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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.

Reasons for disdain at Dasain

Photo: SUMAN NEPALI

The thing about Dasain is that I’m never good enough for it.

When I was a child, I wasn’t good enough because I was a girl. It meant I could not participate in certain rituals by the virtue of being female.

Over the years, I learned to make peace with it. Rituals were not my thing, anyway.

One Dasain, after the main practice of sacrificing the gourd, painted as the demon Mahishasur was over, my sister picked the khadga dagger handed down from our Malla ancestors, and started to slice the gourd. It riled the male guardians in the clan. My sister tried to argue that it is after all the goddess who kills the demon, and the goddess is female. Not like her argument would work.

After that, the age-old practice of impaling the gourd in our clan met a sudden end — causing our strand of the Tuladhar men to disperse into nuclear family Dasain celebrations. 

While my childhood memory of Dasain, or Mohni as the Newa people call it, has always been about the Tika big day (this year on Wednesday) when the men came together to perform the violent act against a painted gourd, the festival has changed over the years. Some of those changes are very welcome, including the one that put an end to the simulation of violence performed by certain Buddhist Newa families in Kathmandu.

Growing up, I also experienced discrimination shared by some of my cousins, who were not allowed the tika by certain relatives because they were not Buddhist. But wasn’t Dasain a Hindu event in itself? I never understood that. And while I stood on the other side of the line where I was allowed tika, their sense of humiliation for being refused the blessing was mine, too. We were children together.

Over the years, I also learned to stage fake periods when I did not want to receive tika. And while isolation during period is something my family has never observed, I still have mood swings the moment I see the tika tray. 

Lately, they remind me of the Asur people in certain parts of India, who mourn their dead during Dasain. But the tika is also sticky and leaves a mark on my forehead, reminding me that I have the privilege of it because I was born in a certain family. 

Also, for women, neither having or not having your period during Dasain is a privilege. Either way, it means you spend the festival running household chores or being banished for bleeding. All things become tied to birth eventually—who you were born to, where and how—your gender, your sexual orientation, your religion, your civil status and your social station in life, to mention a few. They make that everything about you. In this case, they is Dasain and Dasain is they.

Once upon a time, I worked in a newsroom. The country was declared secular and we stopped calling Dasain the biggest festival celebrated by Nepalis. We started writing: the biggest festival celebrated by Hindus in Nepal. But every other day, one person would change it back. All Nepalis are Hindu by default, he would say. How? I would ask. And he would say: it is just how it is. In my head, I would say: It is just how a newsroom you lead is. Closed to everyone who is not you.

Over the years, Dasain has kept finding new ways to defeat me. When it discovered that I am a woman without a man, it naturally relegated me to the lower-station of social life. You need a husband to do certain things in the society that calls me its own. Doesn’t matter that this time of the year is about a woman who rides on a ferocious animal and is independent.

I have met Dasain with an entirely new fear recently, because it’s given me fresh reasons for disdain. It tells me I’m not good enough. My hair is greying, and fast. Dasain wants me to discover hair colour. I’m told my cousins who are in their 50s “upstage” me in looks and it is why I will never “find a husband”. I’m also being told I’m too conservative in how I dress and in the topics I like to discuss. And so, I’m too conservative for this festival.

It is never going to be good enough for Dasain that I’ve learned to play kitty to entertain my nonagenarian grandfather. Not good enough, that I let the spindle reel against my thumb, flying a kite with my nephews and my brothers.

Dasain is often a reminder that singlehood is not even a concept available to one and that we must make the choice of finding a partner. It doesn’t matter that the partner might have been someone who slammed the door on your face or held you to the ground by your hair, or spent his entire time watching pornography on his phone while you sat up in bed wondering. But you must have a partner because that’s what is acceptable to Dasain.

I’m never going to be good for Dasain. And that, is just fine.  

Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.

Our pick of Nepali books to read over Dasain

Yogmaya by Neelam Karki Niharika

Neelam Karki Niharika’s 2018 Madan Puraskar-winning Yogmaya is a compelling historical fiction on women’s rights and freedom of expression. Centred on the figure of pioneer poet and religious leader Yogmaya Neupane, born in 1867 in Bhojpur of eastern Nepal, the novel charts her fight against the autocratic Rana rule of the time. Yogmaya was heavily monitored by the government for her activism and activities, her contributions were censored until the Ranas were overthrown in 1951, even his discontent with the government and the ritual mass suicide, jal samadhi, she and her disciples committed in 1941. Although a fictionalised narrative, Niharika’s searing prose explores the themes of sati, child marriage, widowhood, caste- and sex-based discriminations, class struggle from ground-up, with sharp critique of the patriarchy and authoritarianism — themes that remain pertinent in contemporary times.

योगमाया | Yogmaya                                            

By Nilam Karki Niharika

Sangri~la Books, 2018

503 pages,  Rs595

Ramite by Jason Kunwar

The world of multi-instrumentalist and ethnomusicology scholar Jason Kunwar’s 2020 novel Ramite is a fictional one. Multiple narrators chart a landscape with names not found any map one is familiar with. Uga, Magadi, Kharka, Hitkot … the list goes on. Yet, these are names, places and cultures that the reader will immediately connect to. The voices of the characters, their mannerisms, the geography of hills and rivers, all create a riveting universe complete with its own languages, cultures and civilisations. Among the contemporary penchant in Nepali literature for experimental writing, Ramite also ushers in graphic storytelling in the novel form. With themes of nationalism, migration, generational conflict weaved into a delicate thread, Ramite is a remarkable tale of making sense of one’s world.

रमिते | Ramite

By Jason Kunwar

Red Panda Books, 2021

282 pages, Rs850

Lichhavi Lipi: A Book on Epigraphy by Nayanath Paudel

Lichhavi inscriptions in Nepal are relatively rarer compared to Malla: and people who can read those inscriptions are even rarer. Now, scholar Narayan Paudel takes a step at correcting that with his astounding tome, Lichhavi Lipi. The detailed book starts with a look into the development of script from hieroglyphs to the Phoenician alphabets, the Brahmi abugida, making way to the Lichhavi script. It explains the writing system with diagrams and inscriptions, even noting where they could be found in the country the, giving an authentic basis for research to an aspirant scholar or archivist in the history of Nepal, the Lichhavi period, linguistics and scripts.

