Nepali Times

Almost there

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Two weeks after electing the Prime Minister, the country is likely to have a cabinet of ministers by the end of the day.

After late night talks on Sunday, the two largest parties, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML were able to chart the tentative shape of the new government and the portfolios the parties will head. Out of the 26 ministries, the two parties are likely to get 10 portfolios each. NC will take charge in Ministry of Defence, Finance, Communication, Cooperatives, Local Development and Education, among others. CPN-UML has laid claim on 10 ministries including Ministry of Home, Foreign Affairs, Energy, Health and General Administration. Smaller parties that have supported NC are also in line to head some ministries. The final allocation is expected to be formalised within today.

Internal talks are underway since early morning today to formalise the deal made between the two parties and pick the candidates for the ministerial positions. NC Parliamentary Party is meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence in Baluwatar to endorse the deal.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala was finally able to convince CPN-UML to join the government after conceding the Home Ministry. The meeting of the two parties on Sunday focused on allocating ministries. The UML team, which will participate in the government, will be led by the party’s Vice Chairperson Bamdev Gautam.

Untangling the Home Ministry knot

The power sharing talks between Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have concluded on Sunday deciding that the two largest parties need to discuss the matter again on Monday.

Today’s talks focused on allocating ministries to NC and UML. The NC has already decided to assign Home Ministry, the main contention between two largest parties, to the UML.

The UML team, which will participate in the government, will be led by the party’s Vice Chairperson Bamdev Gautam.

In today’s talks, Gautam along with UML Secretary Bishnu Poudel took part in the talks on behalf of UML, while NC Secretary Krishna Prasad Situala led the NC team in the talks.

The next round of talks on Monday will start early in the morning at 7 a.m., it is learnt. It is expected that the talks will conclude soon, paving way for the swearing in ceremony of UML and NC’s new ministers in the evening, the same day.

Read also

Whose Home is it anyway?

The year of living dangerously

The Sunkosi disaster site – a month after

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

On the pre-dawn hours of 2 August exactly a month ago, a whole mountainside swept down on the village of Jure, burying at least 156 people (almost a third of them children) under tons of rock and rubble. The entire side of the hill on the western bank of the Sunkosi between Mankha and Ramche VDCs fell off at 3 AM that morning, disappearing the old village on the slope as well as the settlement along Arniko Highway further down.  One entire government secondary school was wiped out. On the edges of the landslide one can observe only the devastation’s periphery, because most of the people, livestock, houses and highway lie deep underneath.

There is a term in the Nepali language to indicate landslides that dam up rivers, ‘bishyari’ rather than the more generic ‘pahiro’, and this indicates the regularity of these occurrences over historical time in the high Himalaya and midhills. The tragedy of these events are heightened in modern times because of highways that snake along the base of river valleys beneath unstable slopes, and the ‘ribbon development’ that has people in search of livelihood settling along the roadways.

On 30 August, in the company of Ani Choying Drolma, we visited the dammed up Sunkosi area where Jure village used to be. It was a numbing experience, to understand the scale of the landslip and the tragedy it brought the sleeping inhabitants of the village and roadside settlement. We present here some photographs of the site of the ‘mountain-slide’.

Coming up the road from Lamosangu, this scene is typical of the generally unkempt roadsides along Nepal’s highways

Coming up the highway from Lamosangu, this scene is typical of the generally unkempt roadsides along Nepal’s highways. But then, right around the corner…

With Ani in Sindupalchok

… is this view of the landslide, which is about a kilometer long and nearly as tall. It buried both settlements and a stretch of Arnico Highway, blocked the Sunkosi, and created a lake stretching 3 km upstream. The excavator in the picture is part of the effort by those involved in the Nepal-China trade (through Khasa) working with the Roads Department to cut a dangerous track across the landslide debris field so that goods and passenger traffic can resume. The Nepal Army is building a longer track on the hillside across the Sunkosi.

On the edges of the landslide, where some of the concrete-pillar houses are still standing, we saw this orphaned CD collection with the leaf turned to Phalguni Pathak.

