Friday, 1 July 2011

MALNUTRITION: India: Obstruction of legislators to progress

Speaker Subas Chandra Nembang the other day suspended four Constituent Assembly (CA) members for seven days for “violating peace, order and discipline” of the Legislature-Parliament. The Speaker moved to punish the four when they got in the way and blocked Local Development Minister Urmila Aryal from making it to the rostrum in a bid to respond to the questions raised by some Nepali Congress MPs over embezzlement of NRs 16m by the Office of Bara District Development and its local development officer, currently facing action by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority. The suspension is not only for the obstruction that the lawmakers created on Sunday, but a series of disruptive protests the lawmakers in question had been indulging in for several weeks. In between, the government and the three big parties tried to address the concerns raised by the four MPs. Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal, as demanded by the protesting lawmakers, did give a written commitment to address their concerns. In his four-point commitment, the PM said the government would provide shelters and land to the Muslims, Dalits, indigenous/nationalities, freed-Kamaiyas and other land-less people. Also, the prime minister had stated that the government would implement the agreements reached with the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum Nepal, United Democratic Madhesi Front, Sanghiya Ganatantrik Front and other agreements reached with the Dalits, Muslims, indigenous and nationalities, OBCs, third gender and physically-challenged communities in the past. The PM said the issues related with CA would be addressed as per the commitments made by himself and leaders of major political parties. The PM also pledged to pass the Inclusive Bill upon mutual political understanding. But Paswan claimed that the chief executive’s “commitment paper” was vague and it did not address their concerns.

The Westminster model of Parliamentary Democracy that Nepal has embraced since the political change of 1990 does have its strengths and weaknesses, but it also has a series of procedures for operating a legislature. The beauty of the system is that it allows parliamentary opposition, but lawmakers are expected to act responsibly. Lawmakers represent their constituencies, and it is only natural that they take up the issues and concerns of their constituents, but they must exercise caution and restraint when exercising their parliamentary right to protest. This clearly was not happening for the last several weeks. And, Bishwendra Paswan of Dalit Janjati Party, Rukmini Chaudhary of Sanghiya Loktantrik Rastriya Manch, Buddha Ratna Manandhar of the Nepa: Rastriya Party and independent member Sadrul Miya Haq were doing everything imaginable to stall the House proceedings as well as the Constitutional Committee meetings. Paswan’s theatrics – tearing of his shirt in the House and sending a chair flying down from the five-storey Parliament building not long ago – could never have gone unnoticed or unpunished. The four were just being unreasonable and were simply bent on stalling the crucial proceedings in the Legislature Parliament as well as the Constituent Assembly. While exercising their rights, they were completely ignorant about infringement of the rights of the fellow MPs. Actually, the suspension should have come little earlier. As the saying goes, the action has come “better late than never”.

Tackling malnutrition

That half of the country’s under five children are malnourished calls for immediate steps to be taken in the fight against malnutrition. It is also found that 35 per cent of the children are underweight and 49 per cent are stunted. What is a matter of worry is that the incidence of stunting in Nepal is among the highest in the world. Thus, it is high time that an effective programme came up to deal with malnutrition. The preparation of the five-year multi-sectoral nutrition programme to lessen malnutrition amongst children below five years of age is therefore welcome. It is better late than never.

Given the serious nature of the problem of malnutrition there is no time to lose, for delay would mean that the number of the children under five would be suffering needlessly and malnutrition would be hampering their physical and mental development.

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