Nepali Times

Turning grief into hope

Monday, August 25th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorji Tsering Sherpa at Bastipur's school and stupa.

Dorji Tsering Sherpa at Bastipur’s school and stupa.

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

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

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

Gokarna Gautam in Nepal, 24-31 August

SKY Memorial Foundation

+977 9851018820

See also:
Immortal memorial

Hotel Echo’s last moments

For Nepali original:

Relief, rehab, recovery

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunkoshi landslide dam area

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

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

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

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

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

Nepali steps in Norway

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marit Bakke in Gaustadtoppen

Read also: 

Nepali steps in Norway

Himalayan and Sourya

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Two new private airlines poised to start operations

Bombardier CRJ 200

Bombardier CRJ 200. Source: RSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic jet service

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

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

Brand yourself

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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

Nepal: What are you doing in Nepal?

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

How does one become a good blogger?

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

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

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

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

The internet is my biggest source.

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

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

What makes you so special?

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

Justice under threat

Monday, August 18th, 2014

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

Dekendra Thapa. Photo: Dhruba Basnet

Dekendra Thapa. Photo: Dhruba Basnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tufan Neupane in Nepalgunj

See music video of Dekendra Thapa singing Karnali song

Read also:

Dekendra’s grave Janak Nepal

Transitional injustice, Kunda Dixit’s blog

Reign of terror in Dailekh, Damakant Jayshi 

Shooting the messenger, Editorial

Just want justice, Dambar K Shrestha

Hindi-Nippon Bhai Bhai?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Nationalist leaders in Japan and India link forces amid concern over aggressive Chinese policies

Narendra Modi with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Joining force: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting Gujarat in 2007 with then Gujarat chief minister, now Indian prime minister, Narendra Mod (top); India invited Japan to join in joint exercise with the United States in July

NEW DELHI: Asia’s leading nations have been slowly coming together to face the challenge of an assertive China. To the chagrin of Beijing, US, Indian and Japanese naval vessels gathered for a joint exercise in the Pacific ostensibly against piracy and terrorism. The rise of nationalist leaders in Japan and India, combined with growing US concern about aggressive Chinese policy, have created new dynamics in the region.

The Malabar exercise, an annual affair between the United States and India, commenced on 24 July at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. China had reacted angrily in 2007 when the United States and India invited Japan, Australia and Singapore for the Malabar exercises. Under pressure from Beijing, New Delhi backed off and since then had refrained from making these exercises multilateral. But China’s growing maritime ambitions in the Indian Ocean region and greater assertion on territorial issues have led India to a more forceful posture, resulting in joint India-Japan naval exercises since 2012 and the invite to Japan this year for the Malabar series.

India-Japan ties are expected to get a boost from the personal camaraderie of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both leaders are emblematic of a new, ambitious and nationalistic Asian landscape. They have decisive mandates to reshape the economic and strategic future of their respective nations.

Modi has already underlined that India and Japan share a “fundamental identity of values, interests and priorities.” Japan’s economic and technological development has inspired Modi to emulate the Japan model, with flexible and bold fiscal policy that encourages private investment in infrastructure and technology. Modi’s first bilateral visit outside South Asia was supposed to be Japan, but the Indian Parliament’s budget session precluded this from happening. Moreover, Modi wanted that visit to showcase sconcrete deliverables. He wrote personally to the Japanese prime minister to express his regret, and speculation is underway that his trip to Japan, set for August, will result in big-ticket announcements.

Since serving as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi has enjoyed a close relationship with Abe. Modi is just one of three people followed by the Japanese prime minister on Twitter, along with a journalist and Abe’s wife. Abe, a longstanding admirer of India, has been a strong votary of strategic ties between New Delhi and Tokyo. For Abe, “a strong India is in the best interest of Japan, and a strong Japan is in the best interest of India.” He was one of the first Asian leaders to envision a “broader Asia,” linking the Pacific and Indian oceans to form the Indo-Pacific. And as he has gone about reconstituting Japan’s role as a security provider in the region and beyond, India, of all Japan’s neighbors, seems most willing to acknowledge Tokyo’s centrality in shaping the evolving security architecture in the Indo-Pacific. At the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in May, Abe claimed a larger security role of Japan in Asia by assisting countries like the Philippines which have territorial disputes with China, suggesting that “Japan will offer its utmost support for the efforts of the countries of ASEAN as they work to ensure the security of the seas and the skies.” He went on to underscore US-Japan-India cooperation as a driving force for regional security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.

Modi would like to use his personal connection with Abe to consolidate national ties. The Japanese corporate sector is enthused by Modi’s victory, looking to boost its presence in India, and Modi will be building on his personal ties with the Japanese businesses cemented during his tenure in Gujarat, to give a fillip to Japanese investment in India. India is the largest recipient of Japanese foreign aid. The Japan International Cooperation Agency has been involved in the funding of Delhi Metro, India’s biggest subway system, and has agreed to fund the next phase of the Mumbai subway. Japan is expected to play a major role in a number of high profile infrastructure projects, including completion of the ambitious Delhi Mumbai industrial corridor, a Chennai-Bangalore industrial corridor and a dedicated freight project in southern India. India has also invited Japan to invest in infrastructure projects in India’s northeastern region, where tensions with China loom large. India has expressed keen interest in buying Japanese ShinMaywa amphibious aircraft, the US-2i, a deal of around 15 planes worth more than $1.5 billion.

China, observing these trends, has been reaching out to the Modi government, both via bilateral and multilateral means. China and India, as part of the larger BRICS grouping, took one step towards challenging the western dominance of the global economic and financial order in July when they decided to set up the New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai, to finance infrastructure and development projects. At the bilateral level, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who visited Delhi in June as special envoy of the Chinese president to meet the new Indian leadership and boost bilateral ties saluted the new Modi government for injecting “new vitality into an ancient civilisation.” In an attempt to woo New Delhi at time when Chinese relations with Japan and Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam and Philippines have been deteriorating, Wang underlined that China was ready for a final settlement of its border disputes with India and prepared to invest more in India.

But the tensions show no sign of abating and Modi remains a nationalist looking to raising India’s profile on the global stage. He invited the political head of the Tibetan government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, for his swearing-in ceremony to which China reacted with a démarche. In a highly symbolic move, former Indian army chief General V.K. Singh was named a minister in Modi’s cabinet, holding the dual charge of the affairs of India’s northeastern states bordering China as well as being the junior minister in the ministry of external affairs. Though India has been trying to beef up border defenses vis-à-vis China that process suffered from lack of direction. Singh, who served in the area in his military capacity, wants to prioritize development in the northeastern region so as to narrow the gap with the Chinese infrastructure development on the other side of the border. For the first time, a young member of parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, Kiren Rijiju, has been given a key ministerial position in the cabinet – minister of state for home – to underscore the administration’s intention of making the troubled northeastern region a priority. Lamenting the fact that India has, even after 68 years of independence, failed to ensure connectivity in its border areas, giving China a strategic advantage, Rijiju has been vocal about the need to strengthen the forces guarding the border where China claims more than 90,000 square kilometers of land disputed by New Delhi in the eastern sector of the Himalayas, including most of Arunachal Pradesh, called South Tibet by China.

At a time when China has alienated most of its neighbors with aggressive rhetoric and actions, India has an opportunity to expand its profile and work proactively with other likeminded states to ensure a stable regional order. Given the Modi-Abe connection, many expect a paradigm shift in Indian-Japanese relations. Whether or not that happens, Japan will remain a priority for India in the coming years.

Harsh V. Pant