लिच्छवि लिपि | Lichhavi Lipi: A Book on Epigraphy

By Nayanath Paudel

Published by Pramila Paudel, 2022

686 pages, Rs1200

Kalpa-Grantha by Kumar Nagarkoti

Setting a novel precedent in Nepali publishing, Kumar Nagarkoti’s voluminous 2021 book Kalpa-Grantha was available only by pre-order and delivered directly to readers. Packaged as a ready-made gift in a sleek bag, the royal-sized book weighing 1.5kg at 800 pages fits snugly inside a box, accompanied by a postcard and a bookmark. More than a novel marketing strategy, this packaging marked Nagarkoti’s 10th anniversary as a writer, and also his 10th book. A prime example of ergodic writing, Kalpa-Grantha is quite literally a collection of dreams and imaginations, where Nagarkoti plays with languages, form and content — from typographical stories to screenplays, from conceptual narratives to gray — challenging writing and storytelling themselves. While the print-run now has been discontinued, Kalpa-Grantha was indeed a touch of newness in Nepal’s literary scene.

कल्प-ग्रन्थ | Kalpa-Grantha

By Kumar Nagarkoti

Book Hill Publication, 2021

800 pages

Pather by Shyam Sah

The second collection of stories by Shyam Sah, Pather, continue his exploration into the depths of marginalisation and rebellious consciousness in Madhes. In the style of a confident social realist, these 11 potent stories portray class struggles, exploitation, gender and caste, writing about the people living on the margins, forgotten by the government and often misrepresented. These stories are political at their core, and his aim is to bring Madhes to the forefront, examine exclusionary politics, the justice system, and inspire more such stories to claim their space in the literature of Nepal. The literal definition of ‘pather’ is a brick-labourer; as a book, there is also an added layer of nuance to this, which points to inequity in societies, distortion and neglect that has repercussions across generations. 

पथेर | Pather

By Shyam Sah

Phoenix Books, 2021

194 pages, Rs350

Yambunera by Bina Theeng

Bina Theeng’s third book, Yambunera, is a collection of 13 short stories set in and around the Kathmandu Valley, looking into the sense of otherness and displacement in hearts of its inhabitants entangled in the web of structural discrimination based on caste, colour, culture, religion and region. ‘Yambu’ in Tamang language means Kathmandu, the place where the ruler lives. Theeng’s stories and beautiful and clear, written almost economically, about marginalised Indigenous people revolting against oppression and rejection, critiquing the system that refuses to change and politics that finds comfort in wilful blindness.

याम्बुनेर | Yambunera

By Bina Theeng

Phoenix Books, 2020

173 pages, Rs300

Mera Nau Dashak by Surya Bahadur Thapa

Five-time prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa’s life and political career spanned five kings. Born in 1928, Thapa was selected to the national assembly as an independent, and became Chairman of the Advisory Council in 1958. The following year, he was elected to the Upper House, appointed the Minister of Agriculture, Forest and Industry under the newly formed Panchayat system, and drafted King Mahendra’s Poush 1 coup speech. During the Maoist insurgency, he initiated talks with the Maoists. After the Second People’s Movement, he chaired the second constituent assembly. In his autobiography, Mera Nau Dashak, Thapa’s memoir is woven with the political history of modern Nepal, making sense of the possibilities and carving of a sovereign identity. Written by Ganesh Paudel with 310-hours of interviews with Thapa before he died in 2015, the book is as much one man’s story as it is a country’s biography.

मेरा नौ दशक | Mera Nau Dashak

By Surya Bahadur Thapa

Book Hill Publications, 2022

470 pages, Rs1500

Dasain is postponed

Photo: MONIKA DEUPALA

The Ass has been reminded that this paper takes a break over Dasain, and we skip one issue next week. Yay! Also, there is a full page nude on the back page. Double Yay! But the editor tells me I still have to submit my weekly column. Nay!

It is therefore incumbent upon yours truly to circulate this strong internal memo against the media typhoon who owns this paper who sold his soul to Mammon, sacrificing the donkey’s designated Backside place and squeezing the Ass into this obscure inside section.

I will therefore not beat around the burning bush indulging in frivolous chitchat, supposedly witty repartees, idle banter, lame puns, below the belt innuendos about the Prime Minister, ridiculing the President’s taste in upholstery from the Ministry of Interior Decoration, or muttering allegedly hilarious asides about the posterior body parts of some prominent members of the Council of Ministers.

No, today we shall tackle deadly serious national issues so that we can roll our loins and gird up our sleeves to ensure that Fedex Elections are held as scheduled in November. We should doubly redouble our efforts to protect the Constitution (the world’s best, in fact) that ensures politicians of all hues and cries have equal rights in our democracy to pillage and plunder.

We now break our usual programming for this important grabberment announcement:

Hear ye, her ye! It is hereby notified to all concerned that this year’s Dasain festival has been postponed until further notice because of the need for belt-tightening during these tumultuous times.

All concerned should watch this space for new Dasain dates, but it will most probably be next April, when it will be held in conjunction with New Year 2080 in order to reduce Nepal’s petroleum import bill and the country’s carbon footprint.

There will also be a moratorium on mountain goat imports from Tibet till next April because of our balance of trade deficit with China. Water buffalos have also been included in the list of ‘luxury items’ together with iPhone 14s, Old Monk Rum, and Odomos mosquito repellent creams, that are currently restricted for import to save Indian currency reserves from further depletion.

Mountain goats and buffaloes will therefore be allowed to carry on with their daily lives until such time as they may again be required to be decapitated in the epic struggle of good against evil next April. For further information, contact the Dept of Humanitarian Sacrifices.

Despite austerity, MPs in the prorogued Parliament who knew their days were numbered voted themselves fat Dasain bonuses. Former Chief Justices, Ministers, and Reps in the August House had till end-August to award themselves posthumous pensions so they can keep on enjoying legislative perks, and official cars in their afterlife.

As you may have heard, Prime Minister Dubya has decided to give election tickets to Baddie candidates recommended by Comrade Awesome rather than to dissidents within his own party who could challenge The Foremost Lady in future. These tickets are so sought after that they are being sold in the black market, or so I am told.

Unthinkable in the current climate

Farmers in Bihar, across the border from Nepal, tending to their parched fields (left). Climate change will not just lead to droughts and floods, but also unsurvivable heat waves. Photo: NABIN BARAL / THE THIRD POLE

Kim Stanley Robinson’s cli-fi novel The Ministry for the Future begins with an unprecedented heatwave in northern India. Air conditioners and fans stop working because of power cuts, water runs out, and more than 20 million people die.

The same dystopian future is the subject of Gaia Vince’s new book Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World. But Vince’s book is not science fiction — it looks at mass migrations from the most densely-populated parts of the world because of unsurvivable heat waves.

