Nepali Times

Zero-cost into effect

Monday, July 6th, 2015

Nepal has stopped issuing labour permits to those migrant workers whose air tickets and visa fees are not borne by their employers.

The government implemented its zero-cost migration policy from Monday denying migrant workers labour permits to work in Malaysia and six Gulf countries (Saudi Arabai, Qatar, Baharai, Oman, UAE and Kuwait).

Manpower agents have vehemently criticised the policy, saying it is not practically possible . They also say Bangladeshi migrant workers might grab all job opportunities in Malaysia and the Gulf if Nepal does not give up its new policy.

On Monday, dozens of manpower agents reached the Tahachal office of the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) to seek labour permits for their clients. But no one could get labour permits for their clients because they did not have letters written by employers committing to provide air tickets and visa fees.

“From today, we can issue labour permits to only those migrant workers whose applications are attached with letters by employers ready to pay for their air tickets and visa fees,” said Bishwo Prakash Subedi, an under-secretary at the DoFE. “And these employers’ letters should be attested by our embassies in Malaysia and the Gulf.”

Labour Minister Tek Bahadur Gurung had earlier told Nepali Times that the zero-cost policy was to end exploitation of migrant workers. “Well-established employer companies are always ready to pay for migrant workers’ air tickets and visa fees,” he said. “Only those companies that do not pay good salaries are not ready to provide these facilities, and we do not want them to hire our migrant workers.”

The government’s new move has angered manpower agents. They have been lobbying for the withdrawal of the zero-cost policy. They recently met Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and urged him to revoke the policy, which they say will have negative impacts on the remittance-driven economy.

Labour Miniser Gurung says manpower agents are against the new policy as it will prevent them from fleecing poor and helpless migrant workers. As per the new policy, manpower agents can charge migrant workers only around Rs 20,000. Earlier, migrant workers would have to pay anything between Rs 70,000-Rs 120,000.

After the new policy came into effect, manpower agents who do not have employers’ commitment letters for air tickets and visa fees have been unable to obtain labour permits for their clients.

Fish Ladder Employment Overseas, a Kathmandu-based manpower agency, has received job quotas for 30 migrant workers from a Dubai-based construction company. Mani Raj Adhikari of Fish Ladder on Monday reached the DoFE office to seek labor permits to his clients, but only to return empty-handed. The Dubai company for which he wants to send 30 migrant workers has not paid for their air tickets and visa fees.

“This new policy will not allow most manpower agencies like ours to work,” he said. “Only a few agencies will benefit from it.”

Om Astha Rai




The Tamang epicentre

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

A Tamang woman injured in the 25 April earthquake sits next to the ruins of her house in Chhapgaun, Sindhupalchok. Photo: Devaki Bista

Santa Gaha Magar

Nepal’s earthquakes killed people belonging to all castes, class, ethnicities and religious groups. But it was the Tamang people who traditionally live in the 15 worst-affected districts who were disproportionately hit.

The death toll from the 25 April earthquake and its 12 May aftershock has been put at 8,844 by now, with 3,012 of them members of the Tamang community. More than half the people killed were in Sindhupalchok district northeast of Kathmandu, which has a high concentration of Tamangs. As many as 1,385 Tamangs died in Sindhupalchok.

It may seem inappropriate to break down the victims by caste, ethnicity, gender, or religion but the fact that more than half the victims were women has gender implications. So does the fact that more than 50 per cent of the people killed were from marginalised communities ranked low in the Human Development Index (HDI).

Analysing these statistics offer glimpse into which communities are most vulnerable to natural disasters, and how they should be protected while designing post-earthquake reconstruction projects.

tamang“In Tamang villages worst affected by the earthquakes, we should now implement integrated reconstruction programs with their active participation,” said economist Keshav Acharya.

The most apparent reason behind why the earthquakes killed more Tamangs than people from other castes and ethnic communities is that they lived in Sindhupalchok, which bore the brunt of the shaking, and their stone and mud homes didn’t stand a chance. Sindhupalchok also got a double whammy: from both the 25 April and 12 May earthquakes.

