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Nepal relaxing lockdown afterall

Finance and Information Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada told a media briefing on Wednesday evening that the Cabinet extended the COVID-19 lockdown till 18 May, but it had also decided to relax rules on manufacturing, industries and banking sectors. 

These would be partially opened with certain restrictions on distancing and health monitoring of workers, and that the decision about opening up would be done in coordination with local governments. 

The industries included in the list are: food production and processing, dairies, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment manufacturers, water supply, brick kilns, livestock and fisheries, feed industries, sugar, tea and LPG. Also to be opened will be noodles industries, bakeries, poultry, dairy, and processing of other agricultural products.

Among the non-food industries to be relaxed are cement, paint, plywood, plastic pipes, sand and crushers, steel and electrical equipment.

However, the following rules apply: factories cannot have more than ten workers in one place at a time, and workers get health check-ups daily. For the time being, workers also need to stay in dorms, and eat in canteens at their workplaces, without coming in contact with local people or family members.

Open season on hacking into gov.np

More than 400 Nepal government websites went down for hours on Saturday, disrupting services and inconveniencing thousands of passengers at Kathmandu airport, exposing the vulnerability to hacking of the gov.np domain.

Hackers appear to have targeted the government’s only central data bank at the Government Integrated Data Centre (GIDC) with a ‘Distributed-Denial of Service’ attack, possibly from abroad, and knocked out most government ministry websites, including the database of the Department of Immigration as well as Passports.

The attack began at noon on Saturday and lasted at least four hours. Since it was a holiday, government offices like the Department of Transport’s licensing department or the passport issuance office, were not affected. The greatest disruption was at the airport where chaotic queues began forming at the immigration desks both at the arrival and departure areas.

Many international flights, including those to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kuala Lumpur and Doha were delayed by up to three hours. There were serpentine queues at the arrival concourse as the visa machines and consoles at the immigration desk went out of action.

Immigration officials had to manually issue visas and check passports, registering arrivals and departures the old-fashioned way by hand on ledgers. The servers came back online only after technicians at the GIDC made its mainframe inaccessible from abroad. However, the backlog led to flight delays into Saturday evening. Domestic flights were not affected.    

The GIDC is managed by the National Information Technology Centre (NITC) at Singha Darbar, the heart of Nepal’s federal government in Kathmandu, and this is not the first time it has been hacked – although this is the longest and most serious disruption so far.

The NITC said in a statement that it had launched a probe into the cyberattack, and pledged to find the bugs in the system that allowed it to occur. It said its servers were overwhelmed by intentionally generated fake internet users and that shut them down automatically, but added that no data was compromised.

Nepalis travelling abroad need to have their names checked, photos taken and their passports scanned by the system, while students and migrant workers need to have their permits verified on servers. Incoming passengers also need to be checked, with their boarding passes and passports scanned into the database. Foreigners need to get their e-visas checked and verified, vetted on the Interpol database, or obtain a visa on arrival, which is all handled by the immigration server.

With the government servers out of service, none of these functions could take place. However, the website of the prime minister’s office and those of various ministries also went down due to the attack – fanning fears that more serious attacks in future could compromise national security, and the data breach could lead to theft of personal data of Nepalis and foreigners. 

An architect of a better Sikkim

Kailash Pradhan was one of many independent candidates to run in Sikkim’s non-partisan municipal elections in 2021. All photos courtesy: KAILASH PRADHAN

Corruption was rife. There was rank opportunism. Service delivery was poor and impunity had become institutionalised. There was environmental degradation everywhere in the mountains.

No, we are not talking about Nepal. This is Sikkim, which till 1975 was an independent Himalayan kingdom, and has been a state of India since its annexation.

Like in Nepal’s 2022 polls, professionals fed up with the way Sikkim was being governed, and impatient for change decided to contest elections. One of them was architect Kailash Pradhan. 

“When I noticed the state of affairs in Sikkim, I felt like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand,” recalls Pradhan. “I was thinking about architecture and beautiful designs, but that was not what Sikkim needed.” 

Pradhan studied in Ahmedabad to be an architect and spent time in Zurich as an exchange student. But he always intended to come back and build a life in Sikkim.

Preparing for the elections.

Pradhan with fellow candidates from Upper MG Marg (left) and Lower MG Marg (right).

“When people asked me if I was going to stay in Zurich, I often wondered to myself what I was going to do there that hadn’t already been done,” Pradhan says.

He eventually came back to India, and spent some years in Delhi, being one of the very few Sikkimese architects to work with the government. In the early 90s, he returned to Sikkim, building his own architectural practice.

As the years passed, Pradhan became more and more aware of the socio-politics of Sikkim. New Delhi had historically poured money into the geopolitically-sensitive state, with most people benefiting directly from federal grants.

There was a lack of transparency everywhere. Sikkim’s nature was being destroyed by an infrastructure spree. Watching all this unfold, Pradhan started feeling a professional restlessness and he took up a job offer in Bhutan where he was witness to Bhutan’s transition from an absolute monarchy to a democracy. 

Five years later, he returned to Sikkim with a fresh perspective, inspired to do more activism back home. In 2020, Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang’s government amended the Sikkim Municipality Act, abolishing party-based municipal and local elections.

Candidates contesting municipal elections could not be affiliated with any political party, and could not receive direct or indirect support from them. Essentially, candidates for local governments were independent. 

When municipal elections were announced in Sikkim in early 2021, Pradhan’s friends, including his business partner, approached him to contest the election.

“My knee-jerk reaction was to refuse,” says Pradhan, having not been interested in anything political till then. But he was familiar with politics, since his father had been a government employee, and his uncle was active in the anti-Chogyal revolution in the 1970s leading to a referendum that abolished the monarchy.

Eventually, Pradhan filed his candidacy and became one of 64 aspirants in two wards of Gangtok Municipal Corporation. Pradhan and his team deliberately did not seek funding from businesses and contractors, conducting a ‘zero-budget’ campaign.

Pradhan with his campaign team and volunteers.

“When parties need money they reach out to businesses, and then become crony capitalists, giving rise to oligarchies,” says Pradhan. But supporters would voluntarily support him with cheques for small amounts, food, beer.  

By this time, Pradhan was known among locals for stopping the Sikkim government from felling almost 400 trees to make way for new roads. His team had around 25 volunteers: friends who were photographers, graphic artists, filmmakers — and social media became his medium to reach voters. 

Pradhan lost in both Gangtok wards in Municipal elections in 2021. The winning candidates belonged to the governing party, even though it had not explicitly thrown its support behind them, as per the rules. “You can take the party out of elections, but you cannot take the party out of voters,” Pradhan explains, admitting that he may not have been able to connect to grassroots voters who may not have had access to his social media outreach.  

But Pradhan is encouraged by the people he met and the team he built throughout the campaign. He says, “We connected the most with young people who are much more egalitarian and have much less ego. And while the winners indicated that things have gone back to normal, it was good to see so many independent candidates contesting the election.”

Next time, anyone contesting from Sikkim could take a tip or two from Nepal’s own independent mayors elected in 2022, and the independent Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) which rose to become the fourth party in Parliament just five months after it was formed.  

Adventures of a little dumpling named Momo (and other books)

Photos: MOMO AND UNCLE YETI

In the high Himalaya of Nepal, a little dumpling child Momo wakes up to the sight of the majestic mountains. While on an adventure to climb one of the peaks, Momo receives an invitation from a family member via postcard to travel to a different land with a promise of an exciting undertaking.

Thus begins the journey of Momo to New York to find Uncle Yeti who went there to sample the various food the city has to offer.

Washington DC-based Nepali-American author Sibani Karki chronicles Momo’s voyage to the Big Apple in a new children’s book, Momo and Uncle Yeti: Adventures in New York City. Her poetic prose is accompanied by artist Oleg Goncharov’s spectacular illustrations which make the book a visual treat for both children and adults alike.

“The book represents my own journey to the US as a child from Nepal and also some of my favourite things in life: travel, good food, cultures and family,” says Karki, who moved to the US when she was 11.

New country meant new people, new experiences, and living between two cultures. It was also an opportunity to connect with and share her own Nepaliness. And one way Karki does that is through food.

As any immigrant can attest, food brings one closer to home. With food, one makes new friends, can court lovers, understand a new country, hold on to memories of a home left behind.

“Momo parties happen more frequently here than in Nepal,” says Karki. “More than food, momo is a feeling. And having a momo party is an opportunity to get together, share stories, and reconnect with friends and family.”

As someone who enjoys myths, Karki knew she had to include the Yeti as one of her characters. However, Karki’s Uncle Yeti is not scary. He is jolly, has an insatiable hunger and loves getting lost in new cities while hunting for new tasty food.

Like many Nepali children, Karki did not grow up with a book culture at home and developed a reading habit only after moving to the US. At bookstores, she often found herself in the children’s book section leafing through the colourful pages with vivid images.

But what was missing in the books was the representation of characters with life experiences and culture people like she could relate to.

She started writing the story of Momo and Uncle Yeti in 2016 while at Columbia University. But it was not until the pandemic that she finally got a chance to sit down and collate it into a book.

