Nepali Times

PM Oli’s Delhi visit

Friday, February 12th, 2016

As Kathmandu and New Delhi begin to repair diplomatic ties strained by the recently-lifted blockade, Prime Minister KP Oli is preparing to go on an official India visit beginning 19 February.

A cabinet meeting that lasted till late Thursday night finalised the PM’s India visit date. On Friday, Oli called a meeting of top party leaders to discuss the agendas of his visit.

Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel, one of Oli’s confidantes, was in New Delhi this week to prepare the PM’s visit. Oli had repeatedly stated that he would visit Beijing instead of New Delhi if India did not lift the blockade.

India lifted its five-month-long blockade against Nepal when the locals burnt down the barricade set up by Madhesi parties on the Birganj-Raxaul checkpoint during Poudel’s New Delhi visit. Shorty after Poudel’s return, the cabinet asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to arrange the PM’s visit.

In September last year, India had cut off the supply of fuel and other essential commodities to the landlocked Himalayan nation expressing its displeasure over the constitution passed by Nepal’s elected assembly. Two days later, India hinted that there would be obstructions and Madhesi parties decided to stage sit-ins at all the border points, enabling New Delhi to deny any involvement in blockading Nepal.

After the blockade began, PM Oli publicly said that Nepal-India relations were not ‘in good terms’. He also accused India of “treating Nepal as if the two countries were at war”.

New Delhi had repeatedly asked Kathmandu to address Madhesi demands by amending the constitution. In the first week of December, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Thapa reached New Delhi and proposed a three-point non-paper to address Madhesi demands. New Delhi took it positively, but Madhesi parties rejected it.

The Big Three parties wanted to resolve the dispute over the demarcation of federal provinces by forming an all-party mechanism. But the Madhesi Front sought a written commitment from the Big Three that the mechanism would create just two Madhes provinces encompassing the whole Tarai region.

The Front did not show any flexibility and New Delhi decided to patch things up with Kathmandu, even though Madhesi parties were still agitated. But India is still asking the Oli government to reach an agreement with Madhesi parties to ensure broader inclusion in the constitution.

Ahead of his India visit, PM Oli has resumed negotiations with Madhes parties, hoping to reach an agreement with them on the formation of the mechanism before meeting his Indian counterpart. Defense Minister Bhim Rawal told journalists on Thursday that Madhesi parties are now not as rigid as they were before.


Negligence kills

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Pramila Devi Kanu with her father-in-law. She lost her 12-year-old daughter, Rani, one month ago.

From the Nepali Press

Radhe Shyam Patel for Center for Investigative Journalism in Nepal

In the past two months, 26 people have died in ward no. 4 of Pokhariya, a newly minted municipality in Birganj. The incidents came to light on 27 January after reports in the local media.

Pokhariya isn’t an obscure, inaccessible village in the hills but in fact a large municipality in Madhes. We made our way to Satwariya to investigate the underlying causes of the deaths and the subsequent lack of coverage.

Pramila Devi Kanu lost her 12-year-old daughter, Rani, one month ago. Pramila doesn’t say much but her silence speaks volumes. Standing outside her home, the mourning mother managed just one sentence: “I still cannot believe Rani is gone.”

Rani, a sixth grader, was suffering from diarrhea for a week and a half as her family tried every means within their reach to find a remedy. Various family members took Rani to local hospitals and shamans in neighbouring villages but her condition only worsened.

When she started speaking deliriously, the family took her to Narayani Hospital but she died soon after being received there. “Bring better doctors to Pokhariya Hospital otherwise shut it down,” said Pramila with justifiable frustration.

Sonu Kanu Sah and Bindu Kanu Sah who lost their six-month-old son Arjun

Sonu Kanu Sah and Bindu Kanu Sah who lost their six-month-old son Arjun

Sonu Sah Kanu’s six-month-old son, Arjun, never woke up from his sleep. The older of twin boys, Arjun showed no signs of sickness.

