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Descending On Kathmandu

Issue 19, May 08, 2011

Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

After a year stay abroad, we came back to Nepal on April 07, 2011. The Gulf Airline we were flying carried a planeload of Nepalis from Bahrain to Kathmandu. We saw three flights taking off from Bahrain to Kathmandu at the same time. We could imagine that the same number of flights from Doha and from other destinations in the Middle East to Kathmandu must be carrying Nepalis back home; and the same number of Nepalis are going back to work in those destinations. We can see how many Nepalis have been working in the Middle East and North Africa. Descending on Kathmandu and meeting with other Nepalis, we have found only frustration of discomfort in Kathmandu.

As we came down from the Gulf plane, buses have been waiting for us to take to the airport terminal. The Kathmandu airport is very calm and the morning weather is also serene and the sun is shining pleasantly. Possibly, the sun must be welcoming us by its morning soft light and heat. The bus took us to the gate of the terminal.

We just walk and follow other passengers. We don’t see any signs telling us to go to the custom counter or another waiting room for transfer passengers. We are wondering where to go and wait for connecting flights if we need to go elsewhere other than Kathmandu. We simply followed other passengers and ultimately came to the custom counter.

It is not so hard to get custom clearance at the international airport in Kathmandu. Custom officers are efficient and don’t keep the passengers waiting for a long time. We collected our baggage and wheeled the baggage to the custom checking and just passed the baggage through the scanner and we are set to go out. Custom clearance has been just like anywhere in the international airports.

Unlike at any international airports, we found a large number of people waiting for the passengers to pick up at the arrival gate. As we are pushing the carts with our baggage through the crowd of people receiving guests, a number of taxi drivers approached us and asked whether we needed their services. We had experienced in our previous return trip from abroad that the taxi drivers charged an exorbitant rate. They did not run the taxis at the meter. In fact, those taxis did not have meters. They charged fixed rates for the areas they traveled in Kathmandu.

After sometime we found our relatives and the driver coming to pick us up at the airport. It is a relief that we don’t need to take a taxi. We are sure that we are reaching home safely. We loaded our baggage in one car and we drove in another.

While driving home, we found a number of slow moving vehicles at Chabahil. Large buses were kicking up dust from the road and exhausting huge smokes from the exhaust pipes. Small taxis were rushing disregarding the traffic rules. A few private cars had been giving way to taxis, buses and even to the cows moving slowly.

On the way home while talking to each other, we found how little water the residents of Kathmandu have. Water supply has been limited to once a week for one to two hours. We can imagine how the residents of Kathmandu have managed their lives with so little water. Then, I realized that why so many people look like never taking showers. Certainly, hotels and people with money have drilled down and pumped water up but such luxury is off-limit to common folks in Kathmandu.

Just a reminder, the prime minister of the coalition government of Nepali Congress and CPN-UML set up by the people’s movement in 1990 had told the people that his administration would divert water from the Melamchi River to Kathmandu and supply water sufficient to wash the roads in Kathmandu but this promise had never been kept. Thereafter, one government after another led by the NC leaders had never attempted to do something about the project.

However, the Prachanda government in 2008-2009 had contracted a job of constructing a more-than-26-km long tunnel for bringing water to Kathmandu to a Chinese contractor but the government collapsed in May 2009; thereafter we never heard about what had been happening to the Melamchi Project.

While talking to each other we found that not only the water has been short supply but also the electricity. After three-to-five-hour supply of power the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) shut it off for seven hours before resuming supply again. The four-to-five hour power supply is just enough for recharging the batteries of the people that had install invertors to light their homes during the outage of the main power line. Majority of the people live without power.

Obviously, short supply of power has directly hit the water supply because most of the water comes from the underground sources during the dry season. So, the water corporation cannot pump up the water when the power is not available. This is only the part of the story of adverse affect of the short supply of power on the lives of the Nepalis. In fact, the short supply of power has paralyzed the business and industry of the country. Nepalis have been living in perpetual darkness.