While she ran the rhymes by her family, she struggled to find an artist for the illustrations. A few collaborations fell through as the art style wasn’t what she was looking for. Then, a chance meeting with designer Larry Issa at a farmers’ market helped her connect with illustrator Oleg Goncharov.

There was a catch: Goncharov did not speak English, and lived in Crimea. So, the entire conversation between the two happened on Google translate. One cannot tell, leafing the book, of the struggle to communicate between the two. 

“Working on the story of Yeti and Momo was a completely new experience for me. Despite the fact that I have been illustrating books for more than 12 years, I have not yet worked on a project in which fairy-tale characters would travel to the real sights of the city. So the idea to add more fabulous creatures besides Momo and Uncle Yeti was born. And dragons, fairies and others appeared on the pages of the book. I am very glad that Sibani supported this idea,” says Goncharv.

From realistic depictions of the airports and landmarks in Kathmandu and New York to a more creative approach in assimilating animals and humans, Goncharov’s gorgeous images add another dimension to Karki’s words.

“From my experience with my nieces Kaia and Yara, I know that children sometimes take to the smallest characters in the book. They will notice the small ladybug rather than the big main character. Since it is a children’s book, not everything had to make sense. The anthropomorphism in the book is also to show the cohesion of animals and humans,” she explains.

Coming from a close-knit family, the names of relatives are scattered through the book. Pramila Soon Pasal is named after her mother, Shyam Chiya Pasal after her father. The names of her brother, sister-in-law, husband, nieces also make an appearance.

Karki now works as a gender specialist at the World Bank and has also included other aspects she is passionate about in the book. At Times Square where Momo goes looking for Uncle Yeti, the usual advertisements are peppered with social messages including those of gender equality, inclusivity and positivity.

Rosy cheeks with big inquisitive eyes, Karki’s Momo enjoys discovering new places, eating new food, solving puzzles, and is gender neutral. “Often, we see that adventure is associated with boys. But I want the children to see themselves in the pages and connect with the characters. So, Momo is not a he or she or they, Momo is just Momo,” she says.

While New Yorkers have a reputation for being brusque, there is also a sense of community in the city’s diversity. This comes across as Momo runs (hops?) around the city looking for Uncle Yeti.

Karki’s Momo and Uncle Yeti are very Nepali and the high-rises of the Himalaya and New York will make it relatable for not only the global Nepali audience but also those who are familiar with Nepal – weaving a sense of adventure, appetite for food and travel, appreciation of one’s family, and tolerance of different cultures.

The book is available on Amazon and through momoandyeti.com. It will soon be launched in Nepal. 

Momo and Uncle Yeti: Adventures in New York

Sibani Karki

Illustrations by Oleg Goncharov

Pathways LLC, 2022

38 pages

$20.50

Sathi

Sathi is an exquisitely illustrated bilingual book for children and adults that tells a fairy tale story of an abandoned dog, who is scalded on Kukur Tihar by a city shopkeeper. Sathi, the dog, is miserable and in pain as she licks her wounds by a garbage pile, until she finds a benefactor who takes her to the real-life animal shelter, KAT Centre in Kathmandu. She is cared for at the dog home, and the burns on her back heal slowly. She makes friends with other dogs at the shelter who have also been attacked, abandoned, or hit by cars, and finally emigrates to a new forever home in Canada.

Sathi: The Street Dog from Kathmandu, Nepal

साथी: काठमाडौँ सडकको एक कुकुर

Julu

Illustrations by Jenny Campbell

Nepali translations by Angeela Shrestha and Suraj Shrestha

Vajra Publications, 2021

44 pages

$14.95

The Wak-a-Too

Another international children’s book featuring Nepal is the soon-to-be published The Wak-a-Too by Nepali film-maker Eelum Dixit (who himself became a father recently), and is lavishly illustrated (pictured, right) by the US-based Dutch designer Eveline Wijdeveld. The book begins with an ornithological overview of Nepal, including its urban birds and then takes children into a dreamlike fantasy world of the Wak-a-Too. At the end of the book, young readers are asked to draw their own versions of the imaginary Wak-a-Too and post them @thewakatoo on Instagram and Facebook.

The Wak-a-Too

by Eelum Dixit

Illustrated by Eveline Wijdeveld

Very Tale Books, 2023

45 pages

Hardback: $27.99

Are You a Snow Leopard?

Written by Sandra Shiwani Van Doesburg and illustrated by Kanchan Burathoki, Are You a Snow Leopard? tells the story of Hiuko, a snow leopard who goes looking for others of her kind to befriend. As she traverses through the mountains, she meets and befriends other animals found in Nepal: Ooney, the yak, Chulbuli, the blue sheep, Jooney, the black bear, Bhukule, the red panda, and finally Tiktikey, the snow leopard.

Sandra and Kanchan met in fourth grade in a boarding school in Nepal. After high school, Kanchan went to Boston and Sandra to Rotterdam. They reconnected 15 years later to work together on the story of Hiuko, which primarily has an underlying message of diversity and inclusion. The book also features photographs by renowned wildlife photographer Chungba Sherpa.

Are You a Snow Leopard?

Sandra Shiwani Van Doesburg

Illustrations by Kanchan Burathoki

Van Doesburd Creative Works, 2021

28 pages

Hardback: Rs1,850 | Paperback: Rs1,550

The Ambassador’s Dog

This delightful children’s book is the tale of Lo Khyi (Lo for Mustang, and khyi, which fortuitously means both ‘dog’ and ‘happiness’ in Tibetan), a pup that dared to dream big and who went on to become the source of happiness for Scott who adopted the dog to America after his tenure in Nepal. ‘Scott’ in the book is Scott H DeLisi, who served as the real-life American ambassador in Kathmandu from 2010-12. The Ambassador’s Dog has a dream-like quality to it, but at its heart is a story of optimism and positivity. Lo Khyi is a canine medium for an important message: set goals for yourselves and believe in them. And somehow (stars will align, or you will find avenues) your dreams will come true. Sadly, Lo Khyi died of old age recently at his home in Virginia, and DeLisi wrote a tribute on his Facebook page: ‘He had become a dog of near mythic proportions in my mind – surely he would find a way to live forever. But, of course, for as long as there is a single copy of The Ambassador’s Dog to be read by someone with an open heart, he WILL live forever.’

The Ambassador’s Dog

Scott H. DeLisi

Illustrations by Jane Lillian Vance

Vajra Publications, 2020

40 pages

Rs1,600

The rise and fall of Rabi Lamichhane

Supporters of the RSP shout slogans in support of Rabi Lamichhane outside the Supreme Court on Friday evening. Photo: RSS

Rabi Lamichhane and his independent party had a meteoric rise — just five months after he launched the RSP, it became the fourth largest party in Parliament after the 22 November elections.

But on Friday, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that Lamichhane was not a Nepali citizen, which means he has automatically lost his post as Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, his MP seat, as well as the leadership of his party. 

The Court’s Constitutional Bench decided that although Lamichhane had given up his American citizenship in 2017, he had not finished the process of reapplying for a Nepali citizenship. He is therefore citizenless. 

Lamichhane, who was in his office at the Home Ministry in Singha Darbar when the verdict was reached, told reporters he accepted the Supreme Court decision. 

But he gave an enigmatic reaction to reporters’ questions about what he would do next: “I am a non-citizen, a nobody. I have no answers.” He then submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

The rise and fall of Rabi Lamichhane puts his RSP party into considerable uncertainty, since he was the popular founder of the party and it was on his coat-tails that many RSP candidates won the elections, securing 20 seats in Parliament.

A weakened RSP will also put the future of the already-shaky 7-party coalition government of Prime Minister Dahal in jeopardy. The coalition is made up of the Maoists and the UML which are the second and third largest parties as well as the RSP, and smaller parties.

Photo: GOPEN RAI

But the largest party in Parliament, the Nepali Congress (NC) led by Sher Bahadur Deuba is in the opposition, and has been trying to create a rift within the coalition by exploiting the mistrust between Maoist leader Dahal and the UML’s K P Oli.

It was Oli who had brought Lamichhane and the RSP into the coalition to muster the numbers for Dahal to form the government. But the Prime Minister seems to be having second thoughts about letting the UML decide who becomes the next President.

Lamichane’s exit puts all those deals in doubt. It is not clear if he will appeal the verdict and try to get himself re-elected in a by-election from Chitwan 2.

The former anchor shot to fame with his populist tv show in which he tried to redress government wrongs on behalf of citizens in distress, and converted his popularity with clever use of social media into election victory for himself and his party.

But the question about his citizenship was always lurking in the background, and many commentators found it unethical that he demanded and got to be Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to head the very agency that was investigating his citizenship question.

The RSP will exist even without Lamichhane, as he will still be the force behind the scenes within it, but it will have lost its captain. How the remaining MPs of the RSP, as well as its ministers in the Cabinet, will now conduct themselves in the secret ballot for presidency in the coming weeks remains open.

But that question may be moot if the 7-party coalition itself collapses, and that would happen if the UML decided that it is not getting the presidency to succeed Bidya Devi Bhandari.

