Nepali Times

Come together

Thursday, August 7th, 2014
.................................................................................................................., 4 August

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the Madhesi leaders from all parties together when he was in Kathmandu. But judging from their body language, the leaders seem to have been  disappointed with what he had to say.

During the meeting, TMLP Chairman Mahantha Thakur and Sadbhavana Chairman Rajendra Mahato complained that they were discriminated against by the Nepali state. “But Modi told us we must attempt to join all regions together,” said Madhes Samata Party Chairman Meghraj Nishadh.

NC leader Amresh Kumar Singh reportedly asked Modi why he used the word ‘Tarai’ instead of  ‘Madhes’ and why he talked only about projects in the hills. “There is poverty and unequal development, so I talked about developing the Madhes,” Singh told after the visit.

During his speech to parliament, Modi talked about Nepal’s mountains, hills and plains being one, and heaped praise on Gorkha soldiers. Normally, Nepal’s Madhesi leaders don’t even want to hear the word ‘Gorkhali’. This, Singh confirms, is what bugged them.

“Modi told us India would help in the development of Madhes but requested us to rise above anti-hill sentiments,” one leader said afterwards. He added Modi said they should think the country, not its regions. This stance was confirmed by messages released by Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

The leaders reportedly also told Modi that the political aspirations of Madhesi people would only be fulfilled if federalism was based on Madhesi identity. But in reply, Modi reminded them to make a garland of many kinds of flowers.


Agreeing to agree

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Interview with Baburam Bhattarai, Chairman of the Political Consultation Committee on the Constitution in Annapurna Post, 4 August

Annapurna Post: There is only one month left for an agreement on the contentious issues in the constitution. In the current scenario, can that deadline be met?

Baburam Bhattarai: They say leave the difficult issues till the last, but before that we have to build trust between the various groups, understand their positions, find compromises. So, we are concentrating on areas in which an agreement had eluded us in the previous CA. We have agreed to find points of agreement.


How can there be an agreement when the parties haven’t even started discussing state restructuring and form of government?

I have spoken to the top leaders. Now, we have agreed to use Track Two channels to explore points of compromise on state restructuring, forms of governance and modalities for elections.


Have you seen any of the differences being narrowed?

We can’t just hope, we have to find a meeting point. All sides have to back down a bit, that is the only way we find a solution. We also have to realise what will happen if we don’t find an agreement. If no one gives an inch, the constitution will not be written, and if that happens everything we struggled for and attained will be lost.


Does this mean you are near agreeing to a mixed system as the middle points between parliamentary and presidential systems?

Difficult for me to say, but try to understand that an agreement will be different from everyone’s present stand.


Who will have executive power, the president or prime minister?

I won’t be able to answer that either because that may affect an agreement. All I can say is that we will try to find a formula acceptable to all, and we can’t go back to before the 12-point agreement to find that meeting point. Because if that happens there is a danger of another rebellion.

And what kind of federalism would be the most suitable?

This is the most crucial issue. In fact, a republic is just a political format, but political and economic transformation will happen through state restructuring. It was this issue on which the last CA had to be dissolved. I feel the parties have learnt their lessons from that and will try to find a compromise.


Which model is the committee closest to: the 7, 11 or 14-province formula?

The most suitable would be to use the recommendations of the previous State Restructuring and Sharing of State Power Committee and the State Restructuring High-level Commission as a starting point.


Will there be more or fewer provinces, then?

More than the number of provinces, the important point is on what basis we should form them. So far the consensus is to use the five criteria of identity (ethnic, community, linguistic, historic and geographic) and the four criteria of capacity (geographical continuity, administrative efficiency, natural resource base, and potential for economic growth) to demarcate provinces. The federal system will be based on these criteria, and the number of provinces will also be decided on that basis.


But the parties don’t seem t be serious about meeting the deadline?

I have said we should work day and night to finish it. The Modi visit distracted the government for one-two weeks, hence the delay. Now, we will intensify our discussions.


Is there now a realisation among the three main parties that an agreement is necessary?

Everyone has his own stand, but everyone also knows that a there is no alternative to an agreement this time. If the constitution is not finished, all our efforts and sacrifices will be in vain. We will lose everything we fought for. Deep inside, the top leaders have the realisation.


It is said the last CA was dissolved because we didn’t factor in the sensitivities of our neighbours. This time, some parties have done a U-turn, right?

I don’t think the neighbours had a decisive role last time. State restructuring is our internal matter, and the neighbours will naturally be interested in how that will affect their national interest.

But isn’t China worried about ethnic provinces along the north, and India in how many provinces there will be along the south?

Not at all. That’s wrong. Both want stability in Nepal, and they will go along with whatever ensures stability. They haven’t told us do this, or don’t do that.


A flood of floods

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

As a young cub reporter, I was just starting out in journalism in 1981. This was the time before Twitter and smartphones, and when we heard that there had been a flood on the Bhote Kosi two of us packed our bags and hit the Arniko Highway in our trusty VW Beetle.

We crested the ridge past Dolalghat to be confronted with an angry dark river with ocean-like waves carrying tree trunks and other debris downstream.  We could see the high-water mark on the banks, and knew that the flood had been much higher at night.

By the time we got to Lamosangu and approached the Sun Kosi intake barrage, the road abruptly vanished at almost the exact spot near Jure where Saturday morning’s deadly landslide occurredThe small bazar is now under tons of rocks and mud, the landslide blocked the Bhote Kosi and dammed a lake that stretches 3km upstream.

In 1981, nearly 20 km of the Arniko Highway and all its bridges were washed away, the Sun Kosi power house was seriously damaged and there was loss of life and property all the way down the valley. Everyone thought it was a monsoon flood, but the event was later traced to a glacial lake high up on the northern side of the Himalaya in Tibet. Like other rivers in Nepal, the Bhote Kosi is prone to glacial lake outburst floods, and geologists have found evidence of previous events in 1935 and 1964. 

This time, it was a massive slope failure tumbling down and blocking a major trans-Himalayan river. The landslide started at 3AM on a steep slope about 1,000 m above the river near to where there had been a smaller landslide four years previously. The residents of Jure had no warning and most of them were asleep when the whole side of a mountain fell on their homes. Some 15 injured were rescued, eight bodies have been recovered, but dozens of others are believed to entombed under rock.

Pic: Saroj Dong

Pic: Saroj Dong

The landslide covers a swathe 500m across and filled the river with rocks and mud 100m thick. Such was the energy of the impact, that the landslide scoured a heavily forested slope on the opposite bank. Dust from the pulverised rocks have turned the forest brown right up the mountain on the other side.

A section of the Arniko Highway joining Nepal and China has been destroyed again, transmission lines from the 46MW Bhote Kosi plant has been cut, the powerhouse of the 2MW Sanima project has been submerged.

“I am shocked by the size of the bishyari,” says water expert Dipak Gyawali, using the Nepali term for landslide blockage of a river. “I hope the Nepal Army can release the water before the lake upstream gets any bigger and more dangerous.”

All day Saturday, the government warned citizens downstream to evacuate to higher ground. And there was alert even 250km downstream at the Kosi Barrage and across the border in Bihar. By 2PM, the impounded lake started to find a small channel around the debris, and Nepal Army engineers set off controlled explosions to widen it. As night fell, the water level was down by 2m and falling. Experts, however, warn that there is still a danger that heavy rains in the catchment or erosion of the natural dam could cause overtopping.  There is an estimated 6 million cubic metres of water backed up which could cause catastrophic floods downstream.

International landslide expert Dave Petley of Durham University has researched the Bhote Kosi Valley, and writes in his blog that a major landslide in the area was not a surprise. ‘The images suggest that there is no reason to be confident that the dam will not breach … which could generate a very large flood; when full the effects could be very serious,’ he writes.

Petley advises action on three priority areas: Evacuate people downstream, put a warning system in place, excavate a channel with heavy machinery. The government, police and Nepal Army seem to be following this advice to the letter. An army unit is at the site monitoring the water level overnight, and will widen the channel if levels rise again.

Unlike previous floods where downstream settlements were caught off guard, on Saturday most people knew through mobile phone calls or the radio that the river had been blocked upstream. In some places like Lamosangu there were stampedes in the morning as panic spread.

Saturday’s flood also saw social networking sites breaking the news, posting photographs and videos which the tv channels and others used. Kapil Dhital , an engineer with the Mid-Bhote Kosi Hydropower Project, was the first on twitter (@bewitchkapil) with a post at 5:50 AM from Barabise, saying ‘a whole mountain has fallen into the river, Barabise in danger’. All day, Dhital posted dramatic photographs of the lake level rising and submerging the Sanima powerhouse, and of the landslide debris from various angles:

Bhote Koshi landslide 2

Bhote Koshi landslide 4

Bhote Koshi landslide 5

The most unique photograph is one of the river from above the point where the landslide originated and posted on which shows the width of the river blockage, the scouring on the opposite bank and the lake starting to back up.

Bhote Koshi landslide 1

The crisis is not over on the Bhote Kosi and Sun Kosi Valleys, but it is yet another reminder that Himalayan rivers can be unpredictable due to monsoon floods, landslide and glacial lake outburst floods. Human settlements and infrastructure have to take this risk into account.

Kunda Dixit

Photos from Nepal Army: 

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations  2

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations 3

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations 4

Nepal Army mobilized for rescue operations 5



Flash flood feared

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

A major landslide about 500m wide has dropped down on the Bhote Kosi River upstream from Dolalghat, already forming a lake 5km long.

Pic: Saroj Dong

Pic: Saroj Dong

A big section of the Arniko Highway joining Nepal and China has been washed away, and the lake is inundating settlements, farms and bridges. There is a danger that the lake will burst, unleashing a flashflood downstream.

Local police is said to have been deployed, and the Nepal Army is undertaking aerial reconnaissance. Settlements downstream up to the Sun Kosi have been notified. As word spread, there is panic in some areas as people fled to higher ground.

The landslide site is 1km upstream from the intake structure of the Sun Kosi Power House at Dolalghat, and downstream from the Bhote Kosi Hydroelectric Project.

Bhote Kosi Time Bomb

The town of Jure has been completely buried under debris that blocked Bhote Kosi river.

A previous flashflood created by a glacial lake burst in Tibet caused a devastating flood on the Bhote Kosi in 1982, washing off a 20km section of the Highway, damaging power stations and killing at least 12 people.

Filed: 08.30AM

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 
Read also:
Lethal veggies

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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