On the edges of the landslide, where some of the concrete-pillar houses are still standing, we saw this orphaned CD collection with the leaf turned to Phalguni Pathak. Chinese tourists are brought across the landslide area by porters/guides who are arranged by a network of ‘facilitators’ that has quickly come up. Indian pilgrims headed for Kailas-Manasarover traverse the other way. Chinese tourists are brought across the landslide area by porters/guides who are arranged by a network of ‘facilitators’ that has quickly come up. Indian pilgrims headed for Kailas-Manasarover traverse the other way. Jure 5

Shredded high tension wires can be seen along the terraces and forests. The national electricity grid has lost about a tenth of its production due to the landslide. Jure 6

The picture shows the scale of the ‘mountain-slide’. Where Ani Choying Drolma and Shanta Dixit are traversing is about where Jure village is said to lie, deep under tons and tons of rock.Jure 7 Jure 7-A

The rapids and the midhill tranquility at the outflow point of the Sunkosi lake… One gets to understand the energy of flowing water even better when confronted with this over-topping of the suddenly-created landslide lake. Jure 8 Jure 9

The Sunkosi lake and rapids has become a spot for photography.

Jure 10

The team of Nepal Army engineers has been working away to develop an alternative channel and reduce the lake level. They use dynamite and excavators, one of them seen at the far side. The level of the lake is said to be steadily decreasing.

Jure 11

The alternate channel is muddied by the army’s excavation work upstream. The scouring of the hillside on the far side indicates the volume and energy of the 2 August event. The landslide that came down the western bank reached far up the eastern side before collapsing on the valley floor. On the far bank, the hillside has been scoured, trees felled or bared, and the forest far above splattered with mud and rubble. Massive rocks traveled hundreds of meters through the air to land beyond the landslide footprint.

Jure 12

Gigantic rocks have come down from the mountain. The scale can be judged with reference to the policeman at right.

Jure 13

It is the end of the workday, police/army personnel and civilians working at the disaster site head out. The rock at the left is one of those that flew through the air to land here on the night of 2 August.

Turning the bend on the road and arriving at the disaster site.

A 360 degree view of the Sunkosi rapids, rock dam, landslide slope and surrounding hillsides.

Shanta Dixit and Kanak Mani Dixit

Turning grief into hope

Monday, August 25th, 2014

On 24 August 2010, an Agni Air flight bound for Lukla was returning to Kathmandu in poor weather with a technical malfunction. It crashed 30km south of Kathmandu in the town of Bastipur in Makwanpur district. Fourteen people on board were killed, including flight attendant Sarah Sherpa.

ROAD TO REMEMBER: The 6km road build by Dorji Tsering Sherpa and his SKY Memorial Foundation in memory of his daughter, Sarah,  and others killed in the Agni Air crash in Makwanpur exactly four years ago this week.

ROAD TO REMEMBER: The 6km road build by Dorji Tsering Sherpa and his SKY Memorial Foundation in memory of his daughter, Sarah, and others killed in the Agni Air crash in Makwanpur exactly four years ago this week.

Her parents, aviation entrepreneur Dorji Tsering Sherpa and Anju Sherpa made it to Bastipur a few months later and burst into tears when they saw the crater where the Dornier fell to the ground. Seeing the couple in such a state of grief, locals who had gathered around also started weeping. The Sherpas were so touched by their emotion, they decided to spend the money from her daughter’s insurance and wedding budget on the development of Bastipur village.

They decided to start with the nearby Bakiya Thakur Primary School, which the plane narrowly missed. The school was in a dilapidated state, enrollment was falling, and few children studied beyond Grade 5 since the middle school was a 45-minute walk away.

The couple renovated the school building, and started working on upgrading it to a middle school, hiring teachers and paying for their  salaries. The school now has 100 per cent enrollment and students have scholarships, and get free stationery and uniforms.