“For a week I felt like my life had ended with him,” says Sonu, who runs a sweet shop in Pokhariya Bazaar. She is slowly coming to terms with her loss but it remains unclear exactly what happened, along with who is to blame for Arjun’s death.

The whole village is now terrified after the recurring incidents. Uncertain as to the cause of multiple deaths, many put the blame on the cold.

Sunita's father Babulal Ram is one of the 26 people who died in Satwariya.  According to the District Health Office, Parsa's report Ram's cause of death was paralysis.

Sunita’s father Babulal Ram is one of the 26 people who died in Satwariya. According to the District Health Office, Parsa’s report Ram’s cause of death was paralysis.

To avoid negative publicity due to the unknown reasons for the sudden loss of lives, the District Health Office in Parsa published an entire report on cause of death for each person. However, the report received no attention in the national or regional media, as Kathmandu and even Madesh remained blissfully ignorant of the occurrences. After visiting the afflicted Dalit community, we surmised that because most of the deceased were poor, marginalised people who were disempowered, no one was willing to speak out on their behalf.

Preparing an autopsy report is a straightforward task. But what was lacking in the DHO’s perfunctory report was a deeper analysis of the incidents through economic, social and political perspectives.

Some find a more direct culprit deserving of the blame. Says 60-year-old local Jogindar Sah Kanu, “It is because of Pokhariya Hospital’s negligence.”

The hospital was upgraded from a primary health care centre in 2003 with an investment of Rs 2,500,000 by the then Health Minister Rajendra Mahato. Out of a budget of Rs 6.4 million per fiscal year for the 15-bed hospital, only Rs 1 million is allocated for medicines. The remainder is a breeding ground for corruption.

Severely understaffed, the hospital has two medical officers, Dr Roshan Chaurasiya and Dr Anisha Mahato, but is without a medical superintendent. The three nurses that were originally stationed at the hospital have been transferred elsewhere.

“The Central Zonal Health Directorate in Hetauda decided to transfer the nurses so the hospital doesn’t have even one nurse at the moment,” said Arun Kumar Mahato, chief of the Public Health Office in Parsa. The remaining staff comprises of only one health assistant, two assistant health workers and one lab technician. The birthing centre, that was designated to cater to more than 40 cases every month, is currently closed.

Mahato blames the hospital’s failings on the chief of the hospital development committee, Umesh Chauhan, who oversees buying medicines and providing health services. But Chauhan refutes the claim, saying the need to handle the current crisis caused a two-month delay in buying medicines.

Chairman of Pokhariya’s 4th ward, Sadhu Sah, says there are other problems in the area apart from defective hospitals. “There are social causes that have led to the incident,” said Sah. “The lack of education and awareness is one. Since people are poor they cannot identify and treat the illness on time.”

Preventable deaths caused by common ailments such as fever, diarrhea and pneumonia surely should have triggered a human rights uproar. Still reeling from the needless deaths of their youth, the government has failed the people Pokhariya.

Koirala cremated

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016
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Koirala’s nephews Sashank Koirala and Atul Koirala performed the last ceremonial rites. Photo: RSS

Former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala was cremated with state honours at Pashupati Aryaghat on Wednesday.

As Koirala’s nephews Sashank Koirala and Atul Koirala performed the last ceremonial rites, the national anthem was played. The body was taken to the aryaghat after a long funeral procession at Dasarath Stadium, where thousands of Nepalis thronged to pay their last respects to the late septuagenarian leader.

The Nepali Congress, led by Koirala until his death, had decided to cremate its President’s body in the recently-inaugurated electoral crematorium. But his family preferred to go the traditional way.

Koirala had passed away at 12:50 am Tuesday, according to his personal physician Dr Karbir Nath Yogi.

Koirala, 76, was down with pneumonia and fever over the last few days. But his health condition was not considered ‘worrisome’, and he also was in good spirits as he ate a bowl of rice gruel before going to bed Monday night. He suddenly began coughing and then lost consciousness at midnight. Dr Yogi called for an ambulance, but the septuagenarian leader had died before the ambulance arrived.

