Nepali Times

Seven provinces remain intact

Saturday, September 5th, 2015

Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal and UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal before entering the meeting room on Saturday. Photo: RSS

Four major parties have decided to address the demands of the indigenous Tharu community only after forming a state-restructuring commission.

After a day-long meeting, the Nepali Congress, the CPN (UML), the CPN (Maoist) and the MJF (D) on Saturday evening decided to keep the seven-province federalism model intact for the time being. However, they agreed to form a commission to address the demands of the Tharu community.

The Tharus have been on the warpath ever since the four parties reached an agreement on 8 August to carve out seven federal provinces. But the Tharus have rejected this federalism model because it has included two districts in the western plains – Kailali and Kanchanpur – in the far-western province.

The Tharus have been imposing an indefinite general strike in the western plains for the last two weeks demanding an autonomous Tharuhat province. They considered the province 6 stretching between Nawalparasi and Bardiya district as their Tharuhat province, and want Kailali and Kanchanur districts to be in this province.

Last week, protesters demanding a Tharuhat province had killed eight policemen including an SSP and one child in Tikapur of Kailali district. Even this week, they killed a police constable.

The four parties have also decided to keep the word ‘secularism’ intact in the new constitution. The Hindu Royalist RPP-N has been on the warpath demanding removal of this word and restoration of a Hindu state.

In a move to appease fringe parties, the four-party alliance has also decided not to keep the provision of threshold in the new constitution. Fringe parties were against the threshold provision fearing failure to enter the future parliaments.




Death of an unlikely protester

Friday, September 4th, 2015


Mritak Ansari Ki Aama & Patni (2)

Ansari’s wife and mother. Photo: Shyam Gupta

Shyam Gupta in Bara

For hours after 20-year-old Hifajat Ansari was killed in police firing in Kalaiya of Bara district early this week, his pregnant wife remained oblivious of the tragedy that had befallen her.

After putting her two-year-old son, crippled by polio virus, to sleep, Sobiya Khatun was washing dirty clothes when her neighbours started thronging there. But no one could muster courage to tell her that her husband had been killed.

Ansari’s father, Najib Miyan, was working on a nearby paddy field. When he saw the crowd, he rushed home out of curiosity. Ansari’s mother, Bigun Khatun, had gone out to buy some medicines. She was taken aback to see he house swarmed with neighbours.

After they returned, one of the neighbours told them that their son was shot at and rushed to the hospital.  Ansari’s mother and wife started weeping. His father tried to console them, but tears were rolling down his cheeks, too.

Neither Ansari’s parents nor wife knew that he was active in political activities. Neigbhours say he was just a common man without having connections with any political party. He used to eke out a living by repairing cycles by the side of a busy intersection in Kalaiya, some two kilometers from his house.

On Tuesday this week, Kalaiya bazaar was tense with protesters clashing with police in different parts of the town. An indefinite Tarai shutdown imposed by Madhesi political parties had reached its 15th consecutive day, and Ansari was not getting any clients due to the strike.

At around 2 p.m, Ansari closed his cycle repairing workshop run in a thatched hut. He was heading back home but got swayed by protesters. In no time, he was on the forefront of protesters pelting stones at police police.

In the adjacent district of Parsa, five people had been killed when police opened fire to disperse protesters. When the news reached Bara, the Kalaiya protesters turned even more violent. Police opened fire in Kalaiya as well and a bullet pierced Ansari’s chest. He fell to the ground at Bharat Chowk of Kalaiya.

Four days later, Ansari’s body is in the mortuary of the Kalaiya hospital.  His wife finds it difficult to believe that he is gone. “I don’t know how to raise my children,” she says. “He was the only one who would earn bread for us.”

Two different alliances of Madhesi parties have spearheaded anti-constitution protests across the central Tarai for the last three weeks. They have demanded not more than two provinces in the Tarai. As per a deal reached among the four major political parties on 8 August, only two provinces will be created in the Tarai but some plains districts will be merged with three other hill provinces.

In the western plains, a separate political movement spearheaded by the ethnic Tharus demanding a Tharuhat province is in its full swing. On Friday, Constable Deb Bahadur Pandey was killed when Tharuhat protesters clashed with police in Mainapokhar bazaar of Bardiya district. Police say protesters corned and killed him, the Tharuhat leaders say he was mistakenly shot dead by police themselves. Last week, eight policemen were killed in a deadly clash in Tikapur of Kailali district.



12 days of fast

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Issuing a press release on the twelfth day of his sixth fast unto death senior orthopedic surgeon and professor at TU Teaching Hospital Dr Govinda KC reiterated that he would not end his hunger strike unless all the points on the past deal are implemented.

