Unwarranted tussle for provincial capitals

Manoj Karki
KATHMANDU, Jan 8

The debate over the choice of capitals of the seven provinces has heated up in the recent days.

The folks of Dhankuta have even arrived in the federal capital to exert pressure on the government to declare the hill district as the capital of province no. 1. Led by political parties, the members of the so-called struggle committee set up for the same even staged a sit-in and gherao in front of the Prime Minister’s residence at Baluwatar. A signature campaign and meeting with the senior leaders of the major political parties are other ways being adopted by the people in Dhankuta to ensure that their home town becomes the capital of the eastern province.

The people in Dhankuta even resorted to a general strike following the media reports that Biratnagar has been proposed as the temporary capital of the province.

Only yesterday, the strike in Dhankuta was relaxed a bit after the locals complained over the difficulties it had brought with it for themselves. The transport strike was relaxed to not apply from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am. Markets remain closed affecting daily life of the people. The people in Dhankuta are increasing the severity of their campaign.

Another province where the issue of provincial capital is getting serious is in Province no. 5 with the choice between Dang and Butwal. Leaders and parties have come out in support of one of the two locations. And efforts were even made to influence the teams that visited from the federal capital to gauge the suitability of the provincial capital.

Meanwhile, Dipayal remains closed over the same issue, with the demand of the locals to declare it the provincial capital of province no. 7. Today is the fifth consecutive day that the entire district of Doti remains closed with no traffic while schools, industries, market all shut down. Dipayal is competing with Dhangadi to become the capital of this province.

The choice between Janakpur and Birgunj remains another contentious call in Province no. 2 while residents of Bhaktapur, Kavre and Hetauda are all geared up to fight for the decision to declare their respective city as the capital of province no. 3.

Political parties as well as industrialists and business community are found leading these demonstrations and pressure-exerting initiatives for the declaration of provincial capital. Actually, the matter has been very contentious also become the leaders during the recent provincial elections pledged during their campaigning to declare the areas that are currently being discussed as provincial capitals as the headquarters of the said province. For example, leaders contesting in province no. 5 expressed their support for either Dang or Butwal as the provincial capital during the campaigning. They made a pledge to work for the same if elected. Hence, the leaders are going by their election pledge to express support for a particular place, which is making matters worse as people are now divided.

Such has been the debate that even the government had to hold back its decision to announce temporary provincial capitals, where the oath taking ceremony of the newly elected provincial parliamentarians has to take place. The government has been trying to forge a consensus among the parties for both the naming of the temporary provincial capital and the Pradhesh Pramukh but it has not been successful so far.

After news report of the recommendations being made by the government for temporary provincial capitals went viral, agitations took serious form in different contesting districts. As a result, the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers was forced to release a statement to clarify that no decision or recommendation has been made as of yet to announce the temporary provincial capitals.

In the meantime, the government seems to have decided to take a risk-free move of inviting provincial parliamentarians to Kathmandu for their oath ceremony, and leave the contentious decision of declaring provincial capitals to the provincial government. Accordingly, the federal capital will serve as the temporary capitals for all the seven provinces.

It may be noted that the provincial assemblies will also be deciding on the names of their respective province, which are now known by numbers ranging from 1 to 7, starting east to the far-west. Though it is a good idea for the matter to be left to the respective provincial parliaments to decide about the provincial headquarters, it would however be necessary to start with a temporary one as the parliaments need to sit first even to decide about the provincial capital.

Furthermore, the government as well as the parties and leaders who made false promises during the election campaigning needs to first respond to the unwarranted demand for provincial capitals and let those involved know that it would be the respective provincial assemblies that will decide on it. And the current announcement would be only a temporary one.

This could be done also by highlighting the constitutional provisions on the same. As mentioned in Article 288 (2) of the Constitution, the capital of a State shall be as decided by a two-thirds majority of the number of the then members of the concerned State Assembly. Furthermore, Article 288(3) reads that the business of a State shall be conducted through the place as specified by the Government of Nepal until decision is made in accordance with clause (2) of the same article.

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