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Ishan Raj Onta
With new entrants of Generation Z into various career spheres, we also see a shift in how things are viewed and done today. Many of the youth today are socio politically aware and carry strong likes and dislikes about how politics shape the development of the nation. In his edition of WOW we talk with Ishan Raj Onta, an advocate, about his views on politics, the Constitution and the role of the youth citizenry.
What do you think the role of youth should be in politics?
The National Youth Policy 2015 approved by the Nepal Government (Council of Ministers) gives us a hint of the state’s vision to encourage, empower and mobilise the youth in the nation-building process. According to the policy, persons aged 16-40 are categorised as the youth and occupy 40% of the country’s total population, which is a significant force. However, an estimated five million Nepali youth are working in the Middle East, and 1500 leave the country every day to seek employment or further education. Each year, more than 450,000 youth enter the labour market, but more than half choose not to stay in the country. These statistics alone can be a reflection of the participation of youth in the development process of the country, both in the government sector and the private sector.
What challenges are faced by the youth of the country?
A long history of bureaucratic leadership creates a rigid system, often not so open to bringing creative and pragmatic solutions to existing problems. With such a high number of youths residing abroad, it is important to understand that the way of life they have lived is fast paced, more convenient and practical in all aspects. When this population returns to Nepal, they are often fueled by the energy, knowledge and experience to contribute and make a difference. But it does not take long for them to see that the system is so disoriented and primitive; they often find their sentiments paralysed. It is thus extremely important to create an environment here that induces the youth that has been abroad to be easily adjusted. This automatically creates an atmosphere where they will become key actors in the development process.
How do you view the current political scenario?
Confucius, the Chinese philosopher in The Analects (a compilation of his sayings after his death) states that, in order for any nation to be prosperous, both the leaders and the citizens should be competent, educated, and conscious of their decisions. Both these dimensions must go strongly hand in hand in order to create a peaceful nation. It is therefore important for both the leaders and the citizens to be empowered for Nepal to have a stable, progressive political scenario. I think after decades of political and social conflicts, the political scenario in Nepal is certainly more relaxed. Current leadership shows some hope and has portrayed strong vision, which sadly though are often made topics of mockery. It is as equally important for people to be receptive, educated and conscious of what direction the country is heading to so they can challenge wrong and support what is right.
How do you view the new Constitution?
The new Constitution has 308 articles compared to the 167 articles of the Interim Constitution (2063). Though this may be a requirement as a result of the structural change of the country, it seems to be very lengthy. Ordinary laws could have dealt with a lot of the issues put in the Constitution.
The preamble of the Constitution reads some progressive provision:
Article 6 has made all languages spoken as the mother tongue as the national language, thus incorporating cultural sentiments of a wide range of the population.
Articles 16-48 incorporate progressive fundamental rights, including the right to information, communication, right to justice, right of victims, right against torture, right to privacy, etc. Article 30 (2) ensures the right to obtain compensation for any injury caused by environmental degradation or pollution. I believe this is a very progressive provision, given the context of the environment in the country currently.
Article 84(8) sets aside 33% of parliament seats for women. This is progressive as long as the candidates are truly qualified and have had difficulties in acquiring these seats for whatsoever reason. Else, the quota system can be another way to simply pull in family members into the legislative parliament, which has become a common malpractice and can prove to be fatal for the development of this country.
Which are the most important industries for the overall economic growth of the country?
I believe that in order for Nepal to prosper, it needs to be self-sufficient, and self-sustainable. It needs to close the import-export gap, to lower its expenses and debts. In order to do this, the government can work on expanding businesses and industries that cover a wide range of products like in the energy sector, renewable energy sector can play a crucial role in meeting the energy demands of the country. Designing policies to encourage public-private partnerships and foreign investments can help in bringing the capital required to flourish the energy sector. Investments in the development of hydropower, solar, wind, biomass, geothermal energy technologies can create an energy surplus in the country which then can be sold.
In the food industry, we have plenty of land and the labour to produce our own food. In 2017 alone, Nepal imported oil, grains, seeds and fruits worth US$110.53 million, mostly from India. This expense can be fulfilled if the food industry is developed. Bringing in food processing technologies, utilising the available labour force, and a solid market control scheme could help in empowering the domestic food industry.
In the automobile industry, its development would do wonders for the country. Even if we are able to only assemble vehicles domestically, the cost of buying automobiles would be significantly low. Chinese technologies have become very accessible and a government partnership could be a possibility to collaborate and bring in the required technology. This would also create job opportunities.
How effectively do you think the new laws will be enforced?
The new Muluki Ain seems to be an important leap from our last one. We have to assume that its enforcement will be equally effective. However, it is also important for the social structure to adapt itself to these new laws. Social practices that degrade human dignity may take more than just laws to eradicate. We still hear news of murders on the assumption that a person is a witch. We also frequently encounter deaths caused as a result of the practice of Chaupadi, where a woman is isolated from her home during menstruation. The hindrance thus may not only be lack of effective implementation of the provisions, but the psychology of the society that the new laws are trying to change.
How efficient do you think the new law would be at minimising rape?
The punishment for the crime has been increased in the new Muluki Ain indicating its progressive nature. It has also increased punishments for marital rape from six months previously to four years. But increasing prison time for offenders cannot be the only factor that can be attributed to decline in rape cases. It is equally important to understand the cause of such crimes, and it demands an in-depth study of the psychology of the criminals. This can help in identifying the root cause for such anti-social behaviour, which then can be dealt with separately possibly making more impact on reducing rape.
How do you view the corrective justice measures adopted by the government that allows a convicted person to serve community service and night jail instead of serving full time?
The current criminal code seeks to direct the conventional jail system towards a corrective one, allowing for better rehabilitation of convicts. However, only those who have been convicted for prison time of less than three years are eligible for these corrective justice measures. The law also leaves room for interpretation as only convicts who have portrayed decent conduct qualify. This new system reinforces the principle of a corrective justice system where the objective of the punishment is not only to deter but to rehabilitate criminals so they are able to adjust themselves back into society once their sentence has been completed. Also, the provision may help in lowering the state’s burden to host convicts. It is important to improve the existing conditions of prisons, to ensure that inalienable human rights are respected at all times even in prison.
Do you think the new laws suppress freedom of speech and expression?
The article 17 (2) of the constitution enshrines freedom of expression and opinion as a fundamental right. However, it is important to understand the freedom of opinion and expression is not an absolute right, meaning that there may be certain reasonable restrictions as outlined in the explanatory clause to safeguard national interest, sovereignty, harmonious relations between different communities, etc. According to the new provisions, listening to or recording a conversation between two or more people and photographing someone without their consent is now a criminal offence. However, if in a public place, it is not considered an offence. The new laws have thus added a layer of protection keeping in mind the right to privacy, which is another fundamental right enshrined in the constitution of Nepal in 2015. It does not seem that such laws limit the right to expression and speech to a large extent.
If you were appointed PM for a day what new policies would you endorse?
Electric vehicle policy: To lower customs on electric vehicles to make them more affordable to the public, so a shift could be made from petrol and diesel engines. Zero tolerance on vehicle emissions, giving authority to the state to confiscate and scrap vehicles producing off limits emissions.
Hi-tech traffic monitoring systems: Use of simulators to train traffic police to control traffic flow and use of street cameras.