Thursday, 9 December, 2021
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Nepal Makes Strides In Public Welfare



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Ballav Dahal

With the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015, Nepal has ushered in a new era of the welfare state. The national charter has spelt out numerous social security provisions to protect the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of citizens.
In the Directive Principles, the statute mentions: "The state's political objective shall be to establish a public welfare system of governance, by establishing a just system in all aspects of national life….." In the Preamble, it expresses commitment to "socialism based on democratic norms and values for building a prosperous nation.

A welfare state works as per the principles of egalitarianism, equitable distribution of wealth and responsibility for those who are unable to avail themselves of nominal facilities required for a decent life. This is a way of governing in which the states or social institutions offer basic economic security schemes such as social security, unemployment insurance and other welfare payments to the citizens.

Globally, governments have been inclined to follow the principles of the welfare state. The history of equitable treatment of citizens and a state-provided standard of living for the poor dates back to as early as the Roman Empire. The UK, the United States and many other nations have been striving to be egalitarian nations. Various reports suggest that from the 1940s to 1970s, the UK emerged as a welfare state, with the government starting to replace the services that were once provided by charities, trade unions, and the church. Similarly, the basis for the welfare state in the US grew out of the 1930 Great Depression.

Socialist economy
With the enforcement of the present constitution, Nepal has also been on a journey towards a socialist economy despite facing a host of challenges. Education and health are among the numerous fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. It says that every citizen shall have the right of access to basic education, with free education up to secondary level.

Likewise, the people living with disabilities and those who are economically poor shall get free higher education. The constitution ensures that the visually impaired will get free education through the application of brail script while those having hearing or speaking deficiencies will receive free education through sign language. Every Nepali community residing within the country shall have the right to get an education in their mother tongue.
The right to health ensures that all citizens will have access to basic health services, clean drinking water and sanitation and no one shall be deprived of emergency medical treatment. The Health Insurance Programme has been implemented in the country in a phased manner since 2015. It aims to increase people's access to quality healthcare services by removing financial barriers to the use of such services. It seeks to mobilise financial resources equitably and improve the effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and quality of care in the delivery of healthcare services.

Under this scheme, a family of up to five members needs to pay Rs. 3,500 to receive medical treatment along with medicines worth Rs. 100,000. Likewise, a household with more than five members should add Rs. 700 per member to get insurance coverage from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 200,000. Since this programme has focused on poor and marginalised communities, it can be regarded as a great stride in the social security sector.
The state also has to take care of women, children, senior citizens, Dalits and other disadvantaged communities because the constitution incorporates their rights as fundamental rights.

Under the right to social security, the state offers fiscal support to the incapacitated and helpless citizens, single women, differently-abled, and others belonging to the tribes who are on the verge of extinction.
The right to social justice has enabled the economically, socially backward women, Dalit, indigenous nationalities, Madhesi, Tharu, Muslims, backward classes, marginalised communities, persons with disabilities, gender and sexual minorities, among others, to take part in the state bodies based on the principle of proportional inclusion. The constitution introduces various mechanisms such as the Women’s Commission, Dalit Commission, Muslim Commission, Madhes Commission and Language Commission to improve the socio-economic and cultural conditions of the concerned marginalised people and communities.

The notions of social security and social justice constitute the cornerstone of the welfare state. The present government has retained the rise in social security allowances announced through an ordinance by the past government. Besides, in the Replacement Bill-2021, the government has come up with two new social security schemes.
A monthly allowance of Rs. 3,000 has been announced for the families of martyrs who have sacrificed their lives during political movements. Similarly, the patients with cancer and kidney disease and those paralysed due to spinal cord injury will receive Rs. 5,000 as a monthly allowance.

Strain on state coffers
Meanwhile, the government has announced a one-time grant of Rs. 10,000 to 500,000 to poor households that have lost their jobs or other sources of livelihood to the COVID-19 pandemic. They will receive this relief through the local levels. Likewise, the government, in coordination with social organisations, is going to provide meals to the poor at 10 locations within the Kathmandu Valley. The Social Security Fund and the Prime Minister's Employment Programme are other crucial initiatives for the promotion of social security and job creation. Even the employees working in the private sector can now enjoy the pension facility.

But there could be a huge pressure on the state coffers while implementing the fundamental rights as the government has to allocate a lot of money for this. The state has to spend the money collected from tax revenue to cover all the public welfare schemes. In Nepal, tax revenue accounts for only about 19-20 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The state must work towards expanding its tax network to collect more tax revenue. Only then can it carry out such welfare activities.

(Dahal is deputy executive editor at TRN)