“It does not pay to have integrity”

Photo: GOPEN RAI

Excerpted translation of the testimony that Prem Prasad Acharya left before self-immolation in front of Parliament on 24 January. The government has formed an investigation committee led by the secretary of the Home Ministry to look into his allegations. Acharya’s wife Nanuka has filed an FIR with Police against 12 individuals and companies mentioned in the Facebook post for abetting the suicide.

I am an ordinary youth entrepreneur Prem Prasad Acharya (Santosh) born 17 August 1986 in Fikkal 11 Kerabari of Ilam district, Province 1. I was moving ahead in life fulfilling my responsibilities towards my family, society and country, weaving a colourful dream. But even after living through 36 springs, I have to admit the bitter truth that I have not been able to achieve much. Whether I was studying in this country, working, doing business, engaged in overseas employment, or running an industry, I encountered many problems and there were zero results. I beg your permission to open an account of all I went through in this social media post. This is a memoir, but also an account of my failures.  

My father died of a brain tumour in 2010, when I was still young. I was married when my father was already ill, and I moved to Kathmandu to study and to work in a travel agency in Thamel. By then, our elder daughter was already born. I sold my inherited property in Fikkal and built a house in Budanilkantha and opened a travel agency. The business did well, until I faced problems with customers owing me money. Chinese tourists would not pay as agreed, on treks they would say we did not tell them that the trail was steep, or that they could not get Chinese food. They used all kinds of excuses not to pay in full. So, I switched to 10+2 students and started taking them on tea tourism excursions to Ilam, and even Darjeeling and Sikkim with my friend Yubaraj Gautam.

But Kathmandu’s 10+2 colleges would pay Rs300,000 of the Rs400,000 as advance, and use excuses not to pay the rest. They would say come back at exam time and we will give you money, etc. The biggest complaint was about food. What can I do about the quality of food available in this country, thanks to our government?

Kathford College wriggled out of paying Rs175,000, Saan International still owes Rs90,000, and many others who did not pay dues. But I had to pay salaries and rent for the Thamel office, and sank deeper in debt. I found that this country has been ruined by people borrowing. The market is full of looters. I had to rent cars to take tourists to Pokhara, Ghandruk or Nagarkot, so I decided to buy my own car. I opted for the Suzuki Ertiga, and approached NIC Asia for a loan with a Rs600,000 down payment and the rest in instalments. I could raise only Rs400,000 for the down payment, and couldn’t pay the rest to the showroom in time. I asked for a two months grace period, but they refused and took the car back. The Suzuki showroom in Thapathali never returned my Rs400,000. They cheat those who don’t have anything.     

In the end, I had accumulated so much losses in the travel business that I couldn’t keep it afloat. Western tourists stopped coming, the Chinese and +2 colleges didn’t pay, and Indians didn’t want to spend anything. So I sold the travel business and decided to find work overseas. I had no house, property in Kathmandu and was deep in debt.

It took me 1 year to arrange for work abroad, and took care of my family by borrowing. Finally, I went to Qatar after being interviewed for Office Assistant, but within six months had been promoted to Sales and Marketing Manager with a salary of QAR5,000 with the company paying for food, lodging, vehicle and internet. What else did I need?

Working in Qatar between 2014-17, I managed to pay off all my debts and returned. On advice of my wife and relatives, I went back to my home district of Ilam and established Suryodaya Agro Industries & Farmhouse. That was a mistake. My intention was to not freeze my savings by investing in land, but to mobilise it by running a business, earning money and being an example to others. However, if I had invested in real estate, I would have made a five-fold profit.

While in Qatar I saw and ate fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and other products from Israel, Australia, Norway, etc. I was trying to emulate that by safely packing ghee, gundruk, akbare chillies, chutney and bamboo shoots and selling them in the market.

In the beginning I used to rent cars and take my products to Birtamod, Damak, Itahari, Dharan, and Biratnagar to sell them in small shops as well as Gorkha Department Store, Baraha Department Store, Satasi Department Store, NMC Cooperative. But the trouble was I never got the payments in time from those shops. I had to sell my products and wait to be paid later. Anyway, I had jumped into this and could not leave. Not only was there no profit, I was sinking deeper in debt.

I had to pay for factory operation costs, raw materials, tax, labour and staff salaries all in cash, but the stores would not pay. On paper, I was supposed to have a 30-35% margin, but the payments would finally come only in six months with some percentage in bad debts. I had to pay as much as 36% interest on loans because the bank was not lending to me anymore. To cover my losses, I had to borrow, and lost double or triple more money. I had to borrow more to pay back what I had borrowed. Some shops would even return the products saying they did not sell. The retailers would not take any risk.

I had household expenses, my savings were gone and I was in debt. And our society is so nosey, everyone is interested in everyone else’s affair, saying this person has changed his workplace again, is not stable in his job, he will not achieve anything in life, etc, and we have to accept those sermons and accusations.

I tried to take my own life several times, but was not able to. I tried to crash my car once, but it didn’t work. I couldn’t die because of my wife, children, and responsibilities. I started having phonephobia because of the calls. I used to feel calm when I was in a place with no network. I was depressed for 2-3 years, but no one understood me, and in fact they would be annoyed with me. I struggled, but lived.

After I found that scattered retailing was not getting me anywhere, I tried dealerships. But the government started harassing me and I couldn’t take my goods to Dharan and Biratnagar. They said a factory cannot do direct retailing! They said the VCTS system. This was just a way for the police along the way to ask for bribes. Once, I had to bribe the police Rs5,000. When I tried to sell Ilam vegetables in Kathmandu, the police asked for VCTS and had to distribute veggies to police checkpoints all along the way. If I didn’t give it to them, they would just pick it off the back of the car.

How much do you want to rob us? There is just looting everywhere. The car rental loots, police loots, the government loots with taxes, and retailers in shops also loot you. How else can we survive without selling property?

I applied for grants from Province 1 government for trading in agricultural products. I was even shortlisted. They used to assure me that I was sure to get the grant because I had a good business plan, selling quality products. But when the results came, my company was never on the list. The then ward chair of Suryodaya Rural Municipality-11 Tek Rai got two grants worth Rs300,000 and Rs 1 million. In the third year, his Sampang Boar Farm got a Rs2.5 million grant, Mr Mainali of Shangrila Tea Estate got Rs2.5 million as well as a vehicle and organic certification from the same government. We were left empty handed, and finally found out that to get a grant you needed to be a people’s representative, a party sidekick, or you had to bribe the grant office. It does not pay to have integrity.

Dealers and department stores needed VAT bills for transactions worth more than Rs5 million a year. That was another curse. Our country’s tax procedures are very difficult. If your business is suffering a loss, the bank does not give you a loan, if a private limited company shows a profit it has to pay 25% as tax. Salaries are taxed 1% TDS, and if the annual income is over Rs450,000, the tax bracket is higher. If the monthly transaction is above Rs1 million, there is 13% VAT, meaning we have to pay the government Rs130,000, if not you have to pay 25% interest. Once a year, we have to pay a triple tax for renewal at the Company Registrar, Cottage Industry and Municipality. On top of that there is the annual audit fee. How can a firm in a village afford all these fees and burden?

I made ghee under the ‘Nature’ brand for Nepal Gramodhyog Company which belongs to Dr Upendra Mahato and Dr Samata Prasad, the billionaire duo, because of their businesses in Russia. They paid me well in the beginning, even gave me an advance. But over time, that stopped, they duplicated my product and even returned some, stating that they had expired. If you can’t sell a product for nine months and have to cheat a middle-class supplier, why did you even come back to Nepal? 

Mr Min Bahadur Gurung of Bhatbhateni, you want a 30% margin on products you sell? Small and big manufacturers are supposed to send their goods to your department store on credit? And you don’t even pay them back in three months, even though you have contracted to do so within a month? They kept me hanging too, they sent a cheque to Biratnagar under a wrong name. I had to go all the way from Ilam to pick it up, only to come to Kathmandu to correct it. It took a week. In that time, my profits had turned into losses. So I stopped selling my goods to Bhatbhateni. You are just looters, you know how hard it is to produce these items.

Big Mart had 32 branches in Kathmandu when I was supplying products to them. We agreed on payment terms as per the sale. They used to order goods worth Rs5-700,000 a month but I was paid just Rs75,000. If there was no billing for a month, you didn’t pay me at all. I couldn’t take it anymore and stopped selling you my items. You told me to go to all the branches to pick up my goods but everything I collected was worth just half the money you owed me. Why didn’t you pay me as agreed? Turns out you had already sold the products. 

Golyan Agro of Pawan Golyan canceled the order of 110 cartons of ghee because there was no market demand. Why did you ask me to manufacture the goods without conducting a feasibility study of the market? Aren’t you ashamed? You also said that your seniors refused to take the goods. If there was an error in your chain of command, why did you ask us to make the products and bring it to Kathmandu? Have you wondered how much I lost bringing goods from Ilam to Kathmandu and taking them back again?