But there was a lot more to be done. Dorji got in touch with families of other victims and set up the Sky Memorial Foundation, named after three young victims: Sarah, Kendra Fallon (US), and Yuki Hayashi (Japan). The foundation now manages the development work in Bastipur and its surroundings. Dorji says that his 30-year career in aviation has earned him a lot of friends, who have contributed in fundraising.

One of his Japanese friends helped build a health clinic in nearby Shikhapur in memory of his wife, which means local villagers do not have to make a two-hour ride to Phaparbari to see a doctor.

Some money also went to reviving the local school, which was on the verge of being shut down. In consultation with local villagers and with help from local CA member Indra Baniya, the Foundation has just finished construction of a 6 km road  connecting Bastipur with Hattisunde where locals were ecstatic when the first jeep arrived recently.

Dorji Tsering Sherpa at Bastipur's school and stupa.

Dorji Tsering Sherpa at Bastipur’s school and stupa.

Now, farm produce from the area can be taken to market. “Our bananas, cucumber, mango and pineapple won’t go to waste anymore,” says farmer Prem Bahadur Ghale.

Says Dorji: “More than infrastructure development, our biggest achievement has been the change our work has brought in the mindset of the villagers who now seem positive and hopeful about the future.” Dorji is already planning ahead. He thinks a homestay program can bring tourists to the area and boost local income.

After his wife passed away last year, Dorji is even more determined to continue the work. He says: “I think of Shikharpur as my daughter and wife’s home.”

Gokarna Gautam in Nepal, 24-31 August

SKY Memorial Foundation

+977 9851018820

See also:
Immortal memorial

Hotel Echo’s last moments

For Nepali original:

Relief, rehab, recovery

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Last week, as vice president of Crisis Recovery International (CRI) and an associate of Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN), I visited the site of the Sindhupalchok landslide, to assess the situation and identify possible interventions that CRI could undertake in collaboration with the local authorities and local community groups for the recovery phase. We often help people start to try to re-build their lives and livelihoods by providing chicken or goats to women’ groups, for example.

We met the CDO and the LDO of Sindulapchok, the Armed Police and others  involved in the relief work. We walked up to the point across the river, from where the full enormity of the landslide could be seen, and talked to local people about what had happened, what was the impact and what in their could and should be done for the survivors who had lost their homes, their fields and their livelihoods.

It was in the very early hours of the morning of Saturday, 2 August that a huge landslide tore the hillside away, destroying around 100 houses in its path, burying some buildings and damaging others, killing up to 200 people and displacing many hundred. A number of villages (Mangkha, Ramche, Tekanpur and Jure) were affected both directly by the landslide itself and by the blocking of the river, the road side market and secondary school at Ban Sanghu on the west bank were buried.

Bhote Koshi timebombThe landslide also blocked the river entirely, creating an artificial lake and inundating more houses, it destroyed or submerged the Arniko Highway and other routes upstream, damaged the Sunkosi hydropower dam, and transmission line. We talked to a local restaurant manager who said simply: “For 16 hours, the river just stopped flowing.”

The immediate concern was to deal with the danger from the huge artificial lake that had been formed by the river blockage and to assess the number of those who had been killed, the number of survivors and the damage done to property. The response in this regard was rapid and commendable, the Nepal Army addressed the dangers posed by the blockage of the river, all 56 sluice gates of the Sapta Kosi barrage on the Indian border were opened, and controlled explosions were used to open up the flow. Each household that had lost a family member was allocated Rs 40,000, and a few were given Rs 5,000 in relief. Some casualties were helicoptered to Kathmandu.

The CDO, LDO and the District Disaster Management Committee were involved at an early stage, as were the Armed Police (some 700 men) and a ‘base camp’ for the provision of relief (food and other supplies) was established within a relatively a short time at an old factory site less than a km down river from the site of the disaster. There was a limited effort to drop supplies to some villages by helicopter, but by and large relief was either carried the long way around the blockage to villages affected upstream or villagers. By the time we arrived, the relief operation was in full swing, with hangars well stocked with supplies.

