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.

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Ketis on K2

Sunday, July 27th, 2014
(l-r) Maya Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa and Dawa Yangzum Sherpa are part of the K2 Women for Change Expedition

(l-r) Maya Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa and Dawa Yangzum Sherpa are part of the K2 Women for Change Expedition. Photo: Dawa Yangzum Sherpa

Three Nepali women climbers on Saturday became one of few women to have summited K2, which at 8,611m is the second highest mountain in the world.

Maya Sherpa, Dawa Yangzum Sherpa and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa are part of the K2 Women for Change Expedition which is regarded as much more difficult than Mt Everest. The mountain, which is on the Pakistan-China border has killed one in every four people trying to climb it. Of the 86 who have died on the mountain, six are Nepalis.

The expedition was designed to raise international awareness about the impact of climate change on the Himalaya and was supported by the Himalayan Women Welfare Society, Kathmandu-based ICIMODSherpa Adventure Gear,  Nepal Mountaineering Association, Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal  and Cho-Oyu Expeditions among others.

Team leader Maya Sherpa has climbed Mt Everest twice from the north and south, and is the first Nepali woman to climb many Himalayan peaks, including Lhotse and Cho Oyu. Pasang Lhamu Sherpa has 13 years of experience in mountaineering and was the first Nepali woman to climb Nangpai Gosum (7,321m) and is also the first Nepali female mountaineering instructor. Dawa Yangzum Sherpa is from Beding in Rolwaling, has climbed Mt Everest and has won medals in several Himalayan long-distance runs.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of K2 by an Italian expedition led by Ardito Desio on 31 July, 1954. Nearly 350 people have climbed the mountain, and 84 have been killed.  Only Annapurna I has a higher fatality rate among Himalayan peaks.

Two Nepali guides, Chhiring Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Lama were involved in a dramatic rescue on the mountain in and are the subject of the book, Buried in the Sky by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Pandoan about the death in 2008 of 11 climbers on the mountain.

Toxic tarkari

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Despite awareness and crackdown, pesticide-laced vegetables still poisoning consumers

Suddenly the danger of pesticide is splashed all over the mainstream media, and the Nepali public is aware about poisonous vegetables. But while urban consumers do not have safer alternatives, farmers have been adversely affected by falling demand for produce.

The Ministry of Agriculture blacklisted vegetables from districts in the Tarai and surrounding Kathmandu this month after tests found unsafe levels of pesticide residue. But it hasn’t been able to stop their sale and consumers are forced to buy pesticide-laced vegetables that they know is harmful.

Under the personal initiative of Chief Secretary Lilamani Poudel, the government set up a Rapid Pesticide Residue Analysis Laboratory at the Kalimati market, and found 15 per cent of the products analysed had pesticide levels unfit for human consumption. In fact, a recent survey showed that the most-used pesticides in Nepal are actually banned in the country.

Pramod Koirala of the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control says there is no option but to plug the legal loopholes that permit continued sale of banned agro-chemicals and tainted vegetables.

“Farmers are aware of the health hazards, but need to be told about precautions they need to take, Consumer awareness is growing, and there is no alternative to removing banned pesticides from the market and tightening the laws,” Koirala told us.

Kalimati lab

Kalimati lab

The Kalimati lab found that 15 per cent of all vegetables recently tested to be contaminated. Some of the potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum and salads have pesticide residue up to three times higher than levels deemed safe by the WHO.

Nepal’s per capita pesticide consumption is one of the lowest in the world, and most subsistence farmers in rural Nepal don’t use pesticides. But commercial farmers supplying produce to city markets often overdose their crop with pesticides, and do not comply with the waiting period requirements before harvesting. The result is that consumers are not fully safe, and farmers now are in danger of falling prices as demand drops, a s survey of markets in Patan and Kalimati this week showed.

Farmers in Tikathali of Lalitpur district argue they have to use pesticides for commercial farming as an insurance against crop failure. Ratna Prajapati, 35, says the negative publicity in the media about pesticides has scared off consumers. “There has been a big drop in sales,” he told us, gesturing at his okra field ripe for picking, “we are now using milder pesticides.”

Down the road, 49-year-old Ramesh Kumar Karki says he has always used minimal doses of pesticides, but is still being punished with the heavy users. “The government should ban harmful pesticides, and get the JTAs to train us on safe use,” added Karki.