“If the state was serious about providing quality education and health services to the people, fulfilling our demands wouldn’t be a difficult task,” reads the statement.

Dr KC went on a hunger strike for the sixth time demanding reforms in the medical education. He has been demanding the report submitted by Kedar Bhakta Mathema-led committee be implemented without distortions.

The report has made recommendations including opening government medical colleges in areas outside Kathmandu Valley, limiting the quota of medical students to 100 and fixing the tuition fees to Rs 3.5 million among others.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala upon receiving the report from the Mathema-led committee had assured immediate implementation. But when the then-Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudyal presented the report to the Cabinet for consideration, ministers including Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam demanded it be discussed under related cabinet committee.

The report was then sent to Social Committee of the cabinet headed by Gautam, where the report lay for more than a month. When Dr KC warned of another hunger strike, a separate technical committee led by member of National Planning Commission (NPC) Yagya Bahadur Karki and including secretaries of Education, Health and Finance Ministry was formed to work out an action plan.

The action plan submitted by this committee excluded key points including student who want to pursue MBBS studies should have secured at least 60 per cent marks in higher secondary level, fixing the tuition fees to Rs 3.5 million, mandatory passing of university entrance exams for foreign students. Even the Mathema-led committee had submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister’s office regarding this.

While Dr KC’s hunger strike has garnered much support from various quarters, the government seems to be preoccupied with the protests in the Tarai to give it much thought. During the past hunger strikes, the government had looked eager to sort out the differences, the response this time has been lukewarm.

A meeting of the Social Committee of the Cabinet earlier this week to discuss the policy could still not agree on several key points including status of medical schools in Kathmandu that are still waiting for affiliation and quota of the students. This came as no surprise since many political leaders including CPN-UML leader Rajendra Pandey have invested in medical schools awaiting affiliation. The UML leaders had threatened to disrupt the House even last time Dr KC went on strike.

The committee had however agreed on the maximum tuition fee of Rs 3.5 million.

Although, Secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, Santa Raj Subedi visited Dr KC and urged him to end the hunger strike and the talks between Vice-chair of NPC Govinda Raj Pokharel and representatives of Dr KC ended on a positive note, KC has refused to end his hunger strike until all the demands are fulfilled.


Reconstruction in limbo 

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Sundar Karki, owner of Hotel Sangam at Charikot of Dolakha district, looks at the toppled building of his hotel. Demolition and reconstruction works, he says, have been delayed due to lack of technical assistance from the government. The delay in Reconstruction Authority has also delayed rebuilding works in earthquake affected districts. Photo: Sahina Shrestha

Finally set up nearly four months after the 25 April earthquake, the National Reconstruction Authority has lost its legal status after Parliament, preoccupied with the constitution, failed to ratify a bill to form it by its deadline last week.

This has added further dismay of hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors waiting for the government’s support to rebuild their damaged homes. The Authority, led by the Prime Minister and his designated CEO, Govinda Raj Pokhrel, was to be the main agency dealing with rebuilding the 800,000 destroyed homes.

The government had formed the Authority through an ordinance ahead of the International Conference on National Reconstruction (ICNR) held in Kathmandu on 25 June, exactly two months after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed nearly 9,000 people.

The ordinance expired last week as the government delayed in tabling a new bill in the Parliament to replace it. On Tuesday, the government tried to table the replacement bill but had to back off due to opposition from the UCPN (M) which wanted to discuss its provisions.

The UCPN (M) leader Baburam Bhattarai had publicly declared that he would have liked to lead the agency, and his party is now blocking the ratification of the bill. Pokhrel was appointed CEO only last month after much political haggling.

Pokharel had just started forming a team and preparing guidelines for reconstruction. His hands will now be tied unless the authority’s legal status is restored.  As the authority grapples with legal issues leading to delay in reconstruction projects, hundreds of thousands of earthquake survivors continue to live in temporary shelters.

A survey conducted by the Himalmedia in 12 earthquake-hit districts last month showed that only 2.8 % per cent of earthquake survivors had rebuilt their houses without waiting for the government’s support. More than 50% displaced families were still living in temporary shelters and others were in repaired houses, rented rooms and tents.

At the ICNR, donors had pledged $ 4.1 billion for Nepal’s reconstruction. But the process to receive and spend that money has not started as the authority’s legal status hangs in balance.

More violent than others

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Roads in Birganj are completely deserted on Wednesday. Photo: Suresh Bidari

From the Nepali Press

Navin Jha in, 2 September

Protests spearheaded by Madhesi parties were largely peaceful in Birganj until Sunday evening. No one had died and only a few protesters had sustained minor injuries in the first two weeks of the indefinite Madhes shutdown.