Sunkoshi landslide dam area

Donations from charitable organisations, private companies and banks, and other sources in Nepal were beginning to arrive, as well as some assistance from non-Nepali institutions. But, as the CDO bitterly commented, much of this was if not “too little” then certainly “too late” for many. It was now three weeks since the landslide occurred. Many local people had been without food and water for days and remained without shelter even now. It was depressing to return to Kathmandu after a long and emotionally exhausting day to see that the UN representative had just offered his condolences — three weeks after the event. He suggested in effect that the relief effort had gone well, that all was under control and that ‘some newspapers and social media have reported numbers (of those affected) that are grossly overestimated’.

In fact, the relief effort was not slow to get going, but the problem was then getting to the people who needed it. Reports from the site through the first week indicated that many of those whose homes and livelihoods had been destroyed and were now without either had not received any significant help. A week after the landslide, as we heard, many displaced villagers were still without relief or shelter. A representative from the National Human Rights Commission, who visited the area emphasised that the government must ensure their basic rights, including shelter, health, education and transport. The assistant CDO said that the local authorities would convey his concerns to higher ups and emphasised that ‘our priority is to provide immediate relief and rescue those facing threat of more landslides’.

Victims of bhote koshiIt is easy to be critical in such circumstances, where people’s lives have been so disastrously affected and are unable to receive the help they so badly need within a matter of days. But international experts accept that it may well be 72 hours in most disasters before anything can be expected by those directly affected, even when the relief effort moves fast and there is a real capacity to reach the people in need. This is why disaster preparedness at the lowest level – that of the household and the tol or hamlet – is so crucial. Self-reliance is the only guarantee of basic relief, and even that cannot help those buried under the water or the landslide or collapsed buildings. Local risk analysis by the District Disaster Risk Management Committee and the use of early warning systems also need to be strengthened.

Recovery is still a very long way away for those affected and, indeed, for many may never really take place. But we have some local contacts now and will pursue opportunities to help people earn an income to maintain themselves if we can.

David Seddon is the author of Nepal in Crisis: Growth and Stagnation in the Periphery and is also vice president of Crisis Recovery International.

Nepali steps in Norway

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

On August 16, several hundred people filled the fog-shrouded slope just below the summit of Gaustadtoppen in Norway for the inauguration of steps repaired by Nepalis. (see Nepali Times 25-31 July 2014).

Several hundred people filled the fog-shrouded slope just below the summit of Gaustadtoppen in Norway for the inauguration of steps

Several hundred people filled the fog-shrouded slope just below the summit of Gaustadtoppen in Norway for the inauguration of steps

But by the time of the ceremony, the clouds parted at the 1,883 m summit and the Nepali team that built the steps donned traditional Sherpa attire and sang the Nepali trekking anthem, “Resham Phiri” with people enthusiastically applauding the fantastic work they had done.

Nepali team that built the steps donned traditional Sherpa attire and sang the Nepali trekking anthem, ”Resham Phiri”

Nepali team that built the steps donned traditional Sherpa attire and sang the Nepali trekking anthem, “Resham Phiri”

“We are very happy and feel wonderful to work in Norway,” said Nima Nuru Sherpa after the ceremony, “it’s fantastic to work in the nature of Norway, it feels like working at home in Nepal.”

Marit Bakke in Gaustadtoppen

Read also: 

Nepali steps in Norway

Himalayan and Sourya

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Two new private airlines poised to start operations

Bombardier CRJ 200

Bombardier CRJ 200. Source: RSS

The tourism industry is cautiously optimistic about the launch of a new joint venture private international airline, and a new domestic airline in Nepal.

Himalayan Airlines is a joint venture between Tibet Airlines of China and Nepali investors that include HIF Aviation Investment and Yeti Air International.  At a signing ceremony on Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency, Himalayan Airlines announced it will start operations with Kathmandu to Lhasa and Chengdu flights on 28 October.

The company is acquiring two Airbus 319 Series 2 aircraft and has options for three more Airbus 320s as its network expands to points in India, the Gulf and Hong Kong. The airline said it is also eying direct flights through wide body aircraft to Europe by next year if demand picks up.