Anil Basnet’s metrotarkari.com and NEP EXPRESS UAE took gundruk and tama from me, they sold it in Dubai. I was so proud to have my products exported. I also promoted it via Google, Facebook and even told my friends in Dubai, who bought some from you. But you know what? I still haven’t received payment for the items I sold you.  

Dabur Nepal, you have also opened a company to rob people. I supplied ghee to your factory in Bara and your procurement staff Shankar Pant openly asked for a commission. They gave me LPO on immediate cash on delivery but after three months, I only got partial payment. I still haven’t received the remaining amount. It must be so that they could get a commission.

Is the government not going to regulate dairy businesses in Ilam? They increase the price of butter by Rs150 per kg every two months. I could not even deliver to the places where I had taken small orders from. But I have paid all the dairies because farmers are directly associated with them, I chose to pay them back even if I was bearing a loss. But I have one request, follow legal standards, maintain hygiene, you are making food. 

I stayed in my village, ran a factory and sold goods to big businesses in Kathmandu and Province 1. I made dealers of big companies my dealer. What more could I do? And even then I couldn’t earn money in this country. The main culprit here is the market that runs on credit, and the tendency of big retailers to look down upon small businesses.

I think my life is telling me not to live anymore, and die. They say that karma makes one’s destiny, but if it is not written in it the stars, no matter how much effort you put in, you will not get results. Family, home, society, relatives, they all blame me. When I ask them to support me, they push me further down.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I leased a hotel in Ilam’s Kanyam called Kanyam Inn. It did well and I earned some money. But its owner, Jhapa’s Tika Odari ordered me to vacate on the pretext that the hotel had been sold before the contract period.

Nepal’s insurance companies are big cheats, too. No entrepreneur is safe from them. Rudra Niraula, Bikash Shrestha, Ram Prasad Ghimire and Prakash Paudel of Sun Nepal Life Insurance Company in Birtamod kept bugging me even when I told them I have no money. They invested in it themselves to get me insured for Rs10 million, but have already made me pay Rs4-500,000 in instalments. They have done the same with my wife, they have taken Rs100,000  from her. 

How long can I tolerate phone calls, messages, threats day in and day out? Creditors, banks, tax offices, raw material suppliers, relatives, clients and employees all call for money. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a call from those who want to give, for a change? And even after all this, I have still managed to pay all the banks, farmers and the poor.

I have paid the bank’s monthly instalments and interest so far, except for future payments. On the business front, I need to return Rs800,000 to three parties in Chitwan. I haven’t been able to pay other personal loans, interest and VAT. The bank might collect its dues by auctioning the land, but how do I return money to the rest? There is no way out. 

Anil Bhetwal from Dhulabari of Jhapa gave me a non-passable junk car and harassed me so much. When I told him I will give him Rs450,000 first and Rs100,000 later after the car passed the vehicle test, he threatened to bounce my cheque and get me arrested. So I paid him at once. When I asked him about the vehicle test, he told me I am supposed to pay the vehicle tax even from the time he used it. So go ahead, have me arrested.

I couldn’t do anything in this country. I toiled day and night but to no avail. 

In the meantime, I went to Chandra Prasad Dhakal of Global IME, Bhawani Rana of Udyog Banijya, Golchha Organisation among others, and told them of my problems. But they did not want to listen. I even asked help from many other high profile industrialists and entrepreneurs, but to no avail. I was affiliated with the Bibeksheel Sajha Party for 5-6 years, as district coordinator for Ilam, with the pledge to advocate for these problems through politics. But come elections, the party collapsed. 

The Rastriya Swatantra Party offered me a ticket to contest the election from Ilam-1, but I had no alternative, no money. And my wife and my family advised me against it. Because of many failures from my past, I did not make much of an effort, either. The system of this country is corrupt, there is corruption everywhere, policy dysfunction, there is no incentive to do anything, everyone is frustrated.

I could not help myself anymore, after all the adversities, economic hardships. So, right before Tihar of this year, I wanted to drown myself in the Brahmaputra River in Gauhati of India. I wrote a note, but could not do it. Someone saved me and I ran through Teju in Arunanchal to Kohu, the last Indian village near the Chinese border. I tried to enter China, but a snow-covered hill blocked the way, and with that my plan to work in China for a few years, struggle, make some money and return home, also fell through. 

When I came back, my family, relatives advised me to move to Kathmandu and try to go abroad again for work. I tried everywhere: Saudi, Dubai, Qatar, Maldives, but nothing worked. Nepal’s manpowers are all thieves and looters. I gave interviews as required, passed them, but they do not give you a visa to destinations where you can make good earnings. They give those to their own relatives or those of influential peoples. They invent fees and collect money, saying “for paramedic”, “for QR code”, even seizing our passport. I had been selected for the position of a driver at a ministry in Qatar. The monthly salary was 10,000 Qatari Riyal. But the manpower agency asked for Rs800,000 in expenses. Where could I bring that kind of money from? In other cases, when I had been selected for jobs, the very manpower agents would put off giving me a visa for months …

After taking some time off, I began working at a vehicle rental company in Kathmandu. It was enough for me to get by, but what about my family, my children? How to pay off the Rs6 million that I owed? My wife is tortured all the time. Depressed, she would write to me saying she would kill herself too. In this almost silent competition between me and my wife, I have decided to give up. Please do not try to save me. If I am saved, I will die again. If the police catches me, I will kill myself in prison. I am revolting, so that this country may help someone else like me who wants to do something, may create a conducive environment.

I tried everything to live, but now even hope has failed me. I am sorry. 

If anyone has a kind heart, please help my wife pay my debts. Or else, she might follow me, and our two daughters will be left alone.

NANUKA ADHIKARI

SAVING AC 2907010001814

GLOBAL IME BANK, NEW BANESWOR BRANCH

Contact: 9849383133

My Nanuka, please do not fret, you will get help. Please forgive me, I tried everything I could do to make things better. The care of our daughters is now on your shoulders. When they are older, please make them understand that their father could not achieve success in this country despite everything, was met with adversity at every corner, was robbed and exploited everywhere. Those who cheat others fare better in this country than those who toil hard. Please make them see that he has sacrificed himself so they may not have to go through the same things, so that the government may listen to our suffering and pain. 

I was once a very optimistic, positive-thinking and ambitious person … I worked hard, went through all kinds of struggles to achieve my dream. I was very good in sales and marketing. I had the training and experience in leadership and motivational skills, I had a talent for business … I had also learnt English, computer skills, modern business techniques, legal formalities, and was a skilled driver too. 

I used to listen to motivational speakers like Dr Vivek Bindra, Shiv Khera, Binod Chaudhari, Ratan Tata, Amitabh Bachchan, Osho, Swami Vibekananda, the Chanakya Niti, Gita, Vedas for inspiration. Even then, I could not succeed in this country, could not run a successful venture, earn money, or achieve my dreams. I would encourage many youngsters in Nepal to not go abroad, to stay and do something here. I even ran ‘return to village’ campaigns. But in the end, I understood from my own professional frustrations why so many young Nepalis leave this country to work abroad. They are running away from Nepal’s corrupt policies, from an economy run by brokers, from the monopoly market, nepotism, favouritism. I spent everything coming here, fighting till I could not get up. I want to take back what I said to the many people asking them not to leave Nepal. Forgive me. Nothing can be done in this corrupt country. There is injustice and discrimination at every step.

Speaking of dreams, Sahuji Yuvraj of Patanjali Nepal in Ilam once said to me: “You work in ghee too, let’s work together, open a Patanjali ghee factory in Ilam.” I was encouraged, excited, imagined successes – but that’s all it ever was: an imagination. Please do not make false promises to a progressive youth. This drains their willpower. Even Sahaj Nepal organised by the Swiss Embassy invited me to interaction programs and made only assurances. You did cover my travel expenses, sure, but looted me even more. So many organisations came to examine my factory, praised it, asked about its conditions, said you would send help, but then never came back. 

You took whatever data you needed for your jobs, continued to make promises, even helped out with unnecessary expenses for government subsidy forms, documents here and there, hassle and transport. But when it came to doing something actually helpful, you did nothing. You gave money to only those who bribed you, people’s representatives, parliamentarians, ministers and so on. Even I joined politics thinking it was the only way to salve this country’s pains and wounds. 

But Rabindra Mishra, Suryaraj Acharya, Mumaram Khanal, Keshab Dahal, Milan Pandey, Mahendra Thapa, Bhim Prasad Adhikari, Nidhara Silwal, Samiksha Banskota, Prakash Chandra Pariyar, my soul will not leave you. How could you play with the feelings of so many aspiring youths of this country? If you could not stay united, run a party, why did you bring so many of us into politics? Why did you waste our time and money? I guess this country is fertile ground for those who want to spread false assurances, make promises, and turn that into a business to benefit themselves.

My family, relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbours, please forgive me. Even my right to my home and ancestral property has been stolen. And you did not listen when I asked for your help. Legally, I am not entitled to my ancestral property because when I was in 7th grade my father, to avoid a land ceiling, gave me a small portion of his large land after separating the family. 

