Nepali Times

Second night in the open

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Rescue workers dig out more bodies from under the debris of the devastated Budget Hotel building in Thamel on Sunday. Photo by Om Astha Rai

Hundreds of thousands of people in Central Nepal prepared to spend the second night out in the open as serious aftershocks continued to rattle people and forcing them out of their homes.

In Kathmandu, open areas like Tundikhel, Khula Manch, Dasrath Stadium and Maitighar Mandala were packed with families afraid of going home. They used any open spaces available, including school playgrounds, courtyards and bahals of inner city areas. Some people even used traffic islands.

2People who had hoped that the aftershocks had begun to taper off were jolted once more on Sunday at 1PM with a 6.5 magnitude earthquake epicentred northeast of Kathmandu which shook places as far away as Patna in India and towns in Bangladesh. Some families who had ventured home decided to stay out one more night in tents.

In Makhan Tole behind the devastated World Heritage Site of Kathmandu Darbar Square, people scared by the aftershock wept as they found out that there was nowhere they could spend the night.

“In our locality, people are frightened as their houses are old and already weakened by yesterday’s earthquake,” said Sanu Maharjan, a volunteer mobilised by Makhan Youth Club, before rushing out to pull bodies from under the debris of a house that collapsed on Sunday’s quake.

3“More houses are collapsing because of the aftershocks, it is scary,” he said.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala returned to Kathmandu on Sunday from Jakarta where he had gone for a conference and immediately convened a Cabinet meeting which warned people not to follow rumours but to be prepared for aftershocks.

Sunday’s aftershock razed houses that were damaged on Saturday’s quake and even killed some people in districts surrounding Kathmandu. The official death toll is now nearing 2,000 and is expected to go higher as reports come in from outlying areas of Central Nepal.

At Kathmandu’s Bir Hospital the corridors are littered with unidentified bodies, and the police was handing over identified ones to next-of-kin.

4Hospital Director, Swoyam Prakash Pandit, said as of Sunday afternoon, 99 people, including one Chinese and two Indian, had died after being brought there. Some 450 more wounded people have been admitted, and Pandit expected more as people trapped under rubble are rescued.

Thousands of army, armed police and Nepali police personnel have been deployed to rescue earthquake victims. But they are incapable of removing debris in narrow alleys of Kathmandu.

On Sunday, near Asan chowk, a team of policemen was unable to remove debris because they had no digging equipment. “We know many are trapped inside but we don’t know how to pull them out,” said a police inspector. “It can be done only by our disaster rescue teams but they are too few to reach everywhere.”

In the Patan Darbar Square which has also been devastated by the earthquake, families sat calmly in shelters inside schools and open spaces. Community organizer, Dilendra Raj Shrestha told us there was no presence of government, not even officials from the municipality who had visited.

“We urgently need tents and medicines,” he said, recalling the hardships of Saturday night when about 400 people slept in the open and were drenched by a shower at 1AM. Fortunately the a400-year-old stone spout in the square outside provides water, and the community raises money to cook two meals a day.

He said: “Please tell the world. We need help.”

Om Astha Rai

Massive earthquake rattles Nepal (updated)

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Dharahara collapsed in Saturday’s deadly earthquake. Photo by Om Astha Rai

The death toll from a powerful earthquake that rattled several parts of Nepal, including Kathmandu Valley, on Saturday has reached 686, according to Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA).

More than 500 people are reported to have been injured and are receiving treatment on the streets as most hospitals have been inundated with casualties.

durbar magThe earthquake that affected 38 districts has badly hit Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Gorkha, Sindhupalchok and Lamjung.

According to the MoHA, 54 deaths in Kavre, nine in Makwanpur, 10 in Okhaldhunga, five in Ramechhap, two in Bhojpur, six in Nuwakot and 12 in Gorkha have been reported so far.

The earthquake has also killed 10 mountaineers at the Everest base camp. They were preparing to summit the Everest this season.

The death toll could go higher as hundreds more presumed to be under the debris of the collapsed houses.

The earthquake, measured 7.9 in the Richter scale with its epicenter in Lamjung district, leveled many historic and archeologically important sites in Kathmandu Valley, including Dharahara and nine-storey palace in Basantapur durbar square.

lokanthaliThe earthquake damaged hundreds of houses in Kathmandu Valley, rendering a large number of families homeless.

Hospitals are now teeming with injured people and dead bodies. As aftershocks of the earthquake continue to rattle Kathmandu Valley, thousands of people are now on the streets. Thousands more are staying in open areas like Dasarath Stadium, Tundikhel and Khulamanch.

As of 3 p.m., 86 dead bodies had been taken to Bir Hospital and 60 in Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH).

Dharahara collapsed leaving more than 100 people dead.



Nearing a deal

Friday, April 24th, 2015

As Nepal marked the ninth anniversary of Democracy Day without a new constitution on Friday, many asked a question through social media: will the seemingly-endless constitution writing process be completed before the tenth anniversary of the victory of a people’s uprising on 24 April, 2006.

