In normal times, the government’s presentation of its policies and programs in the budget session of Parliament is formally read out by the President. But Friday’s speech by President Bidya Devi Bhandari was not happening at an ordinary time.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari arrived at Parliament in a motorcade that sped through deserted roads of Kathmandu. She stood with Prime Minister K P Oli, both wearing masks as they took the salute from a unit of the Nepal Army. The soldiers were also all wearing masks.
President Bhandari’s address to both Houses of the Federal Parliament outlined the government’s plans to deal with the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through her, the government outlined its blueprint to revive Nepal’s health, education, employment and economy in the coming fiscal year.
“The crisis has forced the government to re-evaluate the government’s priorities of the past two years,” President Bhandari told Parliamnet, where MPs were all wearing masks, and seated with physical distancing.
“All attention will now be focussed on lifting the country and its people from the socio-economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis,” she added.
The government’s plans include casting a social safety net to help workers who have lost their jobs, the vulnerable class, and the poor so that they have jobs and incomes.
There is also a plan to revive agriculture by encouraging people out of jobs to return to farming, and to prioritise cash crops.
She also announced a cut on non-essential spending, and special preparations to help Nepali overseas workers retuning to Nepal. The number testing positive for coronavirus reached 258 on Friday, most of them workers returning from India.
Responding to the growth in online shopping during the COVID-19 lockdown, the government has announced a transition to cashless transactions and to facilitate e-commerce. All government business in the next two years will be cashless, and it will encourage a digital payment system through integrated apps.
Nepal’s tourism sector has been devastated by the COVID-19 crisis, and the government says it will help the industry to pick up in the coming fiscal year.
The government says it is committed to upgrade Kathmandu Airport, bring Bhairawa Airport into operation for international flights from next year, and finish Pokhara International Airport.
Despite criticism that it is a white elephant, the government said it is still committed to start work on Nijgad airport. The government will also expand night flights to nine domestic airports, and built a new airfield in Kavre.
Responding to the current spat with India over the Kalapani territorial dispute, President Bhandari said the government would soon be publishing the official map of Nepal that will include areas occupied by India within Nepali territory.
She said: “Limpiyadhura, Lipu Lekh and Kalapani are within Nepal.”