Nepal Communist Party (NCP): Yubaraj Khatiwada was re-appointed as the Finance as well as Communication and Information Technology Minister on March 4. Khatiwada had resigned from the post after the completion of his two-year tenure in the Upper House. NCP’s spokesperson, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, reaffirmed that NCP leader Bamdev Gautam will be nominated to the National Assembly to fill the spot vacated by Khatiwada.
At a program in Chitwan on March 8, NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal urged the party cadres ‘not to get perturbed’ by the recent disagreements at the party.
Prime minister and NCP co-chair Oli’s admission to the hospital for his kidney transplant has rendered the party almost inactive. However, the Oli camp seems working to bring Madhav Kumar Nepal under its fold; deputy prime minister and defense minister Ishwor Pokharel met Nepal at his residence twice since February 23.
Nepali Congress (NC): Criticizing NC president’s unilateral action to form central department and the nominate Central Working Committee members towards the end of his tenure, the party’s rival faction, led by Ram Chandra Poudel, accused Sher Bahadur Deuba of trying to influence the upcoming convention. The recent events reignited the factional divide within the party.
Other Parties: Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N), formed by the unification of six Madhes-based parties, is mired in an internal struggle to manage the party leadership, and in an attempt to do so, the party leaders seem unwilling to hold the General Convention even after more than two years after the unification. The party has amended its statute for three times, postponing the convention and seems to prepare for the fourth. The leaders, who are heading the party on a rotational basis, are wary that they will lose their prominence after the Convention.
On March 7, the pro-monarchy parties, Rashtriya Prajatantra Party and Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (united), signed an agreement for unification.  The resulting Rashtriya Prajatantra party has three presidents, which has surfaced as a trend (of co-leadership) within major political parties.
March 11 marked one year since the Biplab-led NCP was banned. On the same day, there was a blast at former Communication and Information Technology minister Gokul Prasad Baskota’s residence. Although the outcast party has not claimed responsibility yet, Nepal Police claimed the group to be behind the blast.
Federal Parliament:Janamorcha lawmaker Durga Poudel registered a bill aimed to annul the country’s federal arrangement, Poudel seems to be seeking constitutional amendment for the same.
Japan’s assistance for child health in Banke and water and sanitation in Bardia: Masamichi Saigo, the Ambassador of Japan to Nepal, signed two grants. He signed a grant contract worth approximately Rs 50 million with ADRA Japan for the implementation of a project to improve newborns and child health in Banke district under Japan’s grant assistance for the Japanese NGO projects scheme for FY 2019. He also signed another grant contract for the water and sanitation facilities construction and hygiene education intervention project for primary and secondary schools in Bardiya with Good Neighbors Japan valued at Rs 51.7 million.
Nepali orphanages duping Australian donors: Australia-funded orphanages are trafficking children from remote villages to lure donations from foreigners. The children are claimed to be orphans when, in fact, they are not. The orphanage also produces fake death certificates of parents to make the case look legitimate. The Australians were fooled into thinking they were supporting Nepali orphans. Therefore, Australians are warned not to fund Nepal’s orphanages.
India, USA, China, and Russia’s military invited to climb Mt Everest: The Defence Ministry of Nepal has asked the military of India, China, and the United States to climb Mount Everest later this year as a symbol of friendship. Nepal’s ambassador to Russia Rishi Ram Ghimire positively responded to the invitation to climb Mount Everest together this year. And Nepal is now waiting for Moscow’s response to the invitation sent a month ago.
Indian Envoy in quick actions: As soon as the new Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra presented his credentials to the Nepali president, he called for a meeting with half a dozen Nepali political leaders. Kwatra, in his sessions, acknowledged the development in Nepal’s energy sector; however, no significant concerns were addressed during the calls. The ambassador is expected to be an “active interlocutor” when the USA and China, both have visibly increased engagements in Nepal.
Kwatra called on the speaker of the House of Representatives Agni Prasad Sapkota at the latter’s office where they held talks on further enhancing multifaceted bilateral ties between the two countries.
Nepali peace mission in Africa hailed: Nepal Army’s peace mission was hailed for defusing explosives in Mali, a conflict-hit African country. An army of 140 personnel led by Dinesh Baniya is actively working in Mali since 2013. Force commander of peace mission in Mali, Dennis Gyllensporre decorated Nepali peace mission with UN Medal, lauding its bravery which bought significant improvement in Mali’s peace and security situation.
INFRASTRUCTURE & DEVELOPMENT
National Pride Projects: The National Planning Commission in its recent report on National Pride Project indicated that the projects would need an additional Rs 28 trillion for completion. The budget size for the completion is two times the full budget of the ongoing fiscal year. The progress on the pride projects has been unsatisfactory with a meager expenditure of Rs 3 trillion so far.
Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project, which is one of 22 national pride project, is nearing completion. Should there be no disaster, the 456-MW Plant is expected to evacuate 76 MW in the first phase in three months from now and will gradually go to full output in phases.
