Nepal: Five Years Following the Social Summit

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This paper, principally, attempts to describe and assess the efforts of His Majesty's Government of Nepal in programming and implementation of the commitments made at the Social Summit in Copenhagen in March 1995. The governmental efforts are described and assessed in relation to policies, strategies and other measures undertaken. In addition, this paper also seeks to describe and assess the obstacles encountered during the process of formulation and implementation of policies and strategies of social development. The analysis focuses on the commitments around the three main themes .i.e. poverty eradication, employment promotion and enhancement of social integration, rather than in relation to the 10 specific and discrete commitments concretized during the Social Summit. In addition, the paper also describes and assesses a few key issues intrinsically tied to social development, e.g. mobilization and utilization of resources for social development, capacity to implement social policies and programmes, and domestic and international factors impeding social development. "Civil society" positions and processes in relation to the implementation of the commitments are also selectively described and assessed within specific sections. Finally, the paper also briefly discusses future initiatives required in order to fulfil the commitments made during the Social Summit.

It should be noted that, because limiting the presentation strictly to the 1995-2000 interval can be rather artificial as well as counter-productive, the paper occasionally interjects somewhat longer-run historical trends. As a corollary, and because processes are almost as important as their culmination, policies, strategies and other instruments which have taken hold during recent years, many of which are not directly attributable to the social summit per se, are described and assessed as well. Finally, because all these issues have to be addressed within the limits of an article, all of the sections are necessarily brief.

A Glimpse of Nepal

Like many other "least developed" countries, Nepal has been transiting into the ranks of peripheral capitalism. This process, which took hold approximately two centuries ago, was structured and mediated principally through the longstanding regime of open movement of commodities and labour between Nepal and British India (and after 1947, independent India) (Blaikie, Cameron and Seddon 1980, Mishra 1987a). This transition has become particularly rapid within the last two decades in keeping with the mandates of global neo-liberalism, which has been accepted as the cardinal policy of governance by successive Nepali governments since the mid-1980s (cf. Mishra 1987b). In keeping with the essence of peripheral capitalism, the transition has both been slow--in comparison to those in core capitalist regions and countries--and internally highly segmented and unarticulated. Most of the inhabitants of the rural regions, home to the overwhelming proportion of the population, continue to draw their livelihood from "subsistence" production (which is by no means un-capitalistic or outside of the domain of capitalism, and which has gradually been transforming itself as an extremely convenient and integral adjunct to market production; cf. Wallerstein 1991: 164-5), even as they draw increasingly larger share of the total household income from participation in commodity and labour markets. Simultaneously, the transition is also characterised by increasing moves away from feudalism-tinged, locally bounded and largely local-organisations-ordered agrarian political economy to a more service sector-oriented and encompassing market and state organised structure. Again, in keeping with the nature of peripheral capitalism, the space for "formal" wage-labour, in the Hills region, remains highly limited. The slowness of transition and the low level of structural diversification of economy in relation,to employment (although not in terms of aggregate value; this disjunction itself being a crucial feature of the internally unarticulated nature of peripheral capitalism) has meant that even as "subsistence" agriculture remains the principal source of livelihood for an overwhelming proportion of households, the proportion of the underemployed is very high at 47 percent. …