‘Fleeing the tropics, the coasts and formerly arable lands, huge populations will need to seek new homes. You will be among them, or you will be receiving them,’ Vince predicts. The heat waves in India, China, Europe and North America this summer were hints of what may be in store.

Scientists are predicting that if the buildup of greenhouse gases continues at the present rate, average global temperatures will cross 2°C by 2050, and could reach a sizzling 4°C by the end of the century.

The heat impact on South Asia, especially the densely populated Indo-Gangetic plains, would be unthinkable, and will be accompanied by sea level rise that could submerge coastal cities, and millions will be hit by floods and droughts.

Vince predicts that large swathes of the globe will be uninhabitable, leaving no choice for at least 5 billion people but to move either to higher latitude or altitude.

The scenario is so apocalyptic that Robinson in his novel imagines a future in which world governments are finally shocked into action by the mass deaths in northern India. And Vince advocates preparing for future migrations because it is not a question of if, but when, where and how many.

The Indo-Gangetic Plains stretching from Pakistan to Bangladesh is the most densely-populated place on the planet. Heat waves and sea-level rise in future could lead to mass migration. Photo: J NIJMAN, P O MULLRE AND JOHN WILEY & SONS, INC.

Read also:

Migration mitigation, Editorial

Clock starts ticking at COP25, Josie Wang

Unlike authors, scientists and academics are loath to make specific predictions about mass migrations without adequate research. However, military strategists and intelligence agencies in many countries are already known to be planning for the security posed by a rising tide of humanity on the move.

In Nepal, it could mean a steady increase in the movement of people to the uplands from the Tarai, reversing the outmigration of people from the mountains to the plains. In India, people could stream out of the heavily populated Ganga plains for the cooler climes of Kashmir, Himachal, Uttarakhand, or Sikkim. Heat could push many Pakistanis from Punjab and Sindh to the Hindu Kush.

“Humans have always migrated, for one reason or the other,” says Yogendra B Gurung, Professor at the Central Department of Population Studies in Tribhuvan University. “It used to be for better economic opportunities. Now, we have climate-induced disasters in the mix.”

For decades, Nepalis have moved from the mountains and hills to the Tarai. First due to planned resettlement in the 1960s, and later seeking better jobs, healthcare and education resulting in 54% of Nepal’s 30 million population now living in the plains. But if current heating trends continue, the movement could be in the opposite direction.

Climate migration is not new, it is already happening. Villages in Kavre, Ramechhap and Mustang districts have seen entire households moving out because of water sources going dry due to prolonged droughts. But heat stress is going to affect many more people, and they will have nowhere to go, but up.

A new report by the World Bank Group, Country, Climate and Development Report for Nepal warns: ‘Heat stress affects large swathes of the country, with over 4 million Nepalese facing the health impacts of extreme heat.’ 

Read Also:

The carbon footprint of tourism

Climate climax, Editorial

Climate damage, Editorial

Nepal’s climate adaptation plans so far mostly take into account melting glaciers, receding snow lines and the mountains. “There is no real mention of the Tarai in our climate discourse, we haven’t even begun to study the slow-onset impacts of the climate crisis,” says Ajaya Dixit of the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET) Nepal.

Dixit spent three months this spring in New Delhi during an unseasonal heat wave, with the maximum temperature most days touching 45°C in April. He writes in a guest editorial for Nepali Times this week: ‘In Nepal, we have not yet recognised increasing heat as a potential problem – both in terms of threats in the Tarai and river valleys, and the environmental implications of possible movement of people up the mountains.’

Future climate refugees might have to deal with a whole new set of problems in their new homes: adapting to drastically different climate and socio-economic conditions, and a hostile political environment.

“Nepal is already starting to see reverse migration of people from lowlands to highlands unlike in the past, and we will likely see more of it in the future. Even plants and vectors like mosquitoes are moving up,” says climate scientist Manjeet Dhakal. “But it is unlikely to resolve the root cause of the problem. It is much better to devise adaptation strategies starting right now.”

Current rates of heat stress in different parts of Nepal (return period of 20 years in wet-bulb temperature in Celsius) Source: COUNTRY, CLIMATE AND DEVELOPMENT REPORT, WORLD BANK GROUP.

Like in Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, Gaia Vince in Nomad Century explores the similar solutions like using bioengineering to stabilise and cool the planet, a global governance body to set the planet’s thermostat, building new compact cities at higher latitudes to house climate refugees with an international tax, universal passports.

Many of these ideas are politically unfeasible in the present climate, as seen in the rise of populist anti-immigration parties in the North. But the climate refugee crisis will be so drastic that it will need drastic solutions. Vince believes that future migration will benefit both refugees and their destination countries which by then will have declining populations because of falling birth rates. In fact, migration may be necessary for humanity to survive a crisis of its own making.

Humans migrated out of Africa, possibly also due to climate reasons, some 80,000 years ago. And they have been on the move ever since. The climate crisis now poses the threat of another mass exodus, on a scale never seen before.

Read also: 

Nepal must prepare for climate migration, Sonia Awale

The Third Pole is warming faster than expected, Kunda Dixit

Terrifying assessment of a Himalayan melting, Kunda Dixit

 

The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Orbit, 2020

576p         

$20.49 (hardback)

Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World

By Gaia Vince

Flatiron Books, 2022

288p

$18.99 (hardback)

Birding with Jimmy Carter in Nepal

Conservationist Rajendra N Suwal with president Jimmy Carter and ambassador Peter Burleigh. All photos: RAJENDRA N SUWAL

As a bird watcher and naturalist, I have had opportunities to host many guests and dignitaries but birding with former president Jimmy Carter is the most memorable.

Carter, who has visited Nepal often on election monitoring, is known for his passionate support for human rights and democracy. Less well known is his passion for bird watching. 

Suwal with Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter during one of the birdwatching trips.

The Carter Center in Nepal was housed in Naxal at the residence of tourism entrepreneur Karna Sakya. As luck would have it, my office Nepal Nature dot Com that specialises in birds and biodiversity exploration was also in the same compound.

Moreover, Sakya and Ambassador Peter Burleigh who was Carter’s adviser were friends in the eighties and recommended me, a pupil of the late ornithologist Hari Sharan Nepali ‘Kazi Dai’ to lead the trip. Everything was fixed following a confirmation from conservationist Hemanta Mishra.

Sakya who founded the Nepal Bird Watching Club now known as Bird Conservation Nepal was my mentor in my early teen days, and Mishra when I was working as a naturalist in Chitwan. 