According to Nepali law, one cannot claim one’s ancestral property twice. I was cheated by law too. I reached out to my relatives and family many times because I wanted to live. I begged you to help me out, but you did not lift a finger. Had I not fulfilled my social responsibilities? Had I not attended every wedding, karje, bratabandha, sanchep, prayers and rituals? Had I not made donations when I could? Had I not helped out in village programs, financial cost sharing? When women were being abused in our community, did I not help bring justice to them? Did I not contribute to community development projects, social and legal discussion? 

Tell me. Was I not a responsible son, grandson, husband and father, devoted to his family and community? I did everything, and yet never found justice in the end. When did you ever see me drunk and out of my senses, when did I ever misbehave? Is it a crime in this country to start a business, to try to do something exemplary, to want to return to one’s own roots and fulfil social responsibilities? I will no longer plead to you now, for I am leaving. Forgive me.

My ancestral property is still there. My brother has plenty of land, as do my mother, grandfather and sister. I begged you when I was finished, when my ventures failed, to help me pay my debts. I implored to you that one can earn tomorrow, nothing is lost, but you did not listen to me. Mother, grandmother, my brother and sister-in-law, just consider this once: look at the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Sri Lanka. Money, property, wealth are not the future, it’s our lives. If one lives, one can make that money again and again. But when life ends, when there is a political upheaval, some epidemic or natural disaster, then all is lost in the blink of an eye. Everything becomes worthless. 

You loved that property more than my life. My other relatives too said I was not the future, the land was. My sister, my nieces, do you remember how much I helped you after the divorce? I tried very hard to live, I begged my family – but no one cared. My darling Nanuka, do not worry at all. Our family did not care for our tears, but there is certainly someone in this world who will support you and help you out of this distress.  

My relatives, my own mother and brother stopped listening to me. My friends became distant. There is no place for me to rest my sorrows. How much longer can I carry this burden? Rs2 million would have sufficed for now, but all efforts to raise that money failed. There is no investment to do new work, nor is there a way to support the failing old business. I don’t have the money to pay back the loan and interest to Siddhartha Bank, or to pay the monthly instalments to Machapuchhre Bank. 

I cannot raise the money required to pay VAT to the government, as it is tied up in the market. The Inland Revenue Office keeps nagging, says it will freeze all my personal and institutional accounts and will add me to the blacklist. But as the origin VAT is to be paid by the manufacturing company, there is no VAT return. I request the revenue office to not make business dues personal. I always paid my taxes, I am unable to now only because the business is at loss. Even the raw material dealers give their products in PAN. I have no resources to run my household, to spend on my daughters’ upbringing and education. I have no money to pay my debts and interests, or as returns in business transactions. My fault was just that I wanted to do something in my country. I was looted up until the end of my life when I bought a ticket last week for a night bus from Dang to Kathmandu, only to realise a little later that my seat had been sold to two other people. There are cheats everywhere, who will listen to me? Government, will you listen, please.

I could not stay alive although I wished to. I was unable to make something innovative and exemplary out of my life even though I wanted to. After I wrote this statement, I shared it with a few people in an attempt to save myself. I was assured I would get help, but such assurances turned out to be empty platitudes. With whom I shared this statement, I choose not to say— they can disclose it themselves should they wish to. I made this decision when I ran out of options. I shed many solitary tears. I wept until there were no more tears, no more hopes, no more relationships. More importantly, there was no more money, no wealth. Now, because I am poor, perhaps there will be no one to mourn me either—  no one to shoulder my body after I die. I wanted to spend time with my daughters and help them grow into good citizens, I wanted to hold on to my wife for a long time. But everything I wanted to do has been reduced to wishes. Where do I go? With whom do I share all of this? I see no other option before me but death. Please, forgive me. 

My brother-in-law is a contractor, and constructs electrical substations and transmission lines. He says that he can get contracts, but has to pay for construction with his own money. Are the people supposed to do the government’s work on credit? Why won’t you pay us on time? The government won’t listen. Listen, government — take a look at my burning body, so you know.

In my country banks make billions a year by playing with the money of the poor, where people are forced to pay for expensive drugs after free medicine from the government is destroyed, where public schoolteachers send their children to private schools because they do not trust the very institutions they work in, where the government does not have access to the basic things which people need to live, where there is a kleptocracy of businessmen and middlemen, where the rich are free and the poor bound by law. My country is hurting. There are tears in every village, every farmer’s house. Every young person with an ambition is heartbroken. Every poor person’s heart hurts. Every sick person is in pain. My country is dying. Government, do something. Anything.

Prachanda, you fought a war that killed 17,000 Nepalis. You made the country a  federal, secular republic. You promulgated a new Constitution through Parliament. But you turned this country into one where young people like me are unable to do anything for the country. If Europe, America, Canada, Australia, and Japan issued visas to Nepalis more easily, no one would stay here. Your country would be deserted. Then you would be the Prime Minister of a country empty of people, and rule over only those 17,000 martyrs. 

Businessmen are currently paying 12-15% interest on loans that they took out for 8-9%, taking out personal loans worth 24-36% interest to pay back the business loans. But the banks do not care. Moreover, landlords rake in deposits worth millions from those who want to acquire a shutter and start a small business. But they do not pay rent tax. If things keep going the way they are, our country will be left destitute. Someone needs to raise a voice. How can I be unaffected when the country is going through all this? All of these problems are due to the credit market, unscientific tax policies, capital flight, a lack of foreign investment, freeze on estate, capital, and shares, and much more. Do something, government. 

I am consigning my body to flames with the following demands to the Nepal government, and an appeal that these demands be fulfilled. May this nation be one worth living in, one that is kind to those who work hard. I hope my appeal reaches everyone. This is my revolution. I challenge you to prove that all the problems I have mentioned above do not exist. These are not just what I have gone through, it is everyone experience. So, why is nobody else saying anything? I am only ending my own life, and will not bring harm to anyone else. I am making this appeal in a way that ensures that the government will listen.

May my country become one that people can be proud of, and one to which the millions of young people who have gone overseas can come back and make something out of themselves. Goodbye!

1. Zero VAT on domestic products. Charge 20% VAT on imported goods instead. VAT is the main cause of the price increase in consumer goods.

2. Implement market policies like ‘Buyers Pay First’, and put an end to the credit market. Suppliers are having to prop up commercial mafia like Bhatbhateni, Big Mart and Dabur Nepal who buy products on credit, then go on to sell those products and use the money on shares, real estate and to open fixed deposit accounts, through which they collect interest and enjoy profits. Only then will suppliers get the money they are owed. But by that time, suppliers will already have fallen victim to loans, interest, and operating capital shortages. The rich get richer, the poor poorer. 

3. Implement tax policies like ‘Higher the Profit – Lower the Tax Rate’. Since increased profits will mean decreased tax rates, businesses will earn more profit.

4. Enable a system of land leasing. Nepalis have become complacent due to the practice of land inheritance. Make laws so an individual can own land for up to 50 years only.

5. Bring reforms to Bank Mortgage Valuation. Let the productive land in our village have the same valuation as the unproductive land in our cities. A land collateral of around 1,400 square feet won’t bring in any money unless the land is sold. But productive land in our villages will provide income, while the crops continue to bring in money, meaning that people are more likely to repay loans.

6. Bring all rentable properties under the tax ambit. People with monthly salaries of Rs10,000 have to pay 1% TDS, yet is it fair that those who collect millions in rent monthly pay no tax at all? Even if homeowners do pay tax, it comes out of the tenants’ pockets. A lot of your revenue has been lost to rental properties.

7. Big business and industries like Bhatbhateni, Big Mart, Patanjali, Dabur Nepal, and Unilever have been holding Nepal’s markets hostage — they need to be regulated. The market moves at their whim. Multinational companies display their products in Bhatbhateni at high margins even though they might incur losses, all to raise their company profile. Meanwhile, those companies sell the same goods at lower margins in the foreign market to make up for losses. This is how prices of daily consumer goods are skyrocketing.

8. Shut down all online businesses that operate without registration. Such businesses must be legally registered and should have paid necessary taxes.

9. Scrap labour permits for those who want to seek foreign employment through official visas. Well-paying companies in Gulf countries do not require demand or embassy attestation for such type of visas, and many skilled and educated youth are being deprived of employment in the Gulf. Labour permits are just a formality required at Nepal’s airport, and a way to keep brokers well-fed with fees and kickbacks. 

10. Make public all your old files relating to grants and subsidies, and we will learn about the degree of corruption. Incentives and subsidies should be provided to all those who need it, and not to companies that only exist on paper. 

11. Eliminate middlemen. The government should develop national online server called Palika Bazar to connect Nepal’s local units. Prices of agricultural and industrial products in all local units must be broken down on the national database. The government must facilitate demand and supply between all municipalities this way.

12. Nepalis export cardamom to India and buy imported cardamom powder, sell ginger to India and import ginger paste, export orthodox teas from Ilam in Calcutta and drink imported Lipton tea. Nepali brands must be made available in the Nepali market. Let the international market recognise our products.

13. Legalise marijuana farming. Marijuana and products made from its plants are in high demand in international markets. The country will prosper within two to four years.