Saraswati Basnet, 52, also grows vegetables commercially and says one testing lab will not curb pesticide misuse. “You may stop it in Kalimati, but there are many smaller markets where vegetables with pesticides can be sold,” she said.

For farmers like Sojan Karmacharya, 29, who supports organic farming, the crackdown on pesticides has made no difference: “Eighty per cent of crops in Nepal are still chemical free, and in the city there are markets for organic produce, so consumers have a choice if the government is serious about it.”

Others, like life-time farmer Shyam Maharjan, said publicity about pesticides has made no difference to farmers using chemicls. “They are still spraying pesticides, and they are still selling them,” he said, “soon this will blow over and everything will back to normal.”

The consensus here is that farmers should be given time to switch to safer methods, they should have better training and the government should have stricter monitoring. The only positive impact is that consumers are now more aware than before.

Meanwhile, early on Monday morning at Kalimati, the wholesalers were doing brisk business although most dealers said demand had dropped. “They don’t want insects, they don’t pesticides, what do they want?” asks one angry shopkeeper. “They should be punishing the farmers, not us. Everything has pesticides, it is just a matter of more or less.”

The lab technicians come back to tell the shopkeepers to dispose to throw away veggies that fail the lab test, but they seldom stay behind to check whether the items are actually disposed of. The impression is of a lackadaisical approach to enforcing the pesticide ban and protecting consumers.

Gita Gangol

Gita Gangol

Over at the vegetable market at Mangal Bazar, shoppers seemed resigned to their fate. “I know I shouldn’t be buying these cucumbers, but what else will I eat,” asked Gita Gangol, a college teacher, “but just to be safe, I am starting my own kitchen garden.”

Twenty-two-year-old Srijana Regmi says she hasn’t stopped buying greens. “I have to eat after all,” she shrugs. “We can’t tell if these have pesticides or not, so how do I decide? Even if the government says something is pesticide free, I won’t believe them.”

In another stall, Ram Bahadur Shrestha is also somewhat fatalistic about it all. “I have heard about pesticides, but so what? Despite all the news of tests being conducted the same vegetables circulate in the market. We have no option but to eat it.”

Sonia Awale 
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Lab talk

Interview with Senior Plant Protection Officer: Dinesh Babu Tiwari

Nepali Times: Can this test identify use of banned pesticides like metacid?

Dinesh Babu Tiwari: No.

What does 100 per cent pesticide mean?

This as it has been misinterpreted. The per cent here is the inhibition rate of acetylcholinesterase (human enzyme). So more the per cent, more it reduces/stops the inhibition rate of this enzyme in the body. It is a measure of pesticide residue, not the poison per cent. We reject all crops that test above 45 per cent.


What per cent of vegetables you tested in the market contain pesticide residue?

Of the 127 were tested in Ashad, 26 had high pesticide content.


Why aren’t the contaminated vegetables destroyed?

There are many problems. We just have four technicians in the lab. The government needs to provide other support like logistics, security, incentives. We only have one spectrophotometer. There should be more.


What is the next step?

There are two types of farmers. First those who themselves aren’t aware about pesticides and are eating their own tainted vegetables. Second type are farmers who are doing this knowingly, irresponsibly. It is a crime, they must be punished.


Which vegetables have most pesticides and from where?

Panauti’s potatoes, produce from Dhading, potatoes and onions from India.

Half truths, no justice

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

As the ambulance carrying the remains of the five young men of Dhanusha made its way from the District Police Office to Devi Chok in Janakpur on Wednesday morning, a sizable number of curious bystanders had gathered for the procession. For the families of the deceased, however, it was a moment they had been anxiously awaiting for more than 10 years.

The last rites of the five men disappeared and killed by the state in 2003 was performed today in Janakpur.

The last rites of the five men disappeared and killed by the state in 2003 was performed today in Janakpur. (PICS: Ishwar Chandra Jha)

On 8 October 2003, eleven students including Sanjeev Kumar Karna (24), Durgesh Labh (23), Jitendra Jha (20), Pramod Narayan Mandal (19), and Shailendra Yadav (17) were arrested by the joint security forces at Devi Chok. While six men were released later on, the ill-fated five were never seen again. They were reportedly taken to the banks of the Kamala River in Godar and shot dead by the army on suspicion of being Maoists.