The Tamangs are the largest ethnic groups in eight of the 14 worst-affected districts. Even in the other six districts, the Tamang population is significantly high.

Anthropologist Mukta Singh Lama says despite living in the vicinity of the capital the Tamang community which he belongs to have historically been as neglected as the people from Nepal’s most underserved Karnali zone in the HDI listing. It is the poverty, neglect and outright discrimination against Tamangs that makes them even more vulnerable to disasters like earthquakes, landslides and floods.

The literacy rate in the Tamang community (62.6%) is lower than the national average (65.8%). Only 38.3 per cent of the Tamangs can reach nearest health facilities by walking for 30 minutes. In terms of access to safe drinking water, the Tamangs rank sixth from the bottom. Almost all indicators show that the Tamangs have not benefitted from their geographical proximity to the capital Kathmandu.

Kumar Blon, General Secretary of the Nepal Tamang Ghedung says most houses built by the Tamangs are on unstable slopes, exposed to rockfalls, and along river banks. “These places are not safe to live in even when there is no earthquake,” Blon said, “the earthquake just made everything worse.”

Around 80 per cent of concrete houses in the Kathmandu Valley withstood the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April and its 7.3 magnitude aftershock on in May. But houses made of stone and clay-mortar by untrained masons in unsafe areas went down. Most Tamangs were living in such unsafe houses.

According to the latest report by the Ministry of Home Affairs the earthquakes damaged 607,212 buildings (private, public houses, health posts and schools). Of them, 381,976 buildings were in areas dominated by Tamangs.

Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel, former Vice Chair of National Planning Commission, says it is also an opportunity to understand why the Tamangs are vulnerable to natural disasters and what can be done to protect them from future calamities. He says the government needs to learn from its past experience to help the Tamangs rebuild their lives.

Pokhrel cites the example of the Tamang families displaced when the Kulekhani reservoir in Makwanpur was built in the early 1980s. Around 500 Tamang families whose lands were acquired by the government didn’t want cash compensation, but to be resettled elsewhere. “But the government gave them money anyway, and very few bought land with that,” Pokhrel said. “Soon, the money was gone and they were destitute.”

Pokhrel says that mistake should not be repeated in helping survivors of the earthquake from the Tamang community. He said: “Before we plan reconstruction, we must have an understanding of the community’s economic activities, social status, education and literacy level and cultural aspects.”

Anthropologist Lama agreed: “If the government does not come up with effective reconstruction programs, us Tamangs will be even poorer and we will be pushed back 50 years.

Nepal travel advisories eased

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

MACHAPUCHREMore than two months after the 25 April earthquake, some countries have finally eased travel advisories to Nepal. The earthquake hit during the peak spring season, and arrivals have gone down to almost zeros since.

Strict travel advisories put out by many governments immediately after the earthquake discouraged travel by nationals to Nepal, and this affected the cost of insurance to travellers.

New Zealand updated its travel warning and others followed suit this week, including the UK and US. Although the advisories still caution against travel to Nepal, and especially to some of the earthquake hit areas, tourists are no longer warned about transiting Kathmandu on their way to Bhutan or Tibet.

Much of the monsoon arrivals to Nepal are tourists travelling to those two areas, as well as parts of Nepal in the rainshadow like Mustang and Dolpo which were not affected by the quake. Tour operators are happy about the updated advisories amidst gloom and doom about the prospects for autumn and spring 2016.

The US had a travel warning alert to Nepal, which was updated 2 July is more toned down. The advisory which discouraged any unnecessary travel to Nepal previously, now only specifies certain districts and advises tourists to exercise caution in those places.

Similarly, the UK also updated its notice on Wednesday which says: ‘The FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) no longer advises against all but essential travel to the whole of Nepal’.  The advisory now focuses on Central Nepal and the Everest area, where some trails are damaged.