Sushil Koirala (1939-2016)

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Photo: Gopen Rai

Nepalis woke up to sad news Tuesday morning – former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala had passed away just a few hours earlier.

Koirala, who was also President of the main opposition Nepali Congress, died at 12:50 am, according to his personal physician Dr Karbir Nath Yogi.

Koirala, 76, was down with pneumonia and fever over the last few days. But his health condition was not considered ‘worrisome’, and he also was in good spirits as he ate a bowl of rice gruel before going to bed Monday night. He suddenly began coughing and then lost consciousness at midnight. Dr Yogi called for an ambulance, but the septuagenarian leader had died before the ambulance arrived.

An emergency cabinet meeting Tuesday decided to honour Koirala with a state funeral and declared a public holiday on Wednesday.

Koirala’s body has been kept on the premises of the NC headquarters in Sanepa, Lalitpur. President Bidya Bhandari, Prime Minister KP Oli, political leaders, diplomats, and common citizens alike have been paying their final tributes to him.

India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has arrived in Kathmandu to pay her respects to Koirala. India’s President Pranab Mukherjee also expressed his condolences, sharing a tweet that read: “The people of India share the sorrow and grief of the people of Nepal over the loss of Shri Sushil Koirala.”

Koirala’s political career spanning over six decades began in 1957, when he was just a 16-year-old boy. The 104-year-long Rana oligarchy had ended just seven years before, and Nepal had been newly minted a democracy.

Five years later, King Mahendra Shah staged a coup d’etat and dismissed Nepal’s first elected government led by BP Koirala. After giving up his plan to try his luck at becoming a Hollywood movie star, Koirala became even more involved in a struggle for democracy that would last for the next 30 years.

During this system of partyless politics, he took part in a plane hijacking engineered by the NC to fund the anti-Panchayat movement. He was later arrested and jailed for six years on charges of conspiracy against the state and monarchy. He spent over 19 years in exile in India.

After the restoration of democracy in 1990, the NC won the opportunity to lead the government several times, but Koirala never became a minister. He did not have a family to look after. His simple life, free of greed and corruption, was a source of inspiration.

But Koirala will probably be remembered the most for his contribution to the constitution making process.

After his cousin Girija Prasad Koirala’s demise in 2008, he became the party President. Under his leadership, the NC was reduced to a second party in the first Constituent Assembly. But it later bounced back to become the largest party in the second assembly – although not due to Koirala’s charismatic leadership but because of peoples’ disenchantment with the Maoists.

Koirala, visibly frail and poor at oration, became Nepal’s 37th Prime Minister in 2014 following a power-sharing deal with the UML. The deal required him to vacate the post for UML boss KP Oli after the promulgation of the new constitution in one year’s time. However, the deadline expired without a constitution due to political bickering, and the UML pressured him to step down.

But Koirala refused to resign, saying he would do so only when there was a new constitution. The UML and other parties had no other option but to complete the statute drafting process. Had Koirala not stood his ground, the inauguration of the new constitution would not have been possible last year.

A golden girl 

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Nima Gharti Magar with her gold medal. Photo: Kantipur

From the Nepali Press

Binod Pandey in 9 February

Nima Gharti Magar, a 16-year-old girl originally from Rolpa, has won the first – and so far only -– gold medal for Nepal in the ongoing 12thSouth Asian Games (SAG).

Nima defeated Swechha Jatav of India and Mubashra Akthar of Pakistan in a woman’s wushu event under the nanquan all-round taulo category on Monday. After winning the coveted medal, she commented: “Girls are not weaker than boys.”

While Nima was gracefully performing her powerful wushu movements inside a covered hall of Assam Rifles in Shillong, her father, Mansur Gharti Magar, was queuing up for petrol in Lalitpur. Since he moved there decade ago, he has been making a living by driving his jeep to transport goods.


Nima’s parents and brother in front of their shop in Lalitpur. Photo: Kantipur

After a friend called him up to break the good news, he rushed home to find that all the neighbours had gathered to celebrate Nima’s success. “My daughter was different from other girls,” said Mansur. “She always wanted to do something new, and I am very proud of her.”