Together they vouched for me and Kazi Dai, assuring Peter of our expertise. And a day before the trip in 2007, Kazi Dai and I did a final recce of the route, and coordinated with Shivapuri National Park (SNP) officials.

Read also:

Decline in wintering water fowl

Bat caves and edible bird nests, Lisa Choegyal

The birdwatching trip of 2013 with Carter, Burleigh and the then Nepal Army Chief Gaurav Shumshere (second from left, in hat).

On 16 June I reached Hotel Soaltee to receive President Carter. A special agent in his security team introduced me.

“Raj is here to guide you for your birding trip Mr President,” he said. Carter replied, “Great, Raj means royal, treat him as a royal.” It served to put me at ease.

On the way to the SNP, I gave President Carter a brief introduction to Nepal’s biodiversity. After the Chief Warden and Nepal Army officials received him, we were joined by Kazi Dai, and began our trip.

First, we visited the Pani Muhan, a small creek where as expected we spotted a Plumbeous redstart, and a flashy White-capped river redstart. On our 1.5km walk following a hill tract leading to Danda Gaun above Tokha, we saw 20 different bird species, a good number for the monsoon. We even spotted the showy Red-billed blue magpie.

Before ending the trip, I requested Carter for an autograph, I had brought his book with me. All in all, I was with him for three hours but in that time I found out that he had great respect for nature, as did his wife Rosalynn.

Back in the US the Carters recorded all the birds that visit their feeder. He also shared that a green laser pointer helps to spot a bird’s location better in a dense forest. 

I was thrilled when asked to guide them both once again in 2013 when Carter came to consult on the second Constituent Assembly election. 

This time we went to Nagajung sector of Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park and were accompanied by the Chief Warden who was a great help in locating birds. I also carried a green laser pointer with me remembering our last birding trip five years previously. 

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter with Suwal, wife Sharmila, mother Indra Kumari and son Ayush in Kathmandu.

Read also: 

Eurasian Curlew visits Kathmandu after 50 years, Kamal Maden

A pheasant uprising in Nepal, Sushila Budathoki

One of the highlights of that trip was seeing a Rufous woodpecker on a bamboo clump. They looked vibrant and particularly chirpy that spring morning. Gray-hooded warbler and Gray-headed canary flycatcher on the other hand were busy feeding on a canopy. 

Towards the end of the trip, President Carter softly put his Carter Center cap on my head. My family including wife Sharmila, 87-year-old mother Indra Kumari and son Ayush were invited to Dwarika’s for a family photograph. 

The next birding trip happened in November 2013 in Godavari, this time joined by his friend Ambassador Peter Burleigh and the then Nepal Army Chief General Gaurav Rana. 

While we drove from Hotel Radisson to our site, I showed him a video about the migration of the Demoiselle crane filmed by BBC in 2004 for Discovery Channel in which I was a consultant. 

It was still dark when we reached Godavari. As dawn was breaking, we heard the call of the Collared owlet and immediately followed by that of a barking deer. I briefed Carter about Nepal Army’s role in conserving our protected areas, their efforts in discouraging poachers and recent achievements including zero rhino poaching years.

Before we knew it, five hours had passed. President Carter shared with us about his hobby of beekeeping, his expedition to Mongolia for trout fishing and his love for a jeep safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

We saw several birds on that trip including Mountain bulbul, Striated laughing thrush and Maroon oriole. On the way back, President Carter invited me to join him for breakfast.

Suwal has joined Carter in three birdwatching trips in Nepal over the years.

The next evening, coincidentally we were both on the same Cathay Pacific flight KA 191, him back home to the US via Hong Kong and me to Fiji for ecotourism training. 

Carter looked relaxed. The second Constituent Assembly election had gone off peacefully, a mission accomplished. 

Quietly, I went to take my seat and started reminiscing about all of our birding trips and conversations. 

Over the years, we kept in touch via letters. When my mother passed away in 2014, I received a letter of condolence from Madam Rosalynn. 

My prayers to President Carter as he celebrates his 98th birthday this 1 October.

Rajendra N Suwal is the Head of Partnerships Development at WWF Nepal.

Read also:

Saving Nepal’s flyway for migrating cranes, Rajendra N Suwal

Protecting Lumbini’s rare cranes, Rajendra N Suwal

Potholes on the highway to Nepal’s EV future

New Sajha buses as they get ready to depart from the CHTC factory in Nanjing. Photo: MUKUNDA SHAH.

Electric vehicles are making a splash in Nepal, sales have seen a spurt in the past two years. But a lot more work needs to be done to make battery-powered transport a sustainable solution in the country.

That was the message of the three-day discussion series, EV Chautari, jointly organised by the Nepal Automobile Dealers’ Association (NADA) and USAID Clean Air to coincide with NADA’s first ever EV-only car show this week in Kathmandu.

EV sales worldwide are gaining momentum. In 2021, there were 16.5 million electric cars on the road, a tripling in just three years. Twenty percent of the vehicles sold in China last year were battery-driven.

Nepal is also keeping up with this global trend. In 2021, the government announced that it would shift from petrol fuelled light weight vehicles to electric vehicles entirely by the year 2031.  While the decision was deemed too ambitious by many at the time, in the context of Nepal, shifting to electric transport makes sense. And the market agrees.

Driven by tax rebates, electric vehicles have seen a dramatic rise in popularity in Nepal market in the past few years. Last year, the import of lightweight electric four-wheelers saw a seven-fold increase. There is currently a six-month waiting list for bookings of some of the popular electric four-wheelers.

Institutional consumers are also starting to make changes. Last week, Daraz, the biggest e-commerce site in Nepal, purchased electric scooters for deliveries within Kathmandu Valley. Earlier this year, Lalitpur Metropolitan City’s Quick Response Team also started using electric scooters for its patrols within the metropolis.

The industry is taking note of the shift towards electric vehicles. At NADA’s first ever EV Expo this week show-cased 51 brands, including nine four-wheeler companies, one three-wheelers, and 16 two-wheelers, and by the end of the four-day exhibition, there had been more than 30,000 footfalls and more than 200 deals signed.

Photo: MUKUNDA SHAH

Read also: Nepal’s electric future is here, Sonia Awale

Given these rapid strides, it would not be unreasonable to assume that Nepal is smoothly moving towards electric transport. However, just as Nepal’s highways have many potholes, there are still many legislative, regulatory and technical pitfalls along the way.

The biggest challenge currently facing EVs in Nepal is erratic government policy, both in terms of inconsistent tax rates for EVs as well as lack of standards and protocols for EVs testing, monitoring and the conversion of ICE vehicles into electric vehicles. Furthermore, the lack of policies that support electrification of public transport is holding back investment in this important segment.

