Land rights activist Jagat Deuja says at the root of Nepal’s inequality is unequal distribution of land. “Those who owned lots of property had most of the opportunities to study and earn income, while the descendants of those who had no land became poorer and poorer,” Deuja says.
Rising real estate value and the land price bubble in urban areas have fuelled inequality as the already rich have cashed in big time through property speculation and investment in prime real estate. The chaotic growth of Kathmandu Valley, Pokhara, and other urban areas is an indication of this trend. Nepal used to import 4,000 private cars a year till a decade ago, today that figure has soared to 14,000 vehicles.
Corruption, impunity, political instability have added fuel to the fire. Collusion between business, the bureaucracy and politicians have created a hydra-headed monster that means any attempt to distribute wealth and opportunity is fiercely resisted. Corruption in the agency created to curb corruption is a vivid indication of this nexus. Nepal dropped two points this year to rank 124 among 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
Sociologist Pitambar Sharma says the state’s emphasis on economic growth must go hand-in-hand with distribution. “Prosperity does not mean a few people get rich, it means lifting those who are left behind. Social development and stability are at risk if we continue to ignore economic inequality while talking about prosperity.”