14. Discourage privatisation of education, health, and the public transport sectors, which are basic services that the state must provide to the people. The government must make access to these services easy and wide-reaching to all. People die in this country because they have no money for treatment.

15. Provide housing facilities to government employees. A government salary of Rs45,000 is not enough to cover housing, education, healthcare and more. So what will government workers do if not resort to corruption?

16. Bring comprehensive reforms to the Public Procurement Act. Development contracts should not go to those who bid the lowest, but to those who present modern, scientific, self-budgeted proposals.

17. Parliament must implement capital punishment for corruption, heinous murders and rapes.

18. End caste-based reservation and provide such quotas to farmers and poor people through an identity card-system.

19. Close the open border with India. At the least, issue visa-on-arrival for a set time to Indian citizens from all border checkpoints.

20. Encourage domestic production and imports to replace exports. Facilitate production-oriented programs. The government must provide every kind of encouragement to the manufacturing industry.

21. Shut down micro-finance institutions. 60% of Nepal’s money is circulated through savings and loan cooperatives, while 40% is circulated through private and government banks. Apply the concept of micro-financing to agricultural and industrial co-operatives.

22. Development expenses are facilitated by the taxes we pay. Yet 25% cash is being collected from consumers in the name of development partnership in places where infrastructure is being developed. Put a stop to that.

23. Introduce ‘Entrepreneurship’ as a mandatory course in schools form Grade 6 onwards. Such skills are necessary to earn a living.

24. Immediately put into effect a rule that children of government employees and elected officials at all levels must be educated in public schools and colleges.

25. Ensure that interest rates on bank loans never increase above 7%. Much of the nation’s money is in the hands of big businessmen, and it is those very businessmen who have investments in Nepal’s leading banks. They are responsible for increasing interest rates so they can profit of off their fixed deposits. 

Our nation has been through a lot of change. We have had many revolutions, fought a war, had people’s movements, and killed our own citizens. Now, please change the circumstances of the people. Govern by focusing on state management and on issues that affect people’s daily lives. May an ordinary person be able to do business, get a job, farm, be happy. A country cannot be built on empty words, but by paying attention to details that can have a big impact on lives.

If anyone agrees with my demands, please show solidarity peacefully. My country has endured enough agitation and violence. Keep reminding the government. I have taken on this campaign imagining a beautiful country. Do not let my dream die. Those who got me involved in politics, please take my campaign forward, keep questioning the government. Soothe the wounds of this hurting nation.

To the new leaders who have sought power in an attempt to run the country: Rabi Lamichhane, Rajendra Lingden, Gyanendra Shahi, Sobita Gautam, Gagan Thapa, Bishwa Prakash Sharma, Yogesh Bhattarai, Toshima Karki, and all the new faces — do not just compete to be in government or get ministries, but address the underlying problems that affect the people.

Thank you,

An ordinary citizen of this nation

Prem Prasad Acharya (Santosh)

Suryodaya Municipality-11, Kerabari, Ilam, Province 1, Nepal. Currently in Kathmandu.

May my country live, even as I die.

Farewell!

Putting Nepal on the right track

Imagine it is the year 2070 AD. You board a train in Janakpur at 7:37AM, enjoy scenic views between tunnel stretches, and arrive into Kathmandu Central Station’s cavernous underground hall at 8:43AM.

You take the escalator up to the South Exit and emerge on to the front steps of what was once Narayanhiti Palace, gazing on to a broad plaza and Darbar Marg beyond. You stroll along dust-free streets to New Road, take care of  business and hop onto the Metro back to Central Station to catch the 12:46PM West-Nepal Express.

After a four-minute ride through a tunnel, the train stops briefly among the high-rise bank and office buildings that long ago replaced the ageing factories and vehicle service centres at what was once Balaju Industrial Estate.

At mid-day the station is quiet, unlike in the mornings and evenings when it is crowded with tens of thousands of people who come by train to work from outside the valley. After several tunnels and quick stops in Bidur, Galchhi, Charaundi and Shaktikhor, you reach Bharatpur at 1:35PM. You finish work in Chitwan and catch the 5:30PM East-West train to Janakpur, reaching home at 7PM.

This may sound like a dream, but dreaming is important for long-term planning.

On 27 August 1893 industrialist Adolf Guyer-Zeller was hiking in the Swiss Alps with his daughter when he imagined riding a train from the pasture at Kleine Scheidegg to the mountain viewpoint at Jungfraujoch.

By 1896 he had permission and financing in place and began construction. The project was completed in 1912 and still brings thousands of daily visitors to Europe’s highest train station, 3,435m above sea level.

Railroads are the backbone of Switzerland’s train network, putting much of the mountainous country (one third the size of Nepal) into commuting distance to the largest city Zurich, while transporting across the Alps tens of million tons of freight a year between Switzerland’s larger neighbours. The country’s first rail masterplan was prepared by British engineers in 1850, and big parts of today’s network was built over the next 60 years, at a time when Switzerland’s GDP was comparable to Nepal’s today.

In Nepal, railroads are back in mainstream discourse with the opening of the updated railway from Jaynagar past Janakpur to Kurtha. Nepalis now have  firsthand experience of how trains can cheaply transport thousands of people at a time.  

While railroads have high up-front costs and need phased construction with long-term financing, they are right for Nepal’s future for a number of reasons:

 Electric trains will use clean domestic energy instead of imported fossil fuels.

 Railroads carry more people (and freight), faster and more safely using a narrower right-of-way than roads. Railroads thus have less impact on agricultural land, slope stability, and even urban vitality compared to multi-lane roads clogged with traffic.

Travel by train is smoother than by road, allowing passengers to read, write and do other productive activities while traveling, without the risk of congestion delays faced in road traffic.

 Trains make it feasible for people to commute daily from 50-150km away, reducing the pressure to migrate to large cities for education and work.

As the world reduces fossil fuel consumption to mitigate climate change, air travel will necessarily become rarer and more expensive, as it does not have ready clean-energy options. Nepal’s neighbours have extensive railroad networks; direct transboundary trains could bring to Nepal large numbers of tourists without relying on air travel.

Nepal’s location between large and growing economies means there is the potential for trans-Himalayan freight trains to partially displace sea-shipping and air freight between the two countries.

Several potential railroad projects in Nepal are in the pipeline. These include a freight connector from Jogbani border to Biratnagar, expansion of the line from Kurtha to Bardibas, as well as more ambitious projects including a train from Raxaul to Kathmandu, and a train along Mahendra Highway, with side-connectors to Biratnagar, Bhairawa-Lumbini, and Nepalganj. 

Most ambitious is the proposal to bring trains from across the Tibetan Plateau to Kathmandu via Rasuwagadi-Bidur, with 98% of the track in tunnels or on bridges.

There have been proposals for possible extensions to Pokhara and Lumbini, but without clarity on alignment. In addition, there have been several proposals for a metro rail system for the Kathmandu Valley.

What is missing from the discourse on individual railroad lines is the longer term thinking of what a 50-year masterplan for Nepal’s network should look like. The individual lines considered so far need to be part of this larger future network, with design decisions for the individual lines based on the masterplan.  

Preparing a five-decade Railway Masterplan for Nepal needs to be led by National Planning Commission (NPC) in consultation with stakeholders in Nepal and experts abroad. Several questions need to be addressed early in the master planning process:  

First: What kind of ultimate railroad network would address Nepal’s domestic needs in the context of long-term plans for land-use, agriculture, industry and urban growth? Which cities should grow, and what should be their catchment areas?  Where should agricultural land and forests be protected (and thus no stations built) and from where will products need to reach the market? Should the east-west railroad connect the towns along Mahendra Highway or run further south? Why?

Should it go through Madi Valley and Chitwan National Park or via Hetauda-Bharatpur? Where should the main interchange between the proposed Raxaul-Kathmandu line and the East-West line be located?

Would it make sense to co-locate it with the proposed Nijgad airport the way Frankfurt and Paris airports integrated long-distance train stations? While many critical questions about the airport project remain, including its exact final location, a direct rail link to Kathmandu would certainly improve the airport’s useability compared to four lanes of traffic jam on a ‘fast track’.

But should the Raxaul line terminate in Chobar, or continue underground to a city centre station as imagined in the opening story?  What additional places in Nepal need to be connected to the railroad network? Dhangadi? Surkhet? Dang Valley? Pokhara? Dharan? Are there mountain towns whose access will be easier to maintain via cable car rather than roads?  How should the base stations of these cable cars be integrated into the train network?  

Second: What kind of a railroad network would meet Nepal’s needs for interconnectivity with the neighbouring countries? Direct trains to Nepal from Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi cities would enhance tourism in Nepal. There is already a twice-weekly train from New Jalpaiguri near Siliguri to Dhaka. Can the end of Nepal’s East-West trains be connected to New Jalpaiguri to allow direct trains from Nepal to Bangladesh? How would that be negotiated?