Mansur always encouraged Nima to chase her dreams. Four years ago, when she joined a local wushu club in Tikathali in Lalitpur, he happily bought her a wushu stick. But he did not only support her in hopes that she would become a champion: “I thought she could defend herself from men if she learnt wushu,” he says.

Nima’s mother, Puna, runs a small grocery shop at the family residence. Mansur had previously built a house in Tikathali, but he sold it to go abroad. Unfortunately, his plan did not work out and since then the family has shifted to a rented house.

Nima is currently a tenth grader at Nepal Don Bosco School of Siddhipur in Lalitpur. Mansur drops her off at Dasarath Stadium at 7 o’clockevery morning, where she practices wushu for two hours and then reaches school after two periods. She missed the recent SLC test because she was busy preparing for the SAG, but she is hopeful she will get to sit in the main exams.

Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar and Maoist leader Barsha Man Pun are relatives of Nima. Their children lived in Mansur’s house in Kotbada, Rolpa during the war. But now, Mansur does not need to boast about his familial ties to the noted Pun couple – his daughter has earned a name for him, too.

Ex-PM Koirala passes away

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016


Former Prime Minister and Nepali Congress (NC) Sushil Koirala passed away at 12:50am Tuesday. He was 76.

Koirala had been suffering from pneumonia and fever for the last few days. He had failed to inaugurate the Kathmandu district convention of the party on Monday. He passed away at his own residence in Maharajganj, Kathmandu.

Prime Minister KP Oli, NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and other political leaders have reached Maharajganj to pay final respect to Koirala.

Koirala was competing with Deuba to retain his post in the party’s General Convention next month. With his death, the NC is likely to postpone the convention.

Koirala, inspired by BP Koirala, fought for democracy for six decades. But he will probably be remembered the most for his contribution to promulgation of Nepal’s first constitution drafted by an elected assembly.

As Nepal’s 37th Prime Minister, Koirala had successfully led the constitution making process last year. If it were not for him, Nepal would have probably not passed the new constitution on 20 September of 2015.

Morcha calls off border strike

Monday, February 8th, 2016
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Although Madhesi Front called off its border-centric protests just today, cargo trucks had started crossing through Birganj-Raxaul border point on Friday itself. Photo: Jiyalal Sah

United Democratic Madhesi Front has finally called off its months-long general strike and border-centric protests.

A meeting of the Front on Monday also decided to allow government offices to operate without any disturbance in the Tarai. But the Front said its ‘struggle was not over’ and ‘will continue to fight for rights of Madhesi people’.

The Front has unveiled a series of fresh protests like signature campaign and torch rally in the Tarai. It said it would announce new protests later.

Although the Front officially withdrew its border-centric protests only on Monday, cargo trucks had started passing through the Birganj-Raxaul check-point on Friday itself.

Three days ago, the local traders had put fire to the tent and barricade set up by the Front on the Birganj-Raxaul border to choke off supply of fuel and other essentials to Nepal.

The Front had announced an indefinite strike in the Tarai in August of last year. But the Big Three parties pushed through the new constitution despite the Madhes unrest on 20 September. Three days later, and two days after India warned of disruption in supply, the Front decided to stage sit-ins at all border-points.

The Front failed to disrupt other border points, but the Birganj-Raxaul remained shut until last weekend.

Of late, the top Front leaders had been hinting at calling off border-centric protests. But Rajendra Mahato, believed to be a hardliner, was against this idea. But after returning from Bihar last week, Mahato said: “There is no point in just blocking Birganj if we cannot seal off other trade points.”

Mahato’s statement, dubbed by other top leaders of the Front as ‘irresponsible’, demoralised Madhesi protesters in Birganj, and local traders burnt down the barricade. Left with no other options, the Front had to call off its border-centric protests.

The Front has also asked Mahato to abstain from making statements that could harm the Madhes movement. Mahato, apparently unhappy with other leaders, did not sign on the statement issued by the Front.