“You may ask what a banker is doing investing in an airline,” Prithvi Bahadur Pande of HIF Aviation said at the ceremony, “but we have realised the vast untapped potential for tourism and aviation in Nepal.”

Cheng Yiru of Tibet Airlines said his company specialised in ultra-high altitude operations on the Plateau and said it made strong business sense for the tourism development of Tibet to partner with a Nepali company. “The joint venture will build on the age-old trans-Himalayan connection between Nepal and China,” he added.

Chinese Ambassador Wu Chun Tai stressed that this was a business-to-business joint venture, adding that it would further enhance Nepal-China cooperation in investment, trade and tourism. “Just as the Himalaya is a monument linking Nepal and China, Himalaya Airlines marks a new monument in economic cooperation between the two countries,” he added.

Himalaya Airlines with a paid up capital of $25 million has majority shares of its Nepali partners, while Tibet Airlines holds 49%. The airlines will create at least 1,000 new jobs in Nepal and will pay millions in tax revenue and fees to the government.

Domestic jet service

Meanwhile, Sourya Airlines is starting domestic operations with Bombardier CRJ 200 jets that will cut current turboprop flight time to and from Kathmandu on trunk city routes nearly half.

Sourya’s first 50-seater Bombardier CRJ landed in Kathmandu on Monday and will be connecting Kathmandu and Dhangadi, Nepalganj, Bhairawa, Biratnagar and Bhadrapur with the first jet service since Cosmic Air terminated its F100s. The airline says it is adding another CRJ200 next year. The airline was launched with overseas Nepali investment, and former pilots of Buddha Air and Yeti.

Brand yourself

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Interview with UK-based Nepali blogger Lex Limbu, Nepal, 10 August

Nepal: What are you doing in Nepal?

Lex Limbu: Before coming I had prepared a programme called ‘Tracing Nepal’, in which I would take Nepali youngsters to rural parts of the country. Currently we have 8 boys and 8 girls in our team, who lived abroad and didn’t know much about their country. I am going around the country for 16 days with them. After this finishes, I will prepare a travelogue. I studied human geography at college, so this is a practical side of my studies.

How does one become a good blogger?

You have to be regular. If you publish things regularly, no one forgets you. Also you can’t just bring out what people like to read or hear, you have to be original. This also helps to brand your blog and develop your own personality as a blogger. You have to be really committed.

How much pressure do you get, as a celebrity blogger, to write about certain things?

Plenty. From corporate houses to social workers, everyone wants me to publicise their cause. When Nepalis abroad have difficulties, when people want to campaign for libraries across Nepal, I have helped with spreading the message. When I had only started my blog, I raised £900 to give out to 2009’s Saptakosi flood victims.

How do you manage to come up with Hollywood and Bollywood stories that have a Nepali connection?

The internet is my biggest source.

What’s the difference between blogging from Nepal and abroad?

It’s more fun outside because the internet is fast and you don’t have load-shedding. But then, you lose the public contact you have in Nepal.

What makes you so special?

I write little and use a lot of pictures and videos. I think that is inevitable because most of my stories are about celebrities, fashion, and entertainment. Main thing is I take no sides.

Justice under threat

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Lack of a witness protection program has set back prosecution of those guilty of the torture and murder of journalist Dekendra Thapa

Dekendra Thapa. Photo: Dhruba Basnet

Dekendra Thapa. Photo: Dhruba Basnet

Radio journalist Dekendra Thapa was a fearless, fair and respected journalist, but he also used to serve as a mediator during the brutal conflict that had engulfed his beloved home district of Dailekh.

In June 2004, the Maoists blocked the pipe bringing water to the district capital, and Dekendra 
Thapa and other journalists walked to the Maoist-controlled area to try to persuade them to open it. Instead, they were kidnapped by the rebels, and while the others were released Dekendra was detained

A month later, eyewitness reports started coming in about the Maoists torturing him by hanging 
him upside down and beating him until he died. The Maoists put up posters claiming responsibility for killing him

Dekendra’a wife Laxmi lobbied hard and got forensic experts to find and exhume his body after the conflict ended in 2006. When they found the body, his mouth was wide open, his left leg and right elbow were broken. He had been buried alive.