But things started turning ugly from Monday morning, and five protesters were killed in police firing in the next 48 hours. One more protester died in the adjacent district of Bara. Some of the injured were rushed to Kathmandu for treatment. On Tuesday afternoon, the government declared Birganj as a disturbed area and deployed the army to contain the violence.

What suddenly triggered this violence in the central Tarai? There had been no major clashes despite Madhesi parties’ promise to provide Rs 5 million to families of  those killed during the anti-government movement.

The answer is the traditional rivalry between two Madhesi political forces. The way the Armed Police Force (APF) dealt with the situation also made things worse.

An alliance of Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, Tarai Madhes Democratic Party, Sadbhavana Party and Tarai Madhes Sadbhavana Party had announced an indefinite Tarai shutdown after a Madhesi protester, 25-year-old Rajiv Raut, was killed in police firing in Saptari on 18 August.  This alliance had been holding peaceful protests every day.  Anil Jha of Nepal Sadbhavana Party and Matrika Yadav of CPN (Maoist) felt left out, and they formed another alliance to take credit for the Madhes uprising.

The democratic alliance of four parties and the federal alliance of two parties engaged themselves in a competition to become the real saviours of the Madhes. They started outdoing each other to be even more aggressive.

Top leaders of the democratic alliance addressed a mass rally in Kalaiya of Bara on Sunday. In a desperate attempt to gain more prominence, cadre of another alliance blocked the Nagawa by-pass road of Birgunj. After a brief scuffle with police, they left the road. But that night, an APF patrol harassed locals and thrashed anyone loitering outside.

Enraged by the APF’s act, Nagawa locals started attacking police from Monday morning. Top leaders of the democratic alliance were scheduled to address a rally in Birganj that afternoon. But protests turned so violent that they were holed up in their hotel rooms throughout the day.

Both alliances tried to lead the Nagawa protests, but situation spiraled out of control. Madhesi protesters from both groups set government property and vehicles on fire and ransacked the UML party office.

Also read:

Tarai unrest

Going nowhere


Deconstructing reconstruction

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Sahina Shrestha in DOLAKHA

Purna Bahadur Shrestha looks at what remains of his house in Dolakha Bazar. Pics: Sahina Shrestha

Purna Bahadur Shrestha looks at what remains of his house in Dolakha Bazar. Pics: Sahina Shrestha

This ridge-side town with a stunning backdrop of Gauri Shankhar used to be in the ancient trade route between Tibet and Nepal. Newar traders settled here even before the Gorkha conquest, establishing a mint that is more than 600 years old.

That mint is now in ruins, as are most of the historic stone-clay houses lining the cobblestone streets of Dolakha Bazar. While the M7.8 earthquake on 25 April damaged the buildings, it was the M7.3 aftershock on 12 May with its epicentre only 10km away that destroyed 90 per cent of the houses here.

Four months on, locals are still living in tents, or makeshift shelters next to their ruined homes. It is clear that Dolakha and nearby Charikot will take years to rebuild if they don’t get any help. The ruined structures need to be safely demolished before new ones can be built.

“We are still waiting,” says 74-year-old farmer Purna Narayan Shrestha who was at the Bhimsen Temple and watched as his three-storey house collapsed during the 12 May aftershock. Shrestha is living in a temporary structure with his family and has salvaged bricks and stones from the ruins to rebuild.

“At my age, this is hard work, but I have no choice but my nephew helps me,” says Shrestha. “No one has offered to help yet. I don’t even have a house to store my harvest in.”

Up the street, Purna Bahadur Shrestha is still waiting to tear down what remains of his house and says he does not have the courage to rebuild at the moment. “I don’t have money and the rains and aftershocks may bring down what I built anyway,” he tells us. The other reasons no one is rebuilding yet is that there are no workers, and also the fear that they won’t get the government reconstruction grant if they don’t follow new construction guidelines.

“There are no workers available to start building again,” complains tea shop owner Shanta Devi Shrestha, 61 looking at the unfinished first storey of her new house. The municipality has also banned the reconstruction of all new houses until the government policy is clearer.

In the Charighyang neighbourhood nearby demolition of many of the multi-storey concrete buildings that collapsed on 12 May is just starting. The buildings have either pancaked or are leaning on each other like domino pieces.

dolakha 2

“When we approached local engineers no one wanted to take a chance demolishing the buildings that were risky,” says Sundar Karki of Hotel Sangam which collapsed completely. Now, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is helping with equipment and demolition expertise. Trade and tourism has suffered because reconstruction can’t start without first demolition of the collapsed structures.

At the Shree Mahendrodaya Higher Secondary School, where all the classrooms collapsed, they are waiting for the government to get its act together. The school’s 300 students are now in temporary classrooms. Says Principal Kabindra Das Shrestha: “Rebuilding the school will take a couple of years and that too if we get the needed help urgently. We are managing, but we can’t continue like this forever, the children need to be in proper classrooms so they feel safe.”

