KATHMANDU: After almost a year’s respite from general strikes and just when the tourism entrepreneurs thought the NTY-2011 programme has at least brought on end to the destructive practice, Nepal faced a second strike within less than a month. While all the major parties agreed to not hold any strikes this year, once again their silence in opposing such calls proves how unreliable they can be and that promises are only made to be broken.
The bandh last Friday was called on by Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) to ‘generate pressure’ to finalise the constitution and to press for inclusion of their rights. Earlier, two other ethnic groups also staged a similar protest. While there is nothing wrong with demanding one’s rights, holding the entire country to ransom can never be justified. It is the general public and the badly hit national
economy that has to bear the brunt of such protests.
Bhola Bickram Thapa, president of President Travel and Tours says, “I have only one question to ask the bandh organisers — has a strike ever solved any problem? We need to say enough is enough. The bandh is like pouring water on sand. It does nothing other than irritate the already agitated general public.”
NEFIN boasts that the bandh on May 13 was a huge success. If success is measured in terms of inconvenience caused, forcing vehicles off
the streets and closing shops due to threats of violence, then every bandh called is always a huge success. It is also interesting to
understand that the price for such ‘success’ is paid for by the country which suffers a loss of Rs 1.98 billion on each bandh. According to Chandan Sapkota, researcher at South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) this is around 88 per cent of the total value of goods and services that the Nepali economy produces in a day. According to Sapkota, the impact on the industrial sector, which is already in the doldrums due to political instability and labour unrest along with power and petroleum shortages, is even more
dismal. A single day’s bandh costs the industrial sector Rs 346 million.
According to Enterprise Survey 2009-10 conducted in Tarai, 93 per cent of food traders identified bandhs as the number one constraint in conducting business. Almost 14 per cent of traders were forced to close down their businesses, while 62 per cent of enterprises
consider instability as the biggest constraint. The situation is ghastly — with a loss of at | least Rs 83 million to the Nepali economy
in just an hour-long nationwide bandh.
The indirect cost incurred due to bandhs adds on to the country’s burden. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), decline in exports is one of the reasons for the 2.1 per cent public deficit in the first quarter of this fiscal year and Nepal ranks 116th among 183 countries on the list of ‘best countries for doing business.’
Ignoring the economic agenda has led to capital flight exit of multi-national corporations and today almost every industry from carpets
to garments face a situation of near extinction. Frequent bandhs and strikes also contribute to the inflation rate of general goods and services.
When asked about why the country should be forced into such losses, Raj Kumar Lekhi, chairman of NEFIN says, “You should ask this question to the state or to CA members, for it is they who should be responsible for the economy, not us. It is our right to hold protests if we are dissatisfied.” He further said that they were ‘forced’ to take this step as their previous efforts to bring about change and pressure the decision makers through peaceful means did not yield any results.
While Nepal is celebrating NTY-2011 this year and enjoyed the arrival of 168,958 tourists from different parts of the world for the period of January to April via air, the return of the bandhs and strikes threatens any progress in tourism. According to Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) there has been an increase of 20.3 per cent in tourist arrivals over the first four months this year.
Bikram Neupane, coordinator of Tourism Crisis Management Cell (TCMC) and chairman of Himalayan Rescue Association, says, “Bandhs and shutdowns frighten tourists. Such events have long-term detrimental effect and destroy the image of the country.” He also informed that by coordinating with NTB, the tourists stranded on the way from or to the airport had to be rescued through shuttle bus services.
Asking the government to ensure that such events do not take place in the future, Bachhu Narayan Shrestha, first vice-
president of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), opines, “Just being able to run tourist buses to and from the airport is not the
solution. Tourists do not come for a holiday to stay in their rooms. We need to be able to give them a comfortable environment with all available services like restaurants and shops among others. It’s not just the tourism industry, but every Nepali who suffers trauma during bandhs.”
Yogendra Shakya, coordinatior of NTY-2011, says, “Bandh of any kind is not the right way to exert pressure or protest. The rights of other people should not be violated. Bandhs confine two and a half million people to their homes, depriving them of their right to conduct day-to-day activities and restricting their movement.”
Also stating that every citizen of the country is entitled to a fair constitution, not just the ethnic groups, he adds, “I do not object to their goal, but I object to the unlawful way it is done.” In this politically charged environment where political parties continously fail the
people and their affiliated organisations call senseless bandhs that add to the woes of the common man, it is easy to lose sight of what
matters. But then again, maybe the common man never mattered anyway.
Speaking about the legal aspect of strikes, Constitution Expert Dr Bhimarjun Acharya says, “Bandhs of any kind are illegal as per the law.” He further adds, “The state should be strong enough to suppress such movements where a handful of people bring the whole nation to a halt. ” When asked about the damages caused by skirmishes that are a part of every bandh, he informs, “It is the organisers of such activities who are legally responsible, but the state should ensure that organisers are held accountable for any damages.”
Ujwal Thapa, president of Entrepreneurs for Nepal (E4N), expresses his view, “Bandhs succeed because the organisers have injected fear in our minds. It’s the only weapon they have. It is time we concentrate on removing the aura of fear and bullying by refusing to be restricted by such bandhs.”