Third: What kind of a railroad network would allow Nepal to optimally facilitate and earn from transit trade across the Himalaya?  Currently the proposed line from China is expected to descend to Bidur and then to climb up 800m to end in Tokha, north of Kathmandu, while the train from Raxaul on the India border is expected to end at Chobar, south of Kathmandu. This does not allow easy transfer of passengers and freight.

Would trans-Himalayan freight not travel more easily along a track from Bidur to Galchhi and through a tunnel to the Rapti Valley without climbing up to Kathmandu?  Or are there other north-south corridors that could work better than the Trisuli Valley, such as Arun Valley?

We also need to keep in mind that freight trains often run at night, when their noise may be un-welcome in larger cities.

Fourth: since our neighbouring countries’ railroads use different track standards, which one should we align with? Most of China’s trunk routes are ‘standard gauge’ with a 1435mm (4’ 8.5”) separation between tracks, similar to Europe’s. Trunk lines in India and Bangladesh use ‘broad gauge’, with a 1676mm (5’ 6”) separation. Janakpur’s existing train is broad gauge.

Given the larger number of potential border crossings to India, does it make sense for Nepal to use broad gauge throughout most of its trunk network, allowing direct trains from cities in Nepal to India and Bangladesh? Then, how far into Nepal should China’s standard gauge line come?

That is partly determined by where there is enough space for a transfer station where cranes lift shipping containers between Chinese and South Asian trains, and where tourists coming from China cross the platform to board Nepali, Indian and Bangladeshi trains. Does Bidur have space for such a station?

If so, we could have a broad gauge line coming up from Nijgad to Kathmandu, passing under the city, descending to Bidur and then heading southwest to Galchhi and the Rapti Valley to re-connect with the East-West line, while a standard gauge line runs north from Bidur.

Fifth: Where do we need to learn from? Engineering challenges and costs increase greatly when trains leave flat open areas to run through mountains or under cities.  Design decisions can have large impacts on cost, durability and usability.

Before we invest in construction, it is important for us to learn from the experience and expertise in other countries. While discussion have started with India and China, it will be particularly worthwhile to learn from Japan’s experience in building and maintaining railroads in steep terrain with frequent earthquakes.

It will be important to learn from Austria and Switzerland about how they manage transit freight trains. And learn from the experiences of European cities on how to build effective intermodal connections that tie together urban and long-distance transport while maintaining and enhancing the vitality of historic cities.

In addition, it will be worthwhile to study the financing models used in more recent railroad projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, Thailand and Laos.

Designing and building a national railway network will require longer-term planning than we are used to in Nepal. The leaders who plant the seeds today may not even be alive by the time the investments bear fruit. But there is no time to waste.

We need a masterplan to guide a phase-wise construction of our railway network in well thought-out, predictable and financially sustainable way. Nepal’s railroads will not only generate employment in construction and operation, but it will also bring efficiency and interconnectivity to Nepal’s economy. They will shrink costs and distances while allowing more people to live at home while working in larger cities.  

Arnico Panday is an atmospheric scientist with a broad interest in sustainable development. He chairs the Development Planning and Policy Analysis department of Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP).   

20 YEARS AGO THIS WEEK

Issue #129 24-30 January 2003

Education for all

Nepal has made dramatic improvements in literacy rates and school enrolment over the past 20 years. The same cannot be said for the quality of education. In fact, standards have declined progressively because of obsolete curricula, untrained teachers and poor instruction.

Shishir Khanal of Teach for Nepal is the new Education Minister, and he has his work cut out. He should delegate responsibility for school-level education to municipalities as directed by the Constitution, and fund them. There should be no more talk of nationalising education, which would discourage those who are doing what the government should have been doing all along.

Excerpts from a guest opinion by Dhawal SJB Rana (who is now MP of Banke from the RPP and who used to be a regular columnist to this paper) published in Nepali Times issue #129 24-30 January 2003 20 years ago this week:

In the past 12 years, the private sector stepped in to fill the gap left by the government in the public’s demand for quality and quantity of education. Education soon became an industry and spurred by a huge demand went through a boom cycle. And as with all booms, came malpractice. Unethical norms for enrolments, exorbitant fees and dubious deposits and charges were heaped on unsuspecting parents.

The political parties made matters worse by threatening populist measures like nationalising education and ensuring free education. In the past decade education became a free-for-all as “boarding” schools sprang up like tea stalls, with some having as little space. Many school inspectors and district education offices were hand-in-glove with school owners. On the other hand, we saw the total collapse of the government school system due to politicisation, low motivation, lack of training and budgetary cuts…

Governments everywhere cannot afford to take up the sole burden of education, they delegate a part of that to the private sector. In Nepal, there is even less of a chance that the government can take up this responsibility. It cannot even manage basic primary education with the proper application of quality standards. How can it compete with the global trends in information technology and English language instruction?

Those who cannot afford good education must be ensured free quality education by the state so that they have the same opportunities to pursue higher education as graduates of private schools do.

From archive material of Nepali Times of the past 20 years, site search: www.nepalitimes.com

The sky is the limit for photography on canvas

All photos: ASHISH DHAKAL

Contemporary videographer and photographer Aakash Pradhan’s latest show at Wind Horse Gallery in Jhamsikhel comes across as being a quiet affair. But Corny Clouds, curated by Ujen Norbu Gurung, is far from the mawkishly sentimental.

It leads the viewer through the glass doors into a dimly-lit corridor which has a calming atmosphere – quite literally, as on the walls one finds variously sized photography-on-canvases of the sky.

The first are part of a triptych, ‘Nothing But Good Energy’. Large canvases as blue as the word ‘clear’ itself. The colour gradient shifts concentrically around a brilliant sun, as amorphous clouds trail in. The canvas in the middle shows a snowy mountain peak rising from the bottom-left corner. But what hour is it — early morning or late afternoon? There is no telling, and, at the same time, perhaps it does not matter. What we are asked to view here is the sky itself, in its many forms and moods.

Read also: On-screen mountains, Sahina Shrestha

Right across are two more canvases ‘Was Good Till It Lasted’ which show markedly different skies in juxtaposition to the striking blue. The colours are warmer, with swirling shades of pink, orange and purple, like the ether in twilight or breaking dawn.

A sliver of the crescent moon sits in one while a brilliant golden dot in another, as a mass of shaded clouds gathers under them. If ‘Nothing But Good Energy’ gave one a sense of an impending adventure, a flight, ‘Was Good Till It Lasted’ reminds one to pause, consider oneself, and be grateful for the beauty around.

Elsewhere, a group of three smaller canvases present an almost cinematic look at the city. ‘5’o clock in the morning’ appears as though one zooms out from the brilliant yellow orb in the sky above dark hills to find an array of high-rise buildings and houses under the sky. While from the right, it is the exact opposite direction. There is, of course, no right or wrong motion: one either moves deeper into the vastness of the sky or reckons with the sprawling civilisation around us. 

Drawing in from Pradhan’s vast experience in photography and videography, the exhibition is an intriguing cross-genre excursion. At the centre of the gallery, a video of clouds in motion is projected on to the wall, and in the adjoining chamber a series of nine works displaying absorbing experimentation with form and content. Clever collages, almost psychedelic in nature, ask the viewers to interact with spirituality and consciousness. Declutter your mind, they seem to say, and open yourself to a dazzling alteration of themes.

The saying ‘The sky is the same everywhere’ takes on an interesting tune among Pradhan’s works. One look above and we immediately become aware of the expanse, whether from Lalitpur or the Base Camps or anywhere else in the world. Sometimes it is overcast, sometimes it is absolutely still and clear. But there is a sense of common experience.

Read also: Nepal’s other attraction: the night sky, Himali Dixit

Generations of humans have turned to the sky, adding and uncovering meanings in its folds and colours, sometimes worshipping its vastness. We too share in this experience, as the clouds rearrange themselves in various shapes and sizes. Here a rabbit, there a yaksha, each a different story than the last. 

Pradhan’s works are inviting, with a subtle promise of familiar exposures. Then then they quickly become more: one must exercise one’s own imagination. The artist shows the door but we have to walk through it ourselves, processing, discovering connections and interpretations. 

Corny Clouds

By Aakash Pradhan

Curated by Ujen Norbu Gurung

Wind Horse Gallery, Jhamsikhel

Till 4 February 2023, 11am—6:30pm

Read also: 

Between sand and a hard place, Ashish Dhakal

Nepal by night, Anil Chitrakar

Nepal’s sky can be this clean every day, Ajaya Dixit

“Ambedkar would have spoken out”

Project Syndicate: Your latest book, Ambedkar: A Life, is a biography of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a figure widely revered in India for his role in abolishing the caste system, empowering the Dalit community, and creating India’s constitution. How might a modern Ambedkar regard – and resist – rising bigotry and majoritarianism in today’s India?

Shashi Tharoor: There is no doubt that Ambedkar would have opposed this trend in India today. He was the first – and remains the most important – figure to articulate a non-Hindu conception of Indian nationalism, making current attempts by the Hindutva movement to appropriate him astonishingly hypocritical. Ambedkar deplored what he called Hindu society’s undemocratic nature, as reflected in its internalisation of inequality and untouchability. “If Hindu Raj does become a fact,” he bitterly exclaimed, “it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country.”

