Professor D. D. Poudel, USA
The Founder of the Asta-Ja Framework
Asta-Ja is a theoretically grounded grassroots-based planning and management framework for conservation, development, and utilization of natural and human resources.
Asta-Ja means eight of the Nepali letter “Ja” [Jal (water), Jamin (land), Jungle (forest), Jadibuti (medicinal and aromatic plants), Janashakti (manpower), Janawar, (animals), Jarajuri (crop plants), and Jalabayu (climate)].
Asta-Ja promotes accelerated economic growth and socio-economic transformation of the nation.
It is a scientific, holistic, systematic, self-reliant, and multidisciplinary framework for the conservation, development, and utilization of Asta-Ja resources.
The eight elements of the Asta-Ja system are very intricately linked and strongly connected.
Hence, it is important to have sustainable conservation and development of each of the eight elements of Asta-Ja for better functioning of the entire system.
Asta-Ja Framework emphasizes community capacity-building, self-reliant, and national, regional, and local level planning and development of environmental and natural resources for socio-economic transformation of the nation.
Asta-Ja is the backbone of Nepal’s economy. Therefore, the best governance of Asta-Ja is the ultimate goal of a government.
Ownership in natural resources plays very important role in its conservation, development and sustainable utilization.
Natural resources often suffer the “tragedy of commons” meaning they are not controlled by anybody but everybody utilizes them to the point that they degrade or completely disappear. Ownership of natural resources define the rights and uses of the resources for benefit of those who own it.
Therefore, clear definition of the ownership of natural resources is necessary.
A country’s constitutions, laws and regulations, and policies define the ownerships and rights on natural resources.
According to Section 4, Article 60 of Nepal’s Constitution, the Federal, Provincial, and the Local Governments can collect royalty on natural resources utilization and development within their jurisdiction.
Water Resource Ownerships:
The Essential Commodity Protection Act 1955 protects the drinking water as an essential commodity and the Muluki Ain 1963 sets the priority of water uses.
These acts established rights of individuals, group of individuals or the community to divert water from sources like streams, rivers or ground water. Diversion for irrigation must not have adverse downstream impacts with regard to government irrigation schemes or hydropower plants.
A person whoever built Kula (small canal) has the authority to use water first. No one is allowed to restrict those people who are using it since from the beginning.
The Nepal Water Supply Corporation Act 1989 established Nepal Water Supply Corporation as an autonomous government controlled corporation responsible for supplying drinking water.
However, this system was changed to privatized system after 1990 political change.
The Water Resource Act 1992, the Umbrella Act, gives ownership of water to the State and people have use-rights so that the resources is utilized for creating national assets and contribute to revenue. Sectoral prioritization under this act include Drinking water, Irrigation,
Agricultural Uses (Livestock), Hydropower, Cottage Industries, Industries and Mining, Navigation, and Recreation Use. Under this act, Water User Associations are formed and licenses are issued.
The Electricity Act 1992 establishes a system of licensing for hydropower production.
The Water Resource Regulation 1993 established the rights and obligations of Water User Associations and license holders. Similarly, the Drinking Water Regulation 1998 authorizes the formation of the Drinking Water User Associations and deals with the licensing of drinking water use.
The Irrigation Regulation 2000 deals with the Irrigation Water User Associations.
Thus, various laws and regulations developed after 1990 have privatized water use and hydropower generation in Nepal.
There are more than 100 water tanker entrepreneurs in Kathmandu Valley supplying drinking water. Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL), a public company registered under the Nepal Government’s Company Act 2063, is responsible for supplying drinking water to most residents in Kathmandu Valley. Nepal Constitution 2015 Part 3 Article 35 Clause 4 protects right to drinking water in Nepal. For drinking water, the local government has the exclusive power.
About 66% of Nepalese population’s livelihood is dependent on agriculture. Agriculture sector shares nearly one third of national GDP. Landownership has always been a quite sensitive issue in Nepalese society.
With the integration campaign of Nepal by King Prithvi, all lands won belonged to the state but the tillers could cultivate land.