In the past few years, the customs and taxes levied on electric vehicles have fluctuated wildly, leading to apprehensions from both dealers and buyers. Speaking at EV Chautari at the NADA EV Expo this week, Yamuna Shrestha, Managing Director of Cimex Pvt Ltd blamed unpredictable changes in tax policy as holding back sales.

“In the past two years, the taxes have changed four times,” she told the meeting. “This has created confusion for the end user. For instance, a consumer buys an EV, then a month later the tax goes down, and suddenly the buyer has lost 20-22 lakhs.”

Government policy doesn’t allow changes in prices of consumer goods of more than 10 per cent in a year, but the current fluctuation is creating much bigger changes in the final price of electric vehicles. Shrestha said an urgent priority should be consistent policy.

Kapil Siwakoti, Chairperson of the EV Committee of NADA and Deborah Kennedy, COO of FHI 360. Photos: BHUSHAN TULADHAR.

During the discussion, Sagar Gajurel, General Secretary at the Journalist Association for Automobiles and Mobility brought up the issue of EV testing, monitoring.

“Right now, we are importing ready-made vehicles from abroad and selling them in Nepal. But before selling them, what we need to do is test how reliable the product is, and how it will support our current transport system, which is lacking,” he said. “As new technologies are introduced, the Department of Transport Management needs to work on monitoring capacity for the imported vehicles.”

Ram Chandra Paudel, Technical Director at the Department of Transport Management states that the government is has drafted the long overdue National Transport Policy of 2078 to replace an existing one which came out more than two decades ago. Whether the new policy gives sufficient clarity on the standards and protocols for EV testing, monitoring and conversion of ICE vehicles into electric vehicles is to be seen.

Another challenge facing the EV industry is technology adoption. According to Dipesh Paudel, EV Training Head at Sipradi Pvt Ltd, technicians need a lot of training and awareness in terms of technology adoption.

“We need to build the competency of four to five hundred thousand local technicians who work on vehicle maintenance. A policy level solution is needed to address this gap,” he says.

Similarly, customers need to be made aware of the workings of EVs in order to build trust toward the new technology. A common concern for the customers is range anxiety – whether their EV will have enough charge to get them through the day. This concern about endurance is related to the lack of charging infrastructure. Some steps are being taken by NEA and other private sector actors, but, but a lot more work needs to go into this to overcome the reluctance of customers used to petrol stations every step of the way along highways.

Earlier this year, NEA launched its first charging station at Ratna Park in Kathmandu and has started a drive to open 51 charging stations across Nepal. According to Manoj Silwal, Deputy Managing Director of NEA, if anyone wants to set up a charging unit, his agency provides free installation of infrastructure for up to 200KVA.

(Right to left) Sonika Manandhar, Co-founder and CTO of Aloi Technologies, Sunil KC, CEO of NMB Bank, Kanak Mani Dixit, Chairman of Sajha Yatayat, Krishna Sapkota, Executive Director of Town Development Fund and Rajan Rayamajhi, Chairman of Thee Go at a session titled EV Chautari during the NADA EV expo last week.

Read also: An electric shock to Nepal’s energy future, Ramesh Kumar

Furthermore, NEA has provided electricity at a low cost specifically for EV charging stations. The cost for charging EVs at peak time is around Rs8/hour and in off peak times, the cost is as low as approximately Rs 4/hr.

Private companies like BYD, Hyundai, TheeGo, Sipradi and others have also set up charging points for their customers. However, the issue here is that these charging stations do not have standardised appliance outlets and only serve their specific vehicles.

Ram Chandra Paudel of the Department of Transport Management says, “The government needs to work with the private sector for charging infrastructure that will be compatible at multiple places with multiple types of vehicles.”

The need for infrastructure development for the EVs is not limited to charging stations only. Electricity transmission lines and infrastructure also needs to be able to withstand the increased load that is inevitably going to accompany widespread vehicle charging.

Current data shows that the market for EVs in the sphere of private four-wheelers has already taken off. However, in order to ensure that the future of transportation in Nepal is electric, the focus now needs to shift towards public transport and two-wheelers.

Two-wheelers make up more than 79% of registered vehicles in Nepal. However, less than 1% of two-wheelers on the streets of Nepal are electric, whereas, worldwide, 42% of two-wheelers sold in 2021 were electric. The supply of electric two-wheelers is there.

At the Expo itself, 16 of the stalls were occupied by two-wheeler companies while only 9 four-wheeler brands were present. But in order to generate demand, consumer confidence and trust needs to be built through awareness campaigns and infrastructure to support electric two-wheelers.

The most important (and largely missing) piece of the puzzle is electrifying Nepal’s public transport network. This is where the biggest gains can be made both in terms of reducing air pollution (and therefore improving public health) and cutting fossil fuel consumption that has sent Nepal’s import bill sky high this year.

Umesh Shrestha with Deborah Kennedy, Kapil Siwakoti and Yamuna Shrestha of CIMEX and an executive committee member of NADA at the EV expo.

Electrification of public transport started a long time ago, with trolley buses in 1975 and the introduction of electric three-wheeler Safa Tempo 30 years ago. However, this early start has not resulted in a sustained growth.

Worldwide, in 2021 44% of sales of buses were electric with China leading the way. However, in Nepal the number of electric buses on the roads is insignificant. Sundar Yatayat has a few e-buses operating in Kathmandu and Butwal-Bhairawa.

Recently, Sajha Yatayat has added 3 electric buses to its fleet, and 37 more are on the way from the factory in Nanjing to the China-Nepal border.

Five buses that were provide to Lumbini Development Trust by the Asian Development Trust three years ago finally started operations two days ago.

Similarly, several e-microbuses provided by TheeGo are now running the Kathmandu-Sindhuli route, as well as ramp buses for Guna Airlines at Kathmandu airport.

But the use of electric buses in Nepal does not extend beyond this. Bagmati province has recently decided to only allow registration of electric cars as taxis, but till date, only one EV has been registered.

Neighbouring India has taken more concrete steps to electrify its public transport system. It has launched two phases of Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric & Hybrid Vehicles (FAME) initiatives with investments of over INR 100 billion to create demand for electric public vehicles and invest in charging infrastructure.

It also recently announced plans to buy 50,000 electric buses worth $10 billion. Nepal also needs to learn from its northern and southern neighbours on having a policy to support electric public transportation and investing in it.

