In a country where citizens are fond of flag-waving and public displays of nationalistic fervour, no one seems to be unduly concerned that we are dependent on the outside world for our passports, bank notes, stamps, driving licenses and now even embossed car plates.
Can we not demand that the government buy, establish and operate a national mint and security press so that we can create jobs, protect our national interest and make all Nepalis proud of the ‘Printed and Minted in Nepal’ brand?
Our grandmothers took great pride in wearing necklaces made of minted gold coins called asarfi which had their birth year and all other important events in their lives marked on them. In those days, they could go to the national mint called taksar near where Dharara used to be and get the coins made. Gold and silver coins are minted on special occasions like coronations and Buddha’s birthdays, and people buy them as investments.
The mints in gold and silver and special stamps have attracted people because some regard these as long term savings. Many of us have mint from past coronations and the birth anniversary of the Buddha in our collections.
Postal stamps are now steadily becoming extinct, but they still have value because of collectors worldwide. Nepali stamps on postcards could still be a great tourism promotion idea.
Nepal prints or uses foreign software for its passports, currency notes, postage stamps and now even our driving licenses, new citizenship cards, our embossed vehicles number plates, PAN cards, bank debit and credit cards, gold and silver coins. There is no reason why these cannot be done in Nepal.
Given the inefficiency, mismanagement and rife corruption at the Janak Education Material Centre in Thimi, we may soon see children’s text books also printed outside Nepal. Already, many private school text books are not just printed in India but also written there.
So what will it take for Nepal to have its own secure press and mint (taksar) again? Why would anyone oppose such an initiative? Will the media be mobilised by vested interest groups to create a perception that security printing cannot be done in Nepal? Instead of looking for a donor or a middleman of some foreign company, we should be encouraging Nepali businesses to take up these jobs.
The old taksar at Sundhara could be modernised, and even operate like a museum where students can watch the minting process from open galleries to understand how currency and passports are printed. The facility could have a gift shop where people could buy new bank notes and coins. The press and mint can be solely managed by differently abled Nepalis who could get gainful employment and send a strong message of inclusion to the rest of Nepal and the world.
The only challenge is will the culture of opacity and secrecy also mean that the head of such a security printing facility will be a political appointee? Can someone be found who can rise above party politics and serve the nation with dedication and honesty?
The new bank notes could partly be made of hemp and lokta fibre to make them durable. Other countries may even want to use these traditional Nepali paper fibres and there could be a profitable export market.
When the prime minister is given the first file to sign ceremonially when he takes office, why do we not demand that they make a decision that will be a legacy for the history books?
The word ‘revolutionary’ has become a cliché in Nepal, but a well managed security press and mint could be a truly revolutionary advance for Nepal.
Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc.