Leaders from major political parties are campaigning to make their preferred place of choice as provincial capital. It is rather unfortunate to see major leaders joining hands in campaigning for their cities, rather than trying to find amicable political solution of the issue. Strangely, even the leaders from the same party are divided over the issue. For example, while CPN-UML leader Bishnu Poudel is demanding Butwal to be the capital of Province 5, another UML leader Shankar Pokharel, who is also projected as a likely chief minister of the same province, is vouching for Dang, his home district. If each leader pushes for his/her preferred location as province capital, we will practically reach nowhere. We have already seen protests and strikes in parts of the country in the last few weeks over this issue. Further politicization of the debate can have serious implications, ranging from prolonged strike to conflict between cities, hampering business activities. This is the last thing the country needs after we have successfully held the elections of provincial assemblies and the federal parliament. The need of the hour is to work together.
We believe the row over provincial capital is uncalled for. Yes, everyone would want their major cities to be declared provincial capitals in the hope that this will accelerate economic activities and overall development of those places. But the constitution has clearly stated how provincial capital issues can be settled. It has has vested the right to name temporary capital to the government, which can later be changed by a two-thirds majority of the provincial assembly. Article 288 of the constitution states that “the capital of the provinces…shall be decided by the two-thirds majority of the then members of the Provincial Assembly” and unless this is done, “the operations of the province shall be carried from the location determined by the Government of Nepal.” It does not suit political parties to fight over the issue when we have clear provisions in the constitution itself.
Why not form a commission of experts to determine provincial capitals and separate politics from this heated debate? Such a commission could outline the minimum required infrastructures for a province capital and then simultaneously recommend options for each of the seven provinces. Another idea could be to find alternative towns that can be developed into a proper provincial capital, infusing resources to build good infrastructures. This will not only take away the population pressures from big cities, but also provide impetus to develop newer, better and livable cities. Our major cities that are being considered for provincial capitals are already crowded, and have limited resources and poor infrastructure. We have come a long way from promulgating the new constitution to holding three elections in a single year, which many skeptics said was never possible. If we let the issue of provincial capital to be used as a political tool among parties, then we may be into a deep divide inside each of the provinces. While it is natural for political leaders to vouch for their home town as potential capital, this should not distract them from bringing all the parties together to resolve the issue. Let us not forget, people voted for peace, stability and prosperity.