While Nepal might not have a lot of capital to invest in public electric transport, a creative solution might be the use the billions of rupees already collected from the pollution tax of Rs1.50 per litre of petrol and diesel sold in the country in the past years, to support the EV ecosystem as a whole — particularly public transport operators who want to invest in e-buses.

Crowd at OLA stall at the NADA EV show in Kathmandu.

Another solution would be to convert old internal combustion engine vehicles to battery power. Nepal has successfully experimented with vehicle conversion some 30 years ago when Vikram Tempo three wheelers were converted to electric Safa Tempo. A similar drive to convert old buses to electric could be a solution to pursue.

However, in order to do so, the government need to first provide legal clarity on vehicle conversion, and secondly work on standards, testing and monitoring protocols for the conversion of the vehicles.

There is no question that Nepal needs to swiftly decarbonise the transport sector to manage its energy, economy and environment. However, a lot of homework needs to be done by both the government and the private sector to accelerate this process.

Last year, at the COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow, Prime Minister Deuba said, “Nepal remains firmly committed to the implementation of Paris Agreement. We have submitted an ambitious NDC that plans to decarbonize our economy in all sectors. Nepal aims to reach a net zero emission by 2045.”

It is now high time we walk our talk.

Shreesha Nankhwa is an environmentalist currently engaged with FHI 360 as a Social and Behaviour Change Communication Officer.

“Journalism is the frontline of democracy”

Acting US Assistant Secretary for Global Public Affairs Elizabeth Trudeau. Photo: GOPEN RAI

Acting US Assistant Secretary for Global Public Affairs Elizabeth Trudeau was on a two-day visit to Nepal this week. She earlier served as the US Consul General in Northern Ireland and Pakistan as well as the Department of State’s Director for Press Operations and as a spokesperson in Washington, DC. Excerpts of her conversation with Nepali Times Studio:.

Nepali Times: Thank you so much for joining us. Let’s start with the objective of your visit, what are you here for?

Elizabeth Trudeau: The purpose of my visit is really Nepal and the people of Nepal. So in my job at the Department of State we focus a lot on making sure that we understand what people around the world are thinking and feeling not only about US policy, but about major issues of the day, food security, climate change. And so really, the whole purpose of coming to Nepal, is to understand what Nepalese are thinking and feeling about the issues that impact all of us.

Nepal is an important partner of the United States. So it’s really critical that I came here first, this is a part of a 12-day trip that I’m taking in Nepal is my number one stop.  After this, I’m going to Dubai, where I’m going to be meeting with some of our colleagues, they’re talking to some regional media. And then I go to Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan afterwards. And then next month, I’m going to be traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa and visiting a number of countries.

The US government supports democracy, youth, minorities, women, and media around the world. Are those your priorities in Nepal as well?

I think what we hear from the United States government is what the people of Nepal want. We work in partnership with Nepal. And these are the issues that are important to the people here. They care about what youth they’re thinking, they care about the rights of women, and they care about having a vibrant society. And so we’re just happy to partner with Nepal, and contribute really for a global ecosystem that makes life better for all of us.

Nepal and the US established diplomatic relations 75 years ago, but in the past it had started looking at Nepal through the India lens. We’ve seen that change now. What are the changing geopolitical dynamics?

What I would say is that Nepal, or any country in the world, needs to be approached as a partner for itself, the United States that doesn’t look to Nepal as a country that we use in sort of a balance, we look to Nepal as a partner, as a critical country. And as a country, we want to learn and engage more. What you hear Secretary Blinken Tony Blinken, my boss at the Department of State say is that it’s important that we listen as much as we talk. And that’s, I think, increasingly what you’re seeing in our relationship to Nepal and the people here.

Read also: A survival strategy for Nepal, Kunda Dixit

Disinformation is disenabling democracy around the world, indeed, in our own country and also in the US. A lot of this has to do with social media companies headquartered in the US. How can the US work to combat disinformation, without infringing on freedom of speech?

Such a complex question, and I’m so glad you raised it. And as you mentioned, the United States doesn’t have an answer to all of these problems. We see misinformation and disinformation in countries around the world. Just last month, I met with G7 ministers in Berlin. And without fail, every single one of those countries came to the table and said, it is a problem in our country. So the question is, how do we solve it? And I think there’s no simple answer, just because there’s not one form of it. So it’s going to take all of us, it’s going to take journalists, it’s going to take fact-checking organizations, it will take governments to continue to tell the truth, but most importantly, it’s going to take private citizens, because media literacy is a significant part of it. How do you know that you’re sharing information that is true? As a citizen, we have a right to know what the truth is. But we also have a responsibility that we have to share only true things. And if that’s fact checking, if that’s trusting a media, if that’s making sure that before we hit share on a social media site, we know the fact. That’s on all of us, so it’s really going to have to be a comprehensive solution. There is no easy answer.

Is there anything that the US is doing to combat disinformation that Nepal can learn from?

Well, I would ask the same thing. Is there anything that Nepal is doing that the US can learn from? I think one of the things goes back to media literacy. I’ve met activists right now in Nepal, who are working on media literacy programs in schools. In the United States, we don’t do that evenly. Some school systems do other stone, is there a way that we can learn from Nepal, and work together? So our kids who as we know, are most active on social media, learn early what they can trust? And if they don’t trust it, how to question it.

What do you think, is the role of mainstream media in the age of social media in safeguarding freedoms, especially in countries like Nepal with a very short history of democracy?

I could not feel stronger about this. Journalism is the frontline of democracy. Journalists are the ones who tell the truth, who tell hard stories, and who hold governments like mine to account. I say this as someone who works for the government, sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but it’s absolutely necessary. And I would say journalists in the United States are not different in that journalists in Nepal, journalists in the United States have a responsibility to hold governments and corporations and individuals to account and make sure that citizens have the information they need. So they can vote so they can be active in their government. Journalists are everything. I mean, they really are the ones who are on the front lines.

What has been your assessment of democracy and press freedom and the state of disinformation misinformation in Nepal compared to the global context?

I would say, the people I have met during my visit, and I’ll say it’s too short, I look forward to coming back have been wonderful, just speaking very openly sharing ideas, sharing ideas, not only with us as partners, but among each other. I’ve been especially impressed with the youth with young people because they bring a passion to this. You had said Nepal is a young democracy so is the United States, we’re still learning too. And what I see in Nepal, is that vibrancy, people want to do better. And that’s what I’m taking away from this.

Today, I went down and saw some of the cultural heritage sites that we’ve worked in partnership with the government of Nepal as well as private groups, and saw the way that they were really enmeshed in society, that people were there they were visiting. And that was astonishing. It was beautiful to see not only the way that people of Nepal cherish their heritage, but they make it part of their daily life. And I think there’s a lesson for people all over the world on that.