Although areas like Mustang and Manang, which haven’t been affected are also still mentioned in the districts where travel is not advised. Travel on the main highway from Kathmandu to Pokhara is exempted from the advice.

Jo Chaffer of KE Adventure Travel said: “Bookings are slow for this time of year, but many of our customers are keen to go to Nepal in the autumn. the country is gettingback to normal.”

More than 80 per cent of the Japanese tourists who made reservations for Nepal to visit in the autmn have not cancelled, according to Sonia Miyahara of the Japanese tour group, Himalaya Kanko Kaihatsu.

The Nepali group Samarth has commissioned a study by the international engineering company Miyamoto to bring out a report on the condition of the Annapurna and Everest trails, Nepal’s most popular. The report, expected next week, is expected to say that while there is some damage, the trails could be safe by the time the autumn trekking season starts in October.

The report will be critical in further relaxation of travel advisories, diplomats in Kathmandu said they were waiting for independent third-party assessment of safety by firms like Miyamoto. Time is of the essence because local and international tour operators will be finalising bookings for the autumn season over the next two weeks.

Karma Gurung





New Zealand



Fast-track drafting

Friday, July 3rd, 2015
RPP-N Chair Kamal Thapa in Friday's CA session. Photo: Bikram Rai

RPP-N Chair Kamal Thapa in Friday’s CA session. Photo: Bikram Rai

The Hindu-Royalist Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) obstructed the Constituent Assembly (CA) session on Friday, protesting what it said was aconspiracy by the top parties to deceive the people by adding a provision for religious conversion.

As soon as the CA session started to deliberate on the new constitution’s preliminary draft RPP-N Chair Kamal Thapa asked for time to speak and said: “The draft tabled is different than the one passed by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), this is a conspiracy against people.”

Thapa also lambasted the major parties for incorporating the rights to religious conversation “at the behest of the European Union (EU)”.

When Nembang requested Thapa to abstain from the use of the word “conspiracy”, he and other RPP-N lawmakers started shouting slogans against what they said was dictatorship by the major parties.

Despite five hours of continuous sloganeering by the RPP-N, deliberations on the draft begun on Friday. The major parties have agreed to give three minutes to each CA member to express their views on the version of the constitution.


Marshals stop the RPP-N lawmakers from moving towards the rostrum. Photo: Bikram Rai

If all the CA members want to say something about the draft, the CA session will take  a total of 30 hours. But it is unlikely as the NC UML and the UCPN (M) want to fast-track the constitution writing process so as to usher in a government of national unity in which they will all have a part. They will probably allow only a few lawmakers from their parties to speak.

As per an understanding among the parties that signed the constitution’s draft, a CA session held on Wednesday has already suspended the clause 93 (3) of the CA Rules of Procedure a to which one week should have been allotted for the CA members to read the draft thoroughly.

The major parties have also agreed to suspend more clauses and cut short time for public consultation, deliberation within the CA’s Constitutional, Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (CPDCC), discussions on all the articles of the constitution, revision of the draft and finalising it.

But the major parties have yet to agree on how many days will be allotted for each of these processes. The CA’s Public Consultation Committee has sought at least 15 days to gather people’s views on the draft. But preparations are underway to suspend the clause 94 to allot only 10 days for public consultation. Similarly, the CPDCC is likely to get just two days for holding discussions on the draft.

As per the clause 99, at least one week should be allotted for amending the draft. But this clause is also being suspended with only two days set aside for this. The draft was prepared in 18 days but the CDC will now get only five days to fianlise it. Preparations are also underway to complete the article-wise deliberations on the draft in one week.

Federal Socialist Party Nepal, Tarai Madhes Democratic Party, Sadbhavana Party and other fringe parties that disowned the constitution’s draft have objected to suspensions of the clauses to fast-track the constitution writing process. They say it is unconstitutional and will be obstructing the house to protest it.

But the major parties say they will move forward despite opposition from the fringe parties and declare the new constitution in less than one month’s time.

Agro minister resigns

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

11702960_10155926696505727_316268367812186082_nMinister for Agriculture Development Hari Prasad Parajuli resigned on Thursday after facing criticism for his ‘indecent behavior’ with women during a public event two days ago.

Parajuli handed over his resignation to his party CPN (UML)’s Chair KP Sharma Oli early Thursday morning. Oli forwarded his resignation to the Prime Minister’s Office and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala approved it with immediate effect.

Oli had instructed Parajuli to step down after photos in which he was seen hugging and groping women went viral on social media.

Parajali had reached Mulpani, Kathmandu on an invitation by local women farmers’ groups to celebrate Asar 15 (National Paddy Day). While slinging mud on farmers as part of the tradition, images were clicked of him chasing, hugging and groping local women.

Talking to journalists on Wednesday, Parajuli denied wrongdoing. Farmer groups that invited him to the event also said he was not involved in any indecent activities. But he faced criticism not only on social medial but also from within his own party. CPN (UML) leader Shankar Pokharel tweeted that he was embarrassed by Parajuli’s behavior. The UML’ student wing burnt his effigies and demanded resignations.

This was not the first time Parajuli had courted controversy because of his ‘indecent behavior’. During a public event in Dharan two years ago, he had chewed tobacco. Photographers clicked pictures of him making, sharing with others and chewing tobacco.

Combat gauze missing

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

From the Nepali Press

Santosh Pokharel in Nagarik, 29 June

A consignment of life-saving combat gauzes donated by an American drug company for treatment of people wounded by Nepal’s earthquakes has gone missing. No one knows whether the consignment was misplaced or stolen, which could have probably saved many lives after the Nepal earthquakes.

Z-Medica, manufacturer of QuickClot Combat Gauze, had couriered 2,750 packets of these first-aid kits to Nepal. And these materials were meant to be distributed by Nepal Share, a Kathmandu-based NGO, to all hospitals in the earthquake-affected districts. Mohan Pahari, who previously worked for Z-Medica, had requested the company for these first-aid kits, which are now widely used by US troops to stop bleeding from wounds and cuts.

“I got a call from Nepal Airlines cargo to receive the delivery, but when I went to the airport, the shipment was missing,” Pahari says.

Kamal Gyawali from the cargo department of Nepal Airlines says, “We searched for the delivery in every possible place, but we didn’t find it. We are not sure if it went missing after being delivered to Nepal or it did not arrive here at all.”

Max Khatri, President of Nepal Share, QuickClot combat gauzes were precious first-aid kits and could have been helpful to save lives of people wounded by the earthquakes and landslides. “We lost a precious gift due to someone’s negligence,” he says. “Nepal Airlines must find out the guilty.”



Constitution draft tabled

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

gupThe much-awaited new constitution’s first draft has been tabled in the Constituent Assembly (CA). The CA’s Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) President Krishna Sitaula handed over the draft to the CA Chair Subhas Nembang in Tuesday’s delayed session.

Some fringe parties – mainly the Hindu-Royalist RPP-Nepal, Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, Tarai Madhes Democratic Party and Sadbhavana Party – have disowned the constitution’s preliminary draft prepared on the basis of a 16-point agreement signed by the ruling NC-UML and the opposition UCPN (Maoist)-MJF (Democratic).

As soon as Sitaula presented the draft, some disgruntled CA members tore it and walked out of the CA hall. They say the new constitution’s draft is ‘regressive’ and is unable to ensure rights of marginalised communities like Madhesi, Dalit, Janjatis and women.

CA members representing RPP-N did not tear down the draft but chanted slogans against it. They have demanded a referendum before turning Nepal into a secular nation in the constitution.

NC leader Pradip Gyawali also objected to some provisions and walked out of the CA hall when he was asked by Nembang to sit down.

The new constitution divides Nepal into eight federal provinces on the basis of identity and viability and has provisions for Constitutional Court. But boundaries and names of federal provinces are subject to yet-to-be-formed Federal Commission and Federal Provinces respectively.