Fast forward to 2012: police inspector Binod Sharma had kept the investigation open and finally arrested four of those accused of Dekendra’s torture and murder. One of them was Lachhiram Gharti, who confessed to the torture asked to be detained because he was wracked by guilt.

By this time, Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai had become prime minister in Kathmandu, and got his handpicked Attorney General Mukti Pradhan to call off the investigation. Prosecuting the guilty would have set a precedent for the investigation of other war crimes.  Senior Maoists leaders are implicated in other cases, including the torture and murder of Krishna Adhikari, whose parents are on an extended hunger strike in Kathmandu.

Back in Dailekh, key witnesses in the prosecution of Dekendra’s killers have all retracted their testimonies one by one. Chandra Bahadur Gharti had told investigators that on 11 August 2004, he and Man Bahadur Sunparai heard screaming at the Nepal Rastriya Primary School and went to find out what was happening. “We saw Lachhiram Gharti and eight others were beating journalist Dekendra Thapa with sticks. When Dekendra couldn’t speak anymore, we saw them drag him to Lachhiram’s house,” reads Gharti’s testimony.

However, recently Chandra Bahadur Gharti made the following deposition at the District Court: “I was away working in India when the event happened, and returned only four or five months later. I don’t know who killed Dekendra, where or how.”

Another witness, Amrita Sunakhari, had told the same investigator: “A Maoist named Bam Bahadur Khadka alias Mukti, Lachhiram and others had kidnapped journalist Dekendra Thapa and kept him in our house. After questioning, they took him towards Dwari, and I heard later that they killed and buried him.”

But Sunakhari withdrew her statement and told the court recently: “I don’t know Dekendra Raj Thapa, I don’t know where, when and how his death occurred. I don’t know if the accused killed him, the accused should not be punished.”

Other government witnesses, including Jamuna Thapa, Sashiram Gharti, Man Bahadur Sutparai and Devi Lal Gharti have similarly withdrawn statements, considerably weakening the case against the accused. Another witness Balbir Ramjali had earlier testified that he had seen the accused beating up Dekendra in the school. But now, he has made a statement saying he was in India on that day. “I don’t know anything about the incident, I don’t know anyone involved, I only found out that Dekendra was killed after the police took me in.”

Prakash Adhikari is a Dailekh based journalist who has been covering his colleague’s torture and murder for the past 10 years. He says: “Maoist leaders had gathered all the witnesses from Naumule, Dwari and Baluwatar in a hotel in the district capital, forcing the accused to retract their statements.” Lawyer Basanta Gautam, who has been representing Dekendra, also confirms that witnesses withdrew the case because of threats.

Lawyer Govinda Bandi says the reason witnesses have retracted their testimonies after threats is because of the lack of witness protection laws. He adds: “This makes it difficult to get justice for the families of the victims.”


June 2004    Radio journalist Dekendra Thapa abducted from Toli VDC
11 August 2004    Dekendra Thapa buried alive in Dwari after month-and-half of torture
28 August 2008   Laxmi Thapa lodged FIR at Dailekh Police about her husband’s murder
2012  Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and his handpicked attorney general Mukti Pradhan order
police investigation quashed
5 January 2013  Police arrest Lachhiram Gharti and five others for the murder of Dekendra Thapa
28 January 2013  State lawyers file case against accused and on 31 January court ordered them
4 July 2013  The Appleate Court in Surkhet upholds verdict against accused
5 August 2013 The Supreme Court overturns the verdict and orders the accused to be freed.
20 August 2014 District court schedules to have the final hearing on the Dekendra case.

Tufan Neupane in Nepalgunj

See music video of Dekendra Thapa singing Karnali song

Read also:

Dekendra’s grave Janak Nepal

Transitional injustice, Kunda Dixit’s blog

Reign of terror in Dailekh, Damakant Jayshi 

Shooting the messenger, Editorial

Just want justice, Dambar K Shrestha