Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

Constitutional Breakdown in Nepal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : India-Nepal Relations

nepal

Nepal is in a constitutional crisis with major organs of the state confronting each other as the Chief Justice is under undeclared house arrest and the PM openly criticizing the President.

Nepal polity in turmoil

  • Prime Minister who is backed by the chiefs of four major coalition partners, is at loggerheads with President.
  • The President might seek to rule as an extra-constitutional authority beyond the sanction and imagination of the Constitution that completed six years last week.

Genesis of the crisis: Row over Citizenship

  • The current crisis began after President refused to ratify Nepal’s citizenship bill, which was sent to her twice after it was passed by both Houses of Parliament over the span of a month.
  • The bill seeks to give citizenship by birth and by descent to an estimated 500,000 individuals.
  • It was also sought to provide non-voting citizenship to non-resident Nepalis living in non-SAARC countries.

Constitutional crisis in Nepal: A backgrounder

  • Nepal transitioned into a democracy beginning with the fall of the monarchy in 2006 and the subsequent election of the Maoist government in 2008.
  • The emergence of the multiparty system was followed by the adoption of a constitution on September 20, 2015.
  • All Nepalese citizens born before this date got naturalised citizenship.
  • But their children remained without citizenship as that was to be guided by a federal law which has not yet been framed.
  • This amendment Act was expected to pave the way to citizenship for many such stateless youth as well as their parents.

What are the issues with the Act?

Ans. Gender bias

  • The main criticism against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2006 is that it goes against established parameters of gender justice.
  • According to Article 11(2b), a person born to a father or a mother with Nepalese citizenship can get citizenship by descent.
  • Another article says a person who is born to a Nepalese mother (who has lived in the country) and an unidentified father will also get citizenship by descent.
  • But this section appears humiliating for a mother as she has to declare that her husband is unidentified for the child to be eligible for citizenship.
  • In case of a Nepalese father, such declarations are not required.

Why has the President refused to sign the Act?

  • Bhandari is the first female President of Nepal.
  • Her refusal to sign the Act has drawn attention to certain sections in the constitution that thrusts greater responsibility on women.
  • For example, Article 11 (5) says that a person who is born to a Nepalese mother and an unidentified father can be granted citizenship by descent.
  • Next, it says that in case the unidentified father turns out to be a foreigner, the citizenship by descent would be converted to naturalised citizenship.
  • Furthermore, it supports punitive action against the mother if the father is found later.

Indian connection to the issue

  • There is an unarticulated concern in the orthodox sections that Nepalese men, particularly from the Terai region, continue to marry women from northern India.
  • These people feel that Nepalese identity would be undermined.
  • Because of this “Beti-Roti” (Nepalese men marrying Indian women) issue, many women could not become citizens of Nepal.
  • They were subjected to the infamous seven-year cooling off period before they could apply for citizenship in Nepal.
  • As such women were stateless, children of such families were also often found to be without Nepalese citizenship.
  • However, the new amendments have done away with the cooling off period for these stateless women.

 

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