However, COVID-19 is already having an impact on Nepal’s Infrastructure sector, in particular the ones where the Chinese contractors are engaged. Hydropower and road construction projects have borne the brunt of the virus outbreak. The affected hydropower project includes Madhya Bhotekoshi, Sanjen Trishuli 3B, Khimti-2, and Langtang Khola while the worst-hit road project includes the widening of Kalanki-Chabahil section ring road and segment of Butwal-Narayanghat road and upgrading Rasuwagadhi-Syaphrubesi road. Pokhara International Airport and Gautam Buddha International Airport are also bearing the brunt. These projects are affected as Chinese workers, who had gone to China for the New Year, have not returned after the COVID-19 outbreak in China. Further, the import of equipment and construction materials is affected as Tatopani and Rasuwagadhi trading points remain shut.
The pandemic is having an overall impact on the global economy, including Nepal as well. The outbreak has affected the supply chain as the import from China has been disrupted for more than a month now. The depreciation of Nepalese currency against the USD has pushed the inflation further and will make the infrastructure costlier. The outbreak is also making our daily lives costlier with the rise in commodity prices and artificial scarcity of goods.
Further, the Asian Development Bank indicated that, in the worst-case scenario, the outbreak will reduce Nepal’s GDP by o.13% (MUSD 36.78) and will render as many as 16,000 people jobless.
As tourist arrivals and receipts are expected to decline sharply as a result of numerous travel bans as well as precautionary behavior, Nepal’s tourism sector has also been badly hit. Tourism entrepreneurs have hence asked the government to provide them with a 50% waiver in taxes and expansion of refinancing facilities provided by Nepal Rastra Bank.
GOVERNANCE & CORRUPTION
Gautam to be nominated to Upper House: The ruling party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said that vice-chair Bamdev Gautam will get a seat in the National Assembly. A seat has fallen vacant in the Upper House after the tenure of member Yubraj Khatiwada expired on March 10. However, the government hasn’t recommended a candidate for the seat.
House panel deferred: The Parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee, which was supposed to discuss alleged corruption in Nepali Army, postponed its meeting after Defence Minister Ishwar Pokharel and Chief of Army Staff General Purna Chandra Thapa did not attend the meeting. Lawmakers from both ruling and opposition parties expressed their reservation over Pokharel and Thapa not attending the meeting and demanded the meeting be postponed.
The committee had invited Pokharel and COAS Thapa to discuss complaints filed with the committee alleging irregularities during appointments, promotions, construction of barracks, and fast-track project construction.
Citizenship issue unresolved: Children of citizens by birth continue to face livelihood problems as the new Citizenship (Amendment) Bill remains stuck in the Parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee (SAGC). SAGC halted its process on the bill in the last session of the Parliament as top leaders of political parties urged the HoR panel to try its best to forge consensus on the issue, particularly on the process to grant naturalized citizenship to foreign women married to Nepali men. The original bill stipulates that foreign women married to Nepali men would get naturalized citizenship after they submit evidence of renunciation of their citizenship. Under the existing provision, such women can get naturalized citizenship immediately after initiating the process of renouncing their citizenship without having to show evidence that they have already renounced their citizenship.
RM chairman heard demanding kickback on tape: An audio tape has surfaced in which Himali Rural Municipality Chairman Govind Bahadur Malla is heard negotiating kickback with Bajura Construction Entrepreneurs’ Union Chairman Binod Shahi. Malla is heard negotiating kickback to provide a contract worth Rs 16.9 million for construction of Saileswori Technical School to his son. Malla refuted the allegation and said it was a premeditated plot to frame him. He said his son did not have any construction firm. Malla was accused of awarding contracts to construction entrepreneurs close to him in the past.
SECURITY & STRATEGIC AFFAIRS
COVID-19: Nepali Congress lawmaker Gagan Thapa moved an urgent motion of public importance in the House of Representatives, drawing the attention of the House to coronavirus outbreak around the world. Thapa said Nepal had remained unaffected by COVID-19 thus far, but that might change in the coming days, adding that the government should remain prepared to deal with any possibility of an outbreak. He urged the House to form a committee to monitor the government’s preparedness to deal with COVID-19.
The government has decided to stop issuing on-arrival visas to citizens of eight countries most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Citizens of China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Japan will not be issued on-arrival visas from March 10 and issuance of on-arrival visas for citizens of France, Germany, and Spain will be temporarily stopped from March 13 till further notice. Department of Immigration has asked citizens of these countries willing to visit Nepal to obtain visas from the Nepali mission abroad beforehand. Those having a transit in these countries are required to submit a recently issued health certificate stating that they are not infected by COVID-19, along with their visa applications.
While the public is grappling with fears of a possible outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, Nepal lacks an official single window for information to provide authentic and updated information on the deadly virus. Nepal is vulnerable to the pathogen for various reasons. Proximity with China, thousands of Nepalese working in affected countries, spiking COVID-19 cases in India, and the flow of passengers from affected countries have made Nepal vulnerable. The Oxford Journal of Travel medicine has listed Nepal as one of the 