Given how political parties have wasted time – inching closer to an agreement and then backtracking – since the first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2008, a new constitution before the next Democracy Day does not look certain. But the way political parties are narrowing down their differences over the key contents of the new constitution has raised some hope. If a new constitution before the next Democracy Day is not certain, it is not unlikely, either.

Particularly after the UCPN (Maoist) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal convinced the 30-party opposition alliance to call off their three-day strike on 7 April and reached an understanding with the ruling NC-UML to forward the sorted-out issues to the CA’s Constitution Drafting Committee on 20 April, a breakthrough looks plausible. Both ruling and opposition leaders are now hopeful about reaching a consensus on federalism – the major bone of contention.

“We have intensified formal and informal talks, which is important to break the deadlock,” UCPN (Maoist) leader Top Bahadur Rayamajhi told Nepali Times. “Ruling parties are no longer rigid about using their numerical strength in the CA and we have also distanced ourselves from street protests.”

Sources say Dahal has prepared a new proposal on creating and naming new federal provinces and will present it to the ruling coalition after Prime Minister Sushil Koirala returns from Jakarta, Indonesia. Dahal is now persuading the opposition alliance to endorse his proposal, which sources say has divided the country into eight federal provinces reflecting ethnic identity.

Sources say Dahal’s proposal is just a face-saving and he will agree to join the government and pass the new constitution even if the NC and the UML reject it. In that case, Dahal will press for keeping his proposal in the annex of the new constitution. Once Dahal agrees to pass the new constitution by writing a note of dissent on federalism, the constitution writing process can be completed.

Prem Bahadur Singh, spokesperson of the UCPN (Maosit)-led opposition alliance, says: “We are hopeful because we are now divided over just names and demarcation of federal provinces.”

At a press conference in Kathmandu on Friday, NC leader Dilendra Prasad Badu said the dispute over names and demarcation of federal provinces would not halt the constitution writing process. “This issue can be sorted out by forming a commission to demarcate provinces and allowing peoples of new provinces to name their states,” he said.

Some political leaders also claim that they are so close to an agreement that people need not wait for the next Democracy Day to have a new constitution. They say the new constitution will be promulgated before or on the coming Republic Day on 28 May. Given how political parties have backpedaled after reaching closer to an agreement in the past, it is also likely that people will have to wait longer for a new constitution.

Om Astha Rai

Not in Nepal

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Stéphane Huët

More than 1,000 people were expected to attend the trance festival, Universal Religion, this weekend in Kakani, Nuwakot. But the four-day event has just been cancelled, 36 hours before its start.

Universal Religion 2013

Universal Religion 2013

On their Facebook page, the organising team mentioned ‘some unexpected last moment serious legal issues involving safety of the participants’ to explain the sudden cancellation of this ninth edition.

A volunteer of Universal Religion told Nepali Times they had received permissions from the Home Ministry, Tourism Board and local administrations. “We only needed the District Administration Office of Nuwakot to provide security,” he said, “but they denied us on Wednesday afternoon.”

Kosh Hari Niroula, Chief District Officer (CDO) of Nuwakot, said there was a lack of coordination with the local organisers of Universal Religion. “They only promoted their event on Internet but we never saw them – they were invisible,” he told Nepali Times.

“They were going to organise a trance party in the guise of a music festival,” said Niroula. “They would have tarnished the image of Nepal in the international community by organising events promoting sex and drugs.

The post on Universal Religion’s Facebook page provoked different reactions from the festival-goers. Some showed their support to the organisers stating that cancellation is always a possibility here for psyche events. Still, most of those who had already bought their tickets were criticising the lack of professionalism of Universal Religion.

Caroline Nitya, an Australian, had taken an annual leave to attend Universal Religion. She recognises the risks involved with hosting an international music event but feels the organisers showed a distinct lack of forward planning. “I won’t come to Nepal again to attend a festival but I’ll go to Goa instead,” she told us.

Many tourists like Nitya travelled from different countries to attend Universal Religion.

Universal Religion 2015 had an international line-up of 70 artists, including big names such as Avalon and Kalya Scintilla. The event was announced in January and 600 tickets have already been sold.

The main concern of Universal Religion is now to refund the participants. “We’ll then see if we can organise alternative gigs in Kathmandu,” added the volunteer from Universal Religion.

In the meantime, a group of festival-goers created a Facebook group “universal religion alternative” to find a plan B for those who have already arrived in Nepal.

‘Investigate Ganesh’s murder’

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

An appellate court has ordered police to investigate the murder of Ganesh Kumar Shrestha, the elder brother of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha, who was shot dead by ex-Maoist lawmaker Bal Krishna Dhungel during the Maoist insurgency.