Again a reminder, immediately after taking up the helm of the Nepalese administration in 2008, the then Prime Minister Prachanda had proposed to build a 200 MW diesel plant to mitigate the power supply but the CPN-UML partner in the coalition government had vehemently opposed the building of a diesel plant for power generation stating it would be a high cost business. The economists or financial analysts that had advised the CPN-UML leaders must have the vision of the cost of the power production from a diesel plant disregarding the opportunity cost of not having the power at all. The entire population has lost the opportunity of doing business when power is not available; so, anyone can guess how much loss the country has to bear.

As we drove on we talked about how the next government headed by the man called Madhav Nepal that had become the prime minister by freak had done nothing to make power available to the people during his administration that had lasted for 21 months from May 2009 to February 2011. He made one of the NC cadres Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat the minister for energy. However, that guy had done nothing to mitigate the power supply but he did everything to make his home lighted twenty-four hours a day.

Now, Chairman of CPN-UML Jhalanath Khanal heads the new coalition government but does nothing. By the way my relative told me that Jhalu’s (Nepalis lovingly call Jhalanath ‘Jhalu’ in private.) deputy and finance minister was for building 2,500 MW power plants whereas we needed only 250 MW at the maximum for some time to come. However, both the Jhalu and his deputy had done nothing so far, my relative said in frustration.

At the same time, we confronted with the traffic jam. We stuck in the middle of the road under the increasing heated sun. One of us noted that vehicles lining up for gasoline had obstructed the regular traffic. My relative told me that he had run from one gas station to another to have 20 liters of gasoline. He first went to the gas station run by the Nepal Police at Naxal, then to the gas station run by the Nepal Army at Mahankal, and then to Sajha gas station at Pulchok but none of the gas stations was operating. Doing a great favor, one of the employees of the Sajha gas station tipped off my relative to go to the Mali gas station at Kalimati. He rushed to the gas station. Just then, a gas tanker was unloading the gas. He had to wait for one hour only to get 20 liters of gasoline.

I asked my relative why Nepalis did not come out to the streets and protest against the administration that did not work for the people. Common folks cannot do much without the support of political parties, he said, all political parties had been for grabbing power; once they were in power they just grabbed everything possible. Political leaders get enriched and fattened like pigs before slaughter while common folks get poor and thin. They had never been concerned with the people’s grievances. So, one government after another had been adding pressure on the balloon of the people’s discontent that could burst into flames one day; the consequences of such things would be disastrous to some politicians.

For example, the current administration of Jhalu and his deputy had been for grabbing anything possible at the first hand. Deputy Prime Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari holding the portfolio of finance had first tried to get some significant amount of money pardoning the VAT defaulters. However, secretary to the ministry of finance came out against the actions of the deputy prime minister because the secretary had spent his precious time to book the VAT defaulters and had been poised to recover the billions of rupees worth of the revenue lost.

After a botched attempt on making some money pardoning the VAT defaulters, Deputy Prime Minister Adhikari sent his revenue police to round up some of the owners of the casinos, and tried to extract some money from them threatening to close the operation of the casinos that had failed to pay the annual fees to the government. In this case, too, Mr. Adhikari did not succeed and probably could not extract anything from the tempered managers of the casinos. They had faced such threats in the past, too. So, the threat of the deputy prime minister to close casinos was not new to them at all.

Finally, Mr. Adhikari has been using the Nepal Oil Corporation to make some money. The shortage of petroleum has been the moneymaker. Currently, the Jhalu administration has been making an artificial shortage of petroleum products to make some money for running his party and staying on in power. Mr. Adhikari and his boss Jhalu can make millions if not billions of rupees in a month selling petroleum products in a parallel market. Thus, the ministers themselves have engaged in illegal trade in the past and in the present, too. Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had made shortage of petroleum products from 2006 to 2008 as long as he had been the interim prime minister but within a week the Prachanda administration had made smooth supply of petroleum products after Girija turned over the power to Prachanda. Whether we like it or not the Prachanda administration had eased the lives of the people and had even attempted to mitigate the short supply of water and electricity.