In August 2010, an exhumation team led by the National Human Rights Commission unearthed four bodies near the Kamala River. The remains were sent to Finland and the National Forensic Laboratory in Kathmandu for DNA testing. The skeleton of the fifth person was found in February 2011 and sent for examination last year. Results confirmed that Karna, Labh, Jha, Mandal, and Yadav were the ones who were killed.

As the families performed the last rites of their loved ones at Swargadwari on Wednesday, it provided them a much needed sense of closure. But their struggle to find the truth and seek justice has been long, grueling, and frustrating at every turn. Sanjeev’s father Jai Kishor Labh, who was a lawyer, went from one government office to another looking for answers and kept up the fight until his last breath.

“The anguish of not knowing how and why his son was disappeared eventually took our father’s life. Our 59-year-old-mother is extremely frail, she refuses to eat, but is still carrying on the search for justice. Her only wish before she dies is to see the accused being prosecuted in court,” says Mamata Karna, Sanjeev’s younger sister.

According to the NHRC’s press briefing in Dhanusha on Wednesday, Sanjeev and his friends had been blindfolded and shot by the army in a premeditated encounter. At the time of the murders, Chuda Bahadur Shrestha was the chief of the regional police office, Kuber Singh Rana, former IGP of police was then SSP in Dhanusha, Rewati Raj Kafle was the chief district officer, and Major Anup Adhikari was in charge of the Dharapani Army Barrack. But that is only half the truth. Victims’ families still don’t know why the men were targeted in the first place and we are nowhere close to trying the guilty.

Bed Prasad Bhattarai, acting secretary of the NHRC, however, is hopeful that those accused in the murder will be tried under criminal law very soon. “An investigation carried out by a constitutional body like the NHRC with the full involvement of the police and incriminating forensic evidence should put pressure on the government and speed up the process,” Bhattarai told me over the phone.

But the state’s continuing apathy does not give victims much reason for hope. The handing over of the remains in Janakpur this week was a watershed moment in Nepal’s history and yet the government didn’t bother to send a single representative from Kathmandu.


Bimala Devi Karna, mother of Sanjeev, at Swargadwari in Janakpur on Wednesday morning before his cremation.

“It was a day of mourning and grieving. The least the state could have done was to stand besides us, share our pain, and tell us that our brothers died for the good of this country. We didn’t need an apology from their side,” says Mamata. “Even Maoist leaders came to pay their respect to the dead. We felt like we had lost our guardians.”

In another brazen act earlier in the year, the Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation appointed Chuda Bahadur Shrestha in a taskforce set up to provide recommendations for a truth and reconciliation bill,  even after Shrestha had been named as one of the prime culprits in the Dhanusha case. The message the government seems to be sending out to thousands of victims and their families is that their sufferings and plight are simply not serious enough to warrant its attention.

While senior Maoist leaders Dev Gurung, Matrika Yadav, and Krishna Bahadur Mahara came to Janakpur to express their condolence and were quick to declare the five men as martyrs, they cannot absolve themselves of responsibility because their party has repeatedly occluded the path to justice. Kuber Singh Rana was promoted to the head of Nepal police in September 2012 at the time of Baburam Bhattarai’s government.

It was an act of self-preservation on Bhattarai’s behalf because if he had agreed to investigate and punish the security personnel involved in extra-judicial killings in Dhanusha, he would then be obligated to prosecute those accused of war crimes from his own party like Bal Krishna Dhungel.

It is this complicity of the two former enemies in covering each other’s backs that continues to hinder Nepal’s transitional justice mechanism and results in a toothless bill full of provisions for amnesty like the one that was passed in April this year.

Says Mamata Karna: “The case of my brother and his friends is clear so there is no need to wait for the TRC. There is ample proof, all we need is for those accused to be tried under criminal law immediately.”

Trishna Rana

(With additional reporting by Manik Jha and Ishwar Chandra Jha in Janakpur).


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Dhanusha 5

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

More than 10 years after their disappearance and murder, the remains of the five young men from Dhanusha is finally being handed over to their families today at Devi Chowk in Janakpur, the same place from where they were picked up by the joint security forces. Earlier today morning, Bed Bhattarai, acting secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, briefed the media about the case. State representatives were conspicuous by their absence.