The Appellate Court of Janakpur has directed the District Police Office and the Office of the District Attorney in Ramechhap to investigate Ganesh’s murder. Ganesh was shot dead allegedly by Maoist cadres in Sanghutar of Ramechhap district on 22 November, 2002.

Ganesh’s elder brother Raj Kumar Shrestha had filed a case against six Maoist cadres, including Tika Sunuwar and Raktim Lama, at the Ramechhap DPO in 2003. But police never started an investigation on the case.

On 18 February, Ganesh’s sister, Sabitri Kumari Shrestha, had filed a writ at the court demanding investigation of her brother’s murder. Responding to the writ, the court had directed the Janakpur police office to explain why Ganesh’s murder was not investigated.

Unsatisfied by the explanations furnished by the Janakpur police office, a joint bench of justices Purushottam Bhandari and Meghnath Bhattarai on Tuesday ordered the Janakpur police office to reopen the 12-year-old case.

Ganesh had filed a case against Dhungel for murdering his brother Ujjan in Okhaldhunga in June 1998, thereby instigating Maoist cadres to kill Ganesh.

Dhungel has been convicted of Ujjan’s murder but is still walking free.  Police say he is a fugitive but he is protected by the Maoists and has been seen attending public programs.

Dhungel argues Ujjan’s murder is a conflict-era case and should be solved by the recently-formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). But Sabitri argues Dhungel was angry about an enter-ethnic marriage involving Ujjan and this cannot be seen as a conflict-era case.

Ishwor Chandra Jha

17 killed in accident

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

At least 17 Indian pilgrims have died, when a bus they were travelling on skidded off the road in Naubishe of Dhading district on Wednesday.

While 12 people – seven female and five male – died on the spot, one took his last breath while being taken to hospital. Four more people died after being admitted to different hospitals in Kathmandu.

Police say the death toll could go up as more than two dozen people are injured. Police inspector Shankar Singh Rawal told Nepali Times that six of the injured appear to be in a more critical conditions.

“There might be more people stuck inside the bus,” said Rawal. “The bus is stuck in a gorge 300 meters down from the road and it is difficult to see if there are more dead bodies stuck inside.”

The ill-fated bus was reserved by a group of Indian pilgrims returning to Gorakhpur of India after visiting Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.

Police have yet not ascertained the accident’s cause, but say the bus driver might have lost control while trying to avoid hitting another vehicle.

Breakthrough at last ?

Monday, April 20th, 2015


Ruling and opposition parties have made a major breakthrough in the constitution drafting process by reviving an agreement that was reached between them but later rejected by the UCPN (Maoist). However, there are fears that this might be another false alarm.

On 19 January, three days before political parties’ self-imposed deadline to pass the new constitution, the ruling NC-UML and the opposition UCPN (Maoist) and Madhesi Front had forged an agreement on three of the four disputed issues: electoral system, model of judiciary and form of governance. They had also agreed to sort out the issue of federalism later.

But the next day, the UCPN (Maoist) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal backtracked from the agreement, led the opposition alliance to disrupt Constituent Assembly (CA) meetings and launched a series of protest programs.

Exactly three months later, the UCPN (Maoist) has reversed its decision and agreed to expedite the constitution drafting process going back to the 19 January agreement.

In a meeting at Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s Baluwatar residence on Monday, the NC-UML and the UCPN (Maoist)-Madhesi Front agreed to forward the issues of electoral system, model of judiciary and form of governance to the CA’s constitution drafting committee. They also agreed to forge a consensus on number and names of new federal units through more talks.

Ruling and opposition leaders have dubbed the revival of the 19 January agreement as a remarkable progress in writing the new constitution. “It’s a big step towards ending the prolonged political transition,” said Ram Janam Chaudhary, Chief Whip of MJF-Democratic.

According to the revived 19 January agreement, the new constitution will adopt a mixed electoral system, a constitutional court and the Westminster parliamentary system but will confer more power to the president. But details of agreed points like percentages of directly elected and proportionally chosen lawmakers have yet to be sorted out.

So, what prompted the Maoists, whose leaders had vowed to force the NC-UML to kneel down through street protests, to revive a deal that was discarded by them?  Was it because of the flexibility shown by the NC-UML?

“The ruling parties still stand where they were on 19 January,” said the UCPN (Maoist)’s Vice Chair Narayan Kaji Shrestha. “It was us who showed flexibility. We agreed to carry forward the constitution drafting process because we concluded that a prolonged transition would help the regressive forces.”

After persuading its 30-party opposition alliance to call off a general strike on 7 April, the Maoists had resumed constitution negotiations with the NC-UML. The revival of the 19 January agreement was an outcome of several rounds of informal talks since 7 April.

However, the probability of the Maoists backpedalling from the agreement still exists. Failure to forge a consensus on number and basis of new federal units will be an excuse for the Maoists to discard the renewed deal.

When asked if the Maoists will reject the renewed deal in case of failure to find a consensus on federalism, Shrestha told Nepali Times, “For now, we are looking at the deal positively.”