Read also: The India, US, Nepal, China quadrangle, Akanshya Shah

Swing votes

HAPPY HOLIDAYS: Recently done with her exams, Aashika Khadka,16, enjoys a Dasain swing in Kathmandu this week. She is not eligible to vote for another two years. Photo: GOPEN RAI

Federalism might have handed power back to the Nepali people, making way for crucial changes in local-level leadership and driving grassroots development. But Nepal’s mainstream politics in the last five years has been defined primarily by infighting within parties, their mergers and splits. 

In 2018, KP Oli’s CPN-UML and Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Maoist Centre merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) after a successful electoral alliance during the country’s first federal elections. The ensuing power struggle between them split their party.  

This ushered in an era of break-up and make-up politics. Madhav Kumar Nepal broke away from Oli to form the CPN (Unified Socialists). Next, Mahanta Thakur cut ties with the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) to form the Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (LSP). 

Five-time prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress (NC) joined forces with former nemesis Dahal, Nepal, Yadav and Bhattarai to form a coalition government, which is carrying over to an electoral alliance at all three levels of elections in November.

The mergers and splits did not stop there. After the May local elections, Baburam Bhattarai split from the JSP to form the Naya Samajwadi Party (NSP) joining hands with former comrade-in-arms Dahal to contest the upcoming election under the Maoist’s election banner.

And this week, Rabindra Mishra, who had stepped down as the chair of  Bibeksheel Sajha following dismal local poll results, resigned from the party altogether to ‘form a moderate conservative nationalist force’. On Wednesday, Mishra, who was once known for progressive politics, joined the right-wing RastriyaPrajatantra Party (RPP).The opposition UML had formed an alliance with the RPP and the LSP to contest the November polls.

Read also: Rule of the lawless, Editorial

Parties with diametrically opposing ideologies are getting together, proving that dogma and party creed are as fickle as political alliances. 

The coalition and opposition parties are finalisingtheir election candidates with complicated seat-sharing deals. The closed list of proportional representation (PR) candidates include high-profile names from former ministers and spouses of top leaders from the NC and the Maoists, leading to dissent from within party ranks. 

NC leader Shekhar Koirala has been turning the heat on PM Deuba to modify the PR list to ensure that the Koirala-Gagan Thapa faction accounts for 40% of the candidates. The closed list only has 13 members from the faction as of now. Koirala has warned that his supporters will not vote for coalition candidates if they are not represented.

In the far-western districts of Doti and Baitadi, regional chapters and leaders of the NC have rejected the electoral alliance that would give away their constituency to the Maoists. This is a repeat of what happened in the mayoral race in Bharatpur in May. 

In Dhankuta the Maoists had to give up seats for the UML candidate in 2017 elections, and this time for a coalition candidate. So, Maoist Politburo member Hemraj Bhandari and other cadres resignaed in protest and will contest the election as independents.

PM Deuba’s priority is to appease the electoral alliance, and he thinks he can  mend the rift within his own party later. The great mystery is why Deuba thinks the MC and the CPN (US) are more important for his future than popular leaders from his own NC.

The answer probably lies in his own ambition to be prime minister for a sixth time, and the lack of confidence that the NC alone cannot get a majority in November.

Read also: Reward performance, Editorial

As for the Maoists, the electoral partnership has ensured Dahal’s standing in national politics. He has once again joined hands with Bhattarai, the Maoist ideologue whom he had vilified, and said he will not break the coalition.

However, it will surprise no one if Dahal once more takes up with the UML if Oli promises him more seats like he did in 2017.

Widespread dissatisfaction brought about an exodus of leaders who ran the election independently in May. It also gave rise to independent candidates like Balen Shah and Harka Sampang. Nepalis voted in droves for them, sending a clear message to Nepal’s ageing, out-of-touch establishment. 

This has encouraged more people from outside the political sphere to vie for the elections— some of whom have formed a collective, The Rastriya Swatantra Party, to contest the election under one symbol. They include party founder and former tv personality Rabi Lamichhane, climate scientist Arniko Panday, and former Bibeksheel leader Pukar Bam.

There is a risk in all this of a rise in populist candidates fanning their agenda through social networking platforms to cash in on growing public disenchantment with traditional politics.

If Nepal’s top leadership do not mend their ways, it will only serve to boost leaders like Shah, who bulldoze through due process as he has done by whipping up public frenzy over the Tukucha excavation in Kathmandu.

It is a signal of how dangerous populism is that even the established candidates are not speaking out against Mayor Balen because of fears of a political backlash at election time.

Read also: Rise of the independents, Editorial

A survival strategy for Nepal

Two books released this week deal prominently with the Kalapani border dispute between Nepal and India, and both eschew jingoism for historical records and present pragmatic ways to resolve this bilateral irritant.

In National Security and the State: A Focus on Nepal, retired Brig-Gen Keshar Bahadur Bhandari of the Nepal Army uses Kalapani as bookends in his foreword and epilogue. Now more than ever before, he says, Nepal needs to devise and follow a national security doctrine if it is to survive between the world’s two most populous countries.

In Nepal-India Border Disputes: Mahakali and Susta edited by Pitamber Sharma, a slew of cartographers, geographers, historians and even a hydrologist pore into colonial era maps and treaties to explore why Kalapani-Lipulekh-Limpiyadhura became disputed in the first place.

Read together, the two books present ideas about how Nepal can navigate the treacherous geopolitics of being a country of 30 million squeezed between two Goliaths on either side with 2.6 billion peoples.

Nepal’s founding king Prithvi Narayan Shah already had a national security policy that he set forth in his Dibya Upadesh 250 years ago with the ‘Yam Doctrine’. The only difference is that today Nepal is a tuber betwixt three boulders, not just two.

The most direct impact of this was felt in the last three years when Nepal’s politicians went at each other with hammers and tongs, weaponising the MCC, and in the process offending all three powers: the United States, China, India.

Bhandari’s recommendation is that Nepal has no option but to follow another one of king Prithvi’s guiding security principles: ‘Jai katak nagarnu, jhikikatak garnu’ (Don’t provoke needlessly, but be ready to defend.)

Reading the historical recaps in National Security and the State, it becomes clear that the threat to Nepal’s national security since the Gurkha Conquest in 1769, and especially after 1816, was not so much from belligerent neighbours, but from within the royal court in Kathmandu itself.