On 8 October 2003, Sanjeev Kumar Karna (24), Durgesh Labh (23), Jitendra Jha (20), Pramod Narayan Mandal (19), Shailendra Yadav (17) along with six other friends were taken into custody while they were at a picnic. The ill-fated five were never seen again. They were reportedly taken to the banks of the Kamala River in Godar and shot dead by the army.

In August 2010, an exhumation team led by the NHRC unearthed four bodies near the Kamala River. The remains were sent to the University of Helsinki in Finland and the National Forensic Laboratory in Kathmandu for DNA testing. The remains of the fifth person were sent only last year for examination. Results confirmed that Karna, Labh, Jha, Mandal, and Yadav were the ones who were killed.

At the time of the murders, Chuda Bahadur Shrestha was the chief of the regional police office, Kuber Singh Rana, former IGP of Nepal Police was then SSP of the District Police Office in Dhanusha, Rewati Raj Kafle was the chief district officer in Dhanusha, and Major Anup Adhikari was at the Dharapani Army Barrack. In March this year, the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction appointed Shrestha in the 11-member taskforce which was set up to make recommendations for a TRC bill. Shrestha resigned after victims objected.

Trishna Rana

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Watered down

Friday, July 18th, 2014


Bikas Thapa, Annapurna Post, 18 July

Nepal has received from India a proposal themed on ‘Power Development’, the ratification of which would put Nepal’s water resources in its southern neighbour’s control.

According to points III and IIIa of the new proposal, only companies okayed by India would get to invest in hydro projects, Nepal itself would only be permitted to invest in partnership with India, and third-country investment would be disallowed.

Last week, energy Minister Radha Gyawali called water resource experts and former water and energy ministers to discuss the possible effects of this proposal on Nepal. Former Water Resource Minister Laxman Prasad Ghimire of Nepali Congress, one of the participants at the presentation, told her India’s proposal was an insult to Nepal.

In 2010, Nepal had sent India a proposal titled ‘Cross-border Interconnection for Electric Power Trade’, which sought to define the ways in which Nepal and India might trade power generated from hydroelectric projects developed by various investors in Nepal.

Succeeding governments have since been waiting for a reply. But according to former Minister for Water Resources, India’s late and unprecedented ‘reply’ is a disguised attempt to capture Nepal’s resources.

“For starters, they haven’t even acknowledged the fact that our government sent them an official proposal,” said Gyawali. “Their own proposal completely ignores the principles and possibilities of mutual benefits. Instead, they are trying to do to us what they’ve done in Bhutan.”

The controversial document is being seriously investigated into by the Ministry of Energy. But it hasn’t alerted other ministries nor has it made the proposal public. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also oblivious. At the meeting with experts, only points III and IIIa were discussed.

Minister Radha Gyawali says budget preparations, UML general convention, and the Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s treatment have distracted discussion and decision on the subject. But she refused to make the contents of the document public.

“All decisions will be taken through diplomacy,” she told Annapurna Post on Thursday.

Politicians and bureaucrats have been looking forward to what changes Narendra Modi’s premiership will have in the way Nepal is treated by India. But a participant in the meeting told us on the condition of anonymity: “This proposal shows that India bureaucracy has remained the same despite Modi’s victory and Nepal’s interests will continue to be hampered.”

Drama, tragedy, irony and surprises at the Cup of Cups

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Just days before the first World Cup game on June 12 in Sao Paulo, as final touches were being given to stadiums, walls being painted at bus stations and chairs being polished at airport, the scene was looking very similar to an Indian wedding, where the bride’s house is a picture of chaos till the groom’s party arrives at the doorstep. And then they begin to play music and suddenly everything falls into place. It’s the best example of organized chaos.

That’s how Brazil was looking before the ball started rolling a month ago. But, as in Indian wedding the scene changes with the arrival of the bride, here too everything began playing to some invisible music after local hero Neymar sent the ball into the Croatian goal for the first time. Then the World Cup began to work like a well-oiled machine, with every cog working to perfection.

It was the most emotional world cup ever, with both winners and losers shedding tears in equal proportion.

