure that when local governments change the headquarters or names of their local levels, they can do so by consulting the federal government.

“Existing law can be changed to ensure that local governments shall not change the names and headquarters of local levels after every election and changes should not be aimed at scoring political advantage for ruling parties,” he said.

Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration Rudra Man Singh Tamang said the provision requiring local levels to get endorsement of the federal government for changing names and headquarters was to bring uniformity and stability or else the federal government would have difficulties mentioning the names and headquarters in identification and other documents. “If the federal government does not have any role in this matter, local levels may change names and headquarters every hour and that could be quite problematic for the federal government,” he argued.

Section 4 of the Local Government Operation Act, 2017, allows the federal government to determine or change names and headquarters of local governments in consultation with the provincial government. Section 4 (4) gives the federal government discretionary powers to endorse local governments’ proposal. This law also allows the federal government to set the criteria for both fixing and changing headquarters of the local governments based on area, infrastructure and other aspects.

[A version of this article appears in print on August 08, 2019 of The Himalayan Times]