We have seen the misdeeds of one prime minister after another applying a brake on development but the private companies and individuals have been doing many good things and pushing the country to development despite the impotent ministers that sought rents for doing everything retarding the development process.

For example, while traveling on a car on the northern side of the Ring Road from the Narayan Gopal Chowk to Balaju in Kathmandu, my spouse looking on one side and I another have noticed a number of private hospitals, dental clinics, restaurants, party palaces (means the places where we can hold wedding buffet feasts or any other feasts), different sorts of stores, and tall office buildings. Private hospitals and clinics have been competing with each other for providing customers with better services at reasonable prices. We have also noticed a number of financial and insurances companies, and banks have cropped up. All shopping malls are well stocked. Nepalis look like living better than used to be despite the shortage of water, power and fuels.

One of the reports says that more than 25% of the Gross National Products come from the remittances. Millions of Nepalis have been working in the Middle East, North Africa and the East Asia. They sent billions of rupees home making the Nepalis well off. Thousands of Nepalis leave Nepal for working abroad, and thousands of Nepalis come home every day. They have been making significant contribution to the national economy.

However, thousands of Nepalese professionals such as doctors and engineers don’t send money back home. Most of them buy homes in the country of their work and settle there forever. Out of 1,000 doctors Nepal currently produces, 500 leaves Nepal for working abroad. Similarly, thousands of nurses leave Nepal for working abroad. But remittances from them have been limited.

Tens of private nursing schools have been producing thousands of nurses. Nepalis cannot employ all of them. So, they go to work abroad. Similarly, tens of private teaching hospitals have been producing about one thousand doctors a year. A half of them also cannot get jobs at the home country. So, they leave the country for working abroad.

Other private technical and business colleges have been producing technical and business manpower. Many of them go abroad for higher education but most of them remain there. Nepal has been gaining from the establishment of technical, medical and business colleges but at the same time losing their products.

I asked my relative, “What about the crafting of a new constitution?” He said, “more than 90% of the constitution has been completed; for completing the remaining 10%, the political leaders need to agree on what they are going to do with things they have not reached a consensus on. Leaders of Nepali Congress have been dragging their feet on the federalism. They have put forward one excuse after another to avoid the federalism. Similarly, one political lunatic of the Rastriya Jana-morcha has been campaigning against federalism. This party has not many followers; so his voice would not be counted.”

I asked about Kamal Thapa of Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal. My relative said, “Mr. Thapa has had some money left he had illegally earned when he was a home minister of the last monarch. So, he has been holding rallies and political marches but as soon as he would finish off the illegally earned money he would shut up his mouth. In fact, he should have been in jail instead of going around and talking about nonsense such as the need of monarchy and the Maoists for the political stability.”

Concerning the containment of corruption, my relative said, “The Commission on Investigation into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has been doing quite a lot to bring the corrupt ministers to justice. The Supreme Court of Nepal has sent one of the corrupt ministers to jail and some others are going on trail. However, as long as we don’t have periodic elections and a strong anti-corruption agency, the corruption will continue to flourish. The irony is that the Acting Chief of CIAA has been involved in registering the public land in individuals’ names.”

Despite the political transformation and some unscrupulous politicians cashing in the current transitional situation, no major threat to the democracy and its institutionalization seems to exist. Although political leaders have been squabbling over power and the nitty-gritty of a new constitution, we hope that they would ultimately promulgate a new constitution and then go to the general elections. The economy has been growing even though one administration after another has been corrupt and extracted whatever possible from the state treasury. However, Nepalis have been frustrated with the performances of one administration after another to a great extent because they don’t have water, power and electricity not to mention the good administration.

April 29, 2011

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