The opening had its share of drama as the Brazilian team arrived with tears in their eyes. Several legs were trembling when 70,000 people sand the national anthem in one voice. Many had bitter taste in the mouth when some moneyed sections of the crowd threw curses at the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff. But as Brazil romped home 3-1, everything was forgiven.

Then it was a roller-coaster ride of football at its best. Played under falling rain of Amazon or the northeast sun baking their backs or chilly winds of Brazilian south, the World Cup was a goal feast, with 2.7 goals scored per game – the highest ever. New stars and new names emerged as some old reputations were destroyed and great expectations failed to materialize.

The World Cup saw a new world order emerge. Even before the tournament entered the knock-out stages, European football powers like Spain, Italy, England and Portugal had been sent home. And making their entry into the last of 16 were Colombia, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Ghana and Algeria. After the quarter-finals, even France and Belgium were on their way back, while South American powerhouses Brazil and Argentina were moving smoothly, looking all set for a dream final at the Maracana.

But the Cup of Cups needed a bit of tragedy too. That happened in the first semi-final, with Brazil losing the game to Germany 7-1. With that humiliation, Brazil also lost the awe it had. With 0-3 loss to Holland in the third place play-off, Brazil’s humiliation was complete. Only consolation for 200 million Brazilians was that their arch-rival, Argentina, lost the final to Germany.

But the irony of the final was that Lionel Messi, who failed to score in all the four knock-out games, got the Golden Ball Award for being the “best player of the tournament”, while Thomas Muller, James Rodriguez and Arjen Robben failed to make the cut. That made even Argentine great Maradona call the award a “marketing gimmick”.

And then there was a big surprise. Brazil lost the game on the pitch, but it won off it. Before the tournament, they were predicting that the World Cup would be a disaster, but by the time it ended on July 13, everyone had good things to say about the “Cup of Cups”. The stadiums were excellent, with perfect atmosphere. The flights had been on time and lines at airports short and quick. The hotels had been warm and efficient. And even the much-maligned taxi drivers were friendly and helpful.

But the biggest positive for Brazil in this World Cup has been its people. As they travelled across this country, several European journalists were wondering why the people are “so nice and always smiling”. Those who came here fearing robberies and mugging on the streets have gone back with the memories of singing, dancing and partying on the streets.

Of course, Brazil’s loss in the semi-finals brought down the people’s enthusiasm.  But all those who predicted chaos and violence in case of Brazil’s loss have been proven wrong. Brazil accepted the defeat with great dignity. Brazil lost the World Cup but it won over the world off the field.

In South Asian countries, we joke that in the end, everything will be fine and if it’s not fine, it’s not the end yet. But in Brazil, everything was fine even before the end.

Shobhan Saxena

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Gold for Sapana

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
Photo: Basil Edward Teo

Photo: Basil Edward Teo

Devaki Bista, Himal Khabarpatrika, 13 July

When Nepali Times met 16-year-old Sapana*(pic, right) last month, she was training hard for the 8th World Taekwondo Cultural Expo in Korea and showed no sign of her traumatic past. This week, she has returned from the tournament with a gold medal.

For the seven other Nepali participants, who like Sapana were also victims of sexual violence, her victory was more than just a sporting success. But for Sapana, winning was still not enough to make her smile.

In 2012, Sapana, then 14, was raped by Sagar Bhatta and Amar Awasthi as she was travelling for her SLC examinations in Patan, Baitadi. The Baitadi District Court announced a Rs 50,000 fine and 13-year jail terms for Bhatta and Awasthi.

But this April, an appellate court in Mahendranagar released the two rapists. Once out, they threatened her father to not make any further appeals. Sapana moved to Kathmandu, where she stayed with Rakshya Nepal, an organisation that helps in rehabilitating sexual abuse victims.

Government lawyer Prakash Bahadur Bhandari, who has been fighting Sapana’s case, says he is not satisfied with the court’s decision and will appeal for justice again. Sapana herself can’t believe what has happened.

“What were the judges thinking when they let them go free,” she asks.

After years of counselling, Sapana was able to sit her SLC examinations this year and passed with first division grades. For someone who always topped her class, going back to school wasn’t difficult, but she was often haunted by the assault that changed her life two years ago. In between her studies – she wants to be a lawyer – she also took up Taekwondo lessons and earned a blue belt. Her gold medal this week has been well-earned.

*Sapana’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.


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