On majoritarianism, Ambedkar famously reminded the Constituent Assembly of the vital importance of minority protection, arguing that “minorities are an explosive force which, if it erupts, can blow up the whole fabric of the State. The history of Europe bears ample and appalling testimony to this fact.” Given that India’s minorities have “agreed to place their existence in the hands of the majority” and “loyally accepted the rule of the majority, which is basically a communal majority and not a political majority,” the majority has a “duty not to discriminate” against them. Such a man would surely have spoken out strongly against the majoritarian bigotry that has been on the rise in India in recent years.

Beyond being a Dalit icon, you point out, Ambedkar had strong feminist credentials. In fact, he placed “equal emphasis upon both caste and gender-based discrimination.” Where did Ambedkar succeed in improving women’s position in Indian society? Are there other parts of Ambedkar’s legacy that do not get the attention they deserve?

Ambedkar was far ahead of his time. In a 1942 speech, he declared: “Let each girl who marries stand up to her husband, claim to be her husband’s friend and equal, and refuse to be his slave.” This was an audacious assertion of Indian women’s dignity within their own families – one that few Indian men would echo even today.

Ambedkar’s approach to women’s rights was anchored in his profound commitment to equality. And his impact was considerable. It was because of his exhortations that Dalit women changed their style of draping their saris to match other Hindu women – a visual reflection of the principle of equality that undergirded his beliefs. He also fought successfully for maternity benefits for women laborers.

Ambedkar even sought to pass a resolution in support of government-funded birth control in the Bombay Legislative Assembly in 1938. While his resolution was defeated by conservative opposition, he had sown seeds that would eventually flower: the law was passed in the 1970s. Likewise, the Hindu Code Bill that he advocated – which proposed to grant Hindu women the right to inherit property, to initiate divorce, and to manage their own finances – was initially resisted. But these are all the laws today.

Ambedkar: A Life begins with a caveat: “This is the story of the rise of a man of ideas, illustrated with extensive quotations from his writings and speeches, and not of a man of physical adventure.” For readers outside India, who might not be familiar with Ambedkar’s ideas, which quote or concept would you be most keen to highlight?

There are so many! If I had to pick one lesson, I would point to Ambedkar’s understanding – of which he convinced the Constituent Assembly – that it was not enough to abolish untouchability. To undo millennia of discrimination and exploitation, India had to institute the world’s first and furthest-reaching affirmative action program, which uplifted the oppressed by, for example, allocating places for them in schools, universities, government services, and even parliament. It is thanks to Ambedkar that affirmative action in India goes beyond guaranteeing equal access to opportunities; it guarantees equitable outcomes by reserving a share of opportunities for Dalits and Adivasis. 

You have argued that the Ukraine war has turned India’s “long-standing diplomatic and strategic dependence” on Russia into a serious liability. But many – including India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar – are convinced that the war can strengthen India’s global standing. Have discussions within Indian policy circles about relations with Russia changed since you first sounded the alarm? At the same time, has the war created opportunities that India should be seizing?

So far, Indians consider their global status enhanced by the Ukraine War, as India is one of the few countries that is being wooed equally by both sides – and succeeding at maintaining good relations with each.

India has dramatically increased its oil imports from Russia – which it secures at a discount – and is reselling some of that oil to the United States, after refining it locally. To many, Russia now looks not like a liability, but rather like a useful partner whose conduct in Ukraine it is in India’s interest to overlook. The US, for its part, has no interest in alienating India at a time when China’s increasing belligerence and “friendship without limits” with Russia remain matters of concern in Washington.

So, India is still riding high, and international criticism of its foreign policy is muted. As a result, domestic criticism understandably remains almost non-existent.

You have urged India to “recognize the need to cooperate with others to constrain China’s overweening ambitions.” How would you approach this objective? Are groupings like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – comprising Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – likely to do what is needed to protect India’s “core security interests”?

India seems to be the least willing of the Quad’s members to give the grouping a security dimension. The fact that China sits on its border – and occasionally breathes fire down its neck – may partly explain this reluctance. But, in fact, this is all the more reason to pursue greater security cooperation.

Despite India’s historic policy of non-alignment and avowed refusal to join any alliances, China’s assertiveness warrants cooperative efforts to keep its ambition in check. I have even called for widening the Quad into a “Quad Plus,” which includes Southeast Asian countries with similar apprehensions about China’s muscle-flexing. But none of this seems to be in the cards. India’s wariness of security pacts still prevails.

India faces no shortage of domestic challenges, including uneven population growth across regions. You cite “ignorance about family planning and the benefits of smaller families” as the “principal factor” behind rapid population growth in India’s northern states. What enabled the southern states to get it right, and how can their success be at least partly replicated in the north?

India’s southern states have dramatically different human-development indicators from their northern counterparts – higher literacy rates, better health care, lower maternal and infant mortality, and more gender equality, to name a few. These factors go a long way toward explaining the growing population imbalance in India.

But the north is gradually catching up, and it’s estimated that in a couple of decades, fertility in the northern states, too, will have fallen to replacement rates. By then, however, our population will have peaked at about 1.7 billion, compared to just 300 million when India gained independence 75 years ago.

 © Project Syndicate

Dying to travel

Armymen try to pull out the bus that fell into the Madi River in Tanahu in 2013. Photo: PAWAN PAUDEL/NEPALI TIMES ARCHIVE

The question everyone has been asking after the tragic crash of the Yeti Airlines flight in Pokhara on 15 January is why airline accidents are so frequent in Nepal. 

The answer may lie in the question itself. It is a mistake to call them ‘accidents’ — which are unfortunate incidents that happen unintentionally. The fact is that most deadly air crashes in Nepal over the past 60 years have been found by investigation committees to have been caused by negligence, carelessness, over-confidence, or not following rules. This means they should not have occurred. Lives need not have been lost.

As we reported in last week’s edition of this paper, 92% of the fatal crashes since 1962 happened when airworthy planes flew into mountains obscured by clouds. Despite strict rules about flights maintaining visual at all times in the mountains, planes kept being operated in no-go weather en route or at destination airports.

The Pokhara crash did not follow this pattern. Early clues point to possible lapses in the pre-landing cockpit procedure during a checkout flight for the co-pilot. We will have to wait for the investigation report to know what went so horribly wrong in those final moments. 

But that will be too late and of no comfort to the relatives of those who died. Entire families perished in the Seti Gorge that Sunday morning. The dead included promising surgeons, musicians, scientists, entrepreneurs, journalists. Besides the unbearable individual tragedies, this was an incalculable loss to the whole nation. 

There are many factors that contribute to our inability to learn from past mistakes. It may sound deterministic, but at a deeper cultural level there is a tendency to blame ‘accidents’ on ‘fate’ — factors beyond human control. But most crashes could have been avoided if rules were followed.

In many aspects of modern life, Nepalis have not come to terms with the rapid advance of modern technology, and the conventions that must be followed in operating them. It is manifested in the carelessness in handling electric wires, LPG cylinders, and how building codes are flouted. 

Earthquakes in Nepal cannot be called ‘natural’ disasters. As we saw in 2015, it is not earthquakes that kill people, but poorly designed houses, and owners knowingly using sub-standard materials to cut costs.

Also, look at the way we drive. There were more than 4,000 road traffic ‘accidents’ in Nepal last year, resulting in nearly 2,800 fatalities and at least 5,000 people with serious injuries. Ironically, this figure would possibly be much higher if the roads were properly built and maintained, because that would encourage over-speeding.

The Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 paradoxically saved thousands of lives that may have otherwise been lost on roads and highways. There is an epidemic of what are called ‘road traffic accidents’, and it has become the number one cause of disease burden among young Nepalis. 

A week after the Pokhara air crash, four people were killed and 15 injured when a jeep plunged into a gorge in Surkhet. On 11 December, 11 died when a bus veered off the road in Jajarkot. On 12 October, a passenger bus plunged down a mountain in Mugu, killing most of the 40 people on board.   

Ninety-four people lost their lives in air crashes in Nepal in the past 12 months, but during that same period the number of people killed on roads was nearly 30 times higher. Bus and jeep crashes have become so routine that they do not even make it to the front pages of newspapers anymore. Each is reported as a separate event, not as a trend showing the sharp increase in road and highway fatalities in Nepal year-on-year.

News is defined as whatever is negative, or out of the ordinary. It is the nature of the news ‘business’ that aviation disasters get more priority. People who travel by air tend to be better off, there is more international interest because foreigners may be involved, or the aircraft type is in operation all over the world. 

Policy decisions and rules save lives. Proof of this is the dramatic drop in fatalities in Kathmandu Valley after the crackdown on driving under the influence. Time cards to control speeding along highways have also been effective. Better maintenance of roads and their safety features could prevent many road mishaps.

As with other disasters, it is the poorest Nepalis who are most vulnerable to dangerous roads, and this is a criminal lack of responsibility on the part of the state. We expect the new coalition government with a crop of young technocrats in the various ministries to swing into action to ensure the safety of the travelling public.