We asked Dolakha CDO Devendra Lamichane about the reason for the delay in rebuilding. He says his office is waiting for the Reconstruction Authority to develop guidelines and send instructions and for the moment is working with voluntary groups and NGOs.

“There isn’t any separate budget allocated for reconstruction and rebuilding and we are working with what we have in the best possible way,” says Lamichhane. “But only after the Reconstruction Authority starts its work can we start offering help to rebuild.”


Ready to build safer

Dhan Bahadur BK works on a brick and mud wall on the last day of the training.

Dhan Bahadur BK works on a stone and mud wall on the last day of the seismic resistant masonry training at Charikot, Dolakha.

Dhan Bahadur BK, 40 has been working as a mason for the past 18 years. When the earthquake struck many of the houses in his village of Lamabagar collapsed. BK thought his house was built well, and would stand.

“It came down, but luckily none of my family members were hurt,” says BK. “Many other houses I built also came down. I felt sad, and also puzzled about what I did wrong in the bricklaying process.”

BK is one of the 55 masons trained in seismic resistant masonry during a training organised by National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) with support from Bhimeshwor Municipality, Department of Urban Development and Building Construction  and US Agency for International Development (USAID) recently.

After attending the five day training, BK says the houses he helps build from now on will be stronger.  “I learnt new things as well as what I was doing wrong all this time,” says BK who adds that his challenge will be to convince home owners to spend a little extra for sturdier construction and teaching his fellow masons from his village to build back better.

The 55 masons are the first of over 5,000 who will be trained in new techniques and also in retrofitting older ones. The course is part of a longer-term effort by which the USAID and its partner NSET aims to contribute to the Government of Nepal’s goal of training 60,000 construction professionals in disaster-resilient building skills.  The masons were trained in earthquake basics, site selection and building configuration, quality assurance, construction of earthquake-resistant buildings using stone, brick, and reinforced concrete framed buildings, periodic repair and maintenance, and an introduction to seismic retrofitting.

Said USAID’s Nepal Director Beth Dunford: “Stronger homes, schools, hospitals, offices will form the foundation for Nepal’s earthquake recovery. Skilled builders who have the knowledge and tools to build back safer will play a critical role in that recovery.”


Read Also

Rebuilding Hotel Paradise, Kunda Dixit

Waiting in the rain, Sahina Shrestha

Tarai unrest

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015



One more protester died in police firing on Tuesday in Birganj, where violent clashes continued for the 16th day of an indefinite shutdown enforced by the Madhesi parties opposed to proposed federal demarcations in the new constitution.

Dharma Raj Singh was killed on Tuesday when police opened fire at an agitated crowd defying a curfew in Radhemai of Birganj, said Superintendent of Police Diwesh Lohani.

New Nepal BAN MAPOn Monday, 35-year-old Dilip Chaurasiya was killed by a police bullet when protesters brandishing spades and spears started attacking police posts and government offices.

“They are attacking us everywhere with home-made weapons,” SP Lohani told Nepali Times. Protesters have defied a curfew clamped by the local administration, forcing police to open fire to bring the situation under control.

Police also opened fire outside the Narayani Sub Regional Hospital, where Chaurasiya’s body was kept and other injured protesters were receiving treatment. Policeman Narendra Chaudhary, 35-year-old Sudeep Lama and 45-year-old Etwariya Devi were injured in the hospital shootout.


Police patrol on a road in Kalaiya of Bara district after a violent clash on Tuesday. Photo: Shyam Gupta

Local Madhesi party leaders allege that police opened fire targeting, a charge denied by SP Lohani who said the three were hit by richeting bullets.

Two of the injured, Binod Mahato and Amiri Lal Pal, are said to be in critical condition. They are undergoing treatment at the same hospital outside which police opened fire.

Protesters set the Inland Revenue Office of Birgunj on fire damaging equipment. They  also vandalised the Armed Police Force (APF) and Nepal Police offices in Bhiswa and Amarpatti of Parsa. APF and police personnel from these posts have now shifted to the district headquarters.

Other central Tarai districts like Bara and Mahottari are also tense. In Kalaiya of Bara district, at least five protesters have been injured in sporadic clashes with police.

An alliance of Madhesi parties has imposed an indefinite strike across the Tarai protesting the new federal set up. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala last week sent a letter urging them to sit in talks and resolve the issues peacefully, but the parties demanded a suspension of the constitution drafting process – a precondition rejected by the ruling parties.

Meanwhile, shutdown continues in western plain districts where Tharuhat Struggle Committee has been on the warpath demanding an autonomous Tharuhat state.