The mountainous village of Tingla in Solukhumbu, with roughly 3,000 voters, boycotted the local and provincial elections of 2017. Under the leadership of Bal Kumar Karki, a 22 year old youth, the Tingla Sangharsha Samiti (Struggle Committee) has been opposing the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission’s decision to place Tingla in Necha Salyan rural municipality.
Tingla, a former VDC, is adjacent to Solu Dudhkund municipality, the Solukhumbu district headquarters. It is now in ward 6 of the Necha Salyan rural municipality. It has around 600 hectares of forest, and a hydro project of over 200 megawatts is under construction.
Nepali Congress cadres were killed here during the Panchayat in the Timmurbote Kand of December 16, 1974.
The largest ethnic group in Tingla are Chhetris, followed by Rai, Magar, Tamang, Sherpa, and Dalits. The political parties all are united for one demand: that Tingla join Solu Dudhkund municipality.
People’s needs vs. politicians’ ambitions
The stated rationale for restructuring in Nepal is the mainstreaming of marginalized communities, ethnic minorities, and the poor. To ensure the representation of minorities, the formation of smaller administrative clusters is essential. Considering Nepal’s long history of ethnic and linguistic hegemony, social change to accommodate those long kept from power requires many initiatives, and state restructuring is one of those steps. The parties agreed to it because the previous way of governing did not benefit all communities.
The criteria for state restructuring are that the areas in a unit be geographically close and administratively accessible. Necha Phurke, the current center of Necha Salyan, is neither geographically close for the people of Tingla, nor does it have easy administrative access.
The people of Tingla want to join Solu Dudhkund municipality to make their everyday lives easier. While Solu Dudhkund is accessible to them through public transport, there is no such service to reach Necha Phurke, and they must have private vehicles to get there. The people of Tingla also state that a trip to Necha Phurke will consume three days; one to go there, one day for work, and another to return.
Shakti Bahadur Basnet, a local of Tingla, says “To reach Salleri (in Solu Dudhkunda), one can get there by selling dimma (egg), but to go to Necha, one will have to sell the mau (hen).” Since Tingla is towards the corner of Necha Salyan, they must cross 44 kilometers to reach Necha Phurke.
Necha Salyan rural municipality was formed by joining four former Village Development Committees (VDCs)—Necha Batase, Necha Betghari, Salyan, and Tingla. The people of Tingla, who are being disadvantaged by this union, had no say in it.
Leaders such as Bal Bahadur KC of the Nepali Congress, who is also a former minister and former MP of Solukhumbu, put in a lot of effort to make Tingla a part of Necha Salyan, for as Tingla is in Necha Salyan, there is a possibility for Salyan to become the center of the rural municipality. Salyan is the home village of not just Bal Bahadur KC, but also Congress leader Gagan Thapa and provincial Congress candidate Prakash Singh Karki. Being the municipality center has perks, including greater infrastructure development. The forest and hydro resources played a part. It’s also a matter of prestige.
Tingla was thus merged into Necha Salyan to fulfill the political interests of leaders at the cost of the people of Tingla. After protests by the residents of Tingla, the two municipalities—Necha Salyan and Solu Dudhkund —agreed to send a file to Singha Durbar for the transfer of Tingla. The file is still pending, because the Tingla people do not have a leader of their own with the sort of access that Bal Bahadur KC has.
A restructure in name only
After the fall of the Panchayat in 1990, Gaupanchayats became VDCs, Chhetras became Ilaka, and District Panchayat became the District Development Committee. Now, with the new restructuring, Ilakas have been converted into rural municipalities. The local units thus formed are larger than the previous, making the representation of smaller communities difficult.
The Restructuring Commission has no hard scientific basis for the current local boundaries. The ruling parties and communities influence it according to their interests. The commission officials are nominated based on quotas for the parties, and Nepal’s politics is dominated by UML, Maoist Center, and Nepali Congress. The Commission decided not to break even the wards of a VDC, while simultaneously claiming that the Nepali state was being restructured.
Tingla is an example of the Commission’s arbitrary restructuring. It is also a good example of how parties and leaders prioritize their own interests. While Tingla is one case that has come out in the open, it is not alone—there are lesser known Tinglas and Bal Bahadur KCs across Nepal. If the people of Tingla succeed, they too might come forward. It also remains to be seen whether the discussion around local units will move beyond “geographic proximity and administrative access” and into the issue of representation and service for the marginalized.