The royal families and their courtiers were entangled in endless conspiracies, vengeance and violence. The constant back-stabbing periodically erupted in ‘front-stabbing’ in the Bhandarkhal and Kot massacres, and even the murder of the royals in 2001.

The Shah and Rana dynasties were historically prone to feuds over succession, and some of this was because of the promiscuity of monarchs who begat progeny from multiple queens and concubines. Courtiers and advisers took sides, and rival regent queens appealed for support from the East India Company via the British Resident.

In that respect, contemporary politics in the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is not much different, as politically promiscuous leaders openly seek patronage of powerful actors in Delhi or Beijing in their in-house power struggles.

Read also: The India-Nepal-China geopolitical tri-junction, Kunda Dixit

Bhandari compares the security doctrine of other small states like Israel which punch above their weight, but says also-landlocked Mongolia could be a more appropriate model for Nepal: ‘What China is to Mongolia, India is to Nepal … what Russia is to Mongolia, China is to Nepal.’

Unlike Nepal, which is vulnerable due to its overwhelming economic dependence on India, Mongolia has created a ‘third neighbour’ to boost its economic security, the author argues.

Media person Bhusan Dahal interacting with author Keshar Bahadur Bhandari at the launch event.

Nepal is not a ‘small’ country, it is just small compared to its giant neighbours. When it became the oldest nation state in South Asia two-and-half centuries ago, there were only 22 other countries in the world, and today it is the 40th most populous in the world.

Bhandari dissects the term ‘nation-state’, and puts forth the argument that because of its ethnic diversity Nepal is actually a ‘state-nation’. As someone who was also involved in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, the author wants steps to be taken to prevent potential ethno-cultural conflict in Nepal.

Although there are chapters on the Nepal Army, and especially its conduct during the Maoist insurgency, the book expands the definition of national security beyond the military to also refer to political stability, economic security, cyber security, human security and even climate security.

The reader could wonder why Nepal even needs a national army when it may not be much of a deterrence against foreign invasion. Like Costa Rica, it could free up a chunk of its budget to resolve precursors to internal conflict like social injustice, inequity and poor governance.

National Security and the State is a largely objective assessment of Nepal’s security concerns, but on some issues Brig-Gen Bhandari does take a stance. He postulates that Nepal might still be a monarchy if the Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2006 was between the Maoists and the Royal Nepal Army, instead of with the 7-party Alliance.

He also has strong views on regulating the 1,880km India-Nepal open border because ‘it has done more bad and good to Nepal … exacerbating security problems’. He also maintains that secularism was covertly added into the 2015 Constitution, and that: ‘The cause of Hindu religion would protect many of Nepal’s national security interests.’

Going by the intolerance and polarity in India today, Nepal may have to think twice about importing insecurity from the South. The ‘soft power’ of religion may not do much to firm up Nepal’s ‘soft state’.

The border dispute with India is one of Nepal’s major security concerns, and Nepal-India Border Disputes: Mahakali and Susta tries to put the matter to rest with chapters by Nepali experts including geographer Mangal Siddhi Manandhar, former government secretary Dwarika Nath Dhungel, geodetic engineer Prabhakar Sharma, and historian Tri Ratna Manandhar.

As geography professor and former head of the National Planning Commission Pitamber Sharma concludes in his overview, ‘The boundary issues between Nepal and India can be settled only by the strict obedience of the Sugauli Treaty.’

Read also: Territorialism, Editorial

That treaty between the British East India Company and the Gorkha Empire signed in 1816 shrank Nepal to territory west of the Mechi and east of the Mahakali rivers. But the treaty did not have a map, and it was left to interpretation which was the main flow of the Mahakali at its upper reaches in the tri-junction between Nepal, India and China.

This compilation makes a case for Nepal’s claim, but does so without falling into the nationalistic trap, presenting an objective analysis of why and where the boundary was changed. The conclusion: disputes over the river borders at Kalapani and Susta are a legacy of British India.

As Dwarika Dhungel points out in his chapter, early maps showed the Kali River originating in Limpiyadhura but the British later found that there was a much easier trade route to Tibet for the import of valuable shatoosh baby antelope wool along a tributary to Lipu Pass.

They then surreptitiously manipulated their survey maps to first cover up the Kali (Kuti Yangdi) and then show Lipu Khola as the main river, shifting the border eastwards. Dhungel notes: ‘How a lesser stream could be recognised as the main branch of the Kali is beyond any logic.’

If trade was the main preoccupation for Britain, for independent India it was the strategic importance of Lipu Pass — especially after the border war with China in 1962. King Mahendra allowed the Indian Army to ‘temporarily’ stay in Kalapani, and it appears to have been historical Nepali indifference by local authorities as well as faraway Kathmandu that allowed the Indians to stay put.

With Susta, the reason for the dispute is the shifting main channel of the Gandak westwards, and came to the fore in the 1960s. Nearly 40sq km of what was once Nepali territory now lies in India if one is to accept the joint Nepal-Britain Rozar Martin maps of 1817.

It is clear that colonial Britain pushed the Kalapani boundary for its trade interest and left India to deal with the consequences with Nepal, which it is doing to this day. The border issue is then used by politicians in both Kathmandu and New Delhi to wave the populist flag from time to time. China’s past border agreements with India on Lipulekh have shown that Nepal cannot rely on Beijing for support.  

In the epilogue to National Security and the State, Brig-Gen Bhandari urges Nepali leaders to use ‘proper lobbying and persuasive pressure’ to either make Kalapani a peace buffer, or to swap it, as example, for a permanent highway corridor from the southeast tip of Nepal to Bangladesh through Indian territory.

His advice: ‘Since a small state cannot change its neighbours, it has to learn to live with them … more so Nepal can bring the two neighbours with diverse political and sociocultural values closer for a common and great economic interest.’  

Read also: Nepal needs intelligent intelligence, Dipak Gurung

 

National Security and the State: A Focus on Nepal

By Keshar Bahadur Bhandari

Nepa-laya, 2022

426 pages, Rs 995

Also available through Thuprai and Amazon

 

Nepal-India Border Disputes: Mahakali and Susta

Edited With an Introduction by Pitamber Sharma

Mandala Book Point, 2022

192 pages, Rs 1,595

Day of German Unity

German Ambassador Thomas Prinz hosted a celebration to mark the Day of German Unity and the 35th anniversary of the Kathmandu Branch Office of the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University, at his residence in Kathmandu. “Our bilateral relations with Nepal this year were marked by the German Government’s decision to continue the development cooperation with Nepal recognising the good progress Nepal has made in the last years in political and socio-economic development sector,” said Prinz at the event.