This was called the Raiker system. Land rights were given mostly to Royal and Rana families, high-level government official, and individuals with high connection to the rulers. Common tillers were deprived of land rights.
The owner of Raiker grant not only owned the land but also peasants they worked in the land. Under Raikar system, land rights were given as Birta land to upper class people, Guthi land to religious organizations, and land were given to individual employees for good performance.
Almost one third of total cultivated land was Birta land in 1950 and Ranas Regime families and their intermediaries owned most of the land. Absentee landlordism was very common.
Another category of land ownership was Kipat system, where land ownership rights were given to community groups.
After the fall of Rana regime, a new constitution in 1951 incorporated land ownership rights. Traditional Raikar system, Jamindari system, and Birta system were subsequently abolished.
King Mahendra took the land issue very seriously. A Land Commission was established in 1956. Land Act was enacted in 1964. Efforts were made to transfer land ownership rights to the tillers.
At present, almost 28% of Nepal’s land is privately owned or in leasehold. Policy of Joint land Ownership (JLO) 2011 is also available in which Husbands and wives can register their lands for joint ownership.
Despite so several attempts in tackling land ownership issue, 25% of Nepalese population is still landless or near landless.
In 2019, the Government of Nepal has made eight amendment to Land Act and has made provision of giving land to those landless people who are using government lands for last 10 years will be given land ownership rights to certain parcel of such land. Top 5% farmer households control more than 37% of agricultural land while bottom 47% of farmer households control only 15% of agricultural land.
Land fragmentation is another serious issue. Similarly, over a million hectares of agricultural land is reportedly left fallow in recent years primarily due to outmigration of youths for foreign employment.
Nearly 12% of total land of Nepal is considered pastureland. Ninety eight percent of total pastureland lie in the mid-hills, the mountains, and the high Himalayan regions. Public pasturelands constitute government lands in the forest areas, riparian areas, and open public lands.
Animals are often taken inside the forest areas for grazing. Historically, pasturelands in the mountains and the high Himalayan regions were communal lands, which were owned by the communities. Just as the Kipat lands were nationalized by 1950, pasturelands were nationalized following the promulgation of Grazing Lands Act in 1974.
However, elite-controlled pasturelands reportedly still exist in certain part of the country.
The 1957 Forest Act nationalized all forests with limited access to local communities. At present, there are national and private forests. National forests are further categorized as
(1) Government-managed forests, (2) Community forests, (3) Leasehold forests, (4) Religious forests, and (5) Protected forests. Community, leasehold and religious forests are managed by local communities or user groups. Government-managed and protected forests are directly administered and protected by governmental agencies.
Individual households manage private forests. Community forests cover more than 1 million ha spread across the country. Under the Leasehold forestry program, groups of poor families manage about 8,500 ha of forests in 31 mid-hill and mountain districts.
Ownerships of Mines and Minerals:
The Mines and Minerals Act 1985 establishes state’s ownership rights on mines and minerals.
It states, “All minerals lying or discovered on the surface or underground in any land belonging to an individual or the government within Nepal shall be the property of the Government of Nepal.
The Government of Nepal has exclusive power in carrying out the mining operations.
This act also has provisions of licensing mining operations to private individuals or companies who must follow necessary measures for environmental protection.
The 2015 Constitution also vests ownerships of minerals and mines to Federal, Provincial, and Local Governments.
The ownership issue especially in relation to critical public goods such as water, land, forests is a very complex and challenging issue because appropriate access to such resources is necessary for sustaining lives and fostering economic growth.
On one hand, there should be uninterrupted supplies of critical resources such as clean drinking water, and on the other hand, there should not be any undue advantages to the suppliers. In the meantime, environmental protection and the sustainability of natural resources must be ensured.
Promulgation of Nepal Constitution 2015 and the federalization of governance and administration has opened up a new dimension on the governance of natural resources in Nepal.
There is a need for developing a large number of new laws, regulations and policies in relation to natural resource ownerships in consideration with the federalization of administrative structure and governance.
There is also a clear need for the evaluation of existing laws, policies, and regulations on natural resource ownerships and rights and make necessary improvement. In part nine of this series, the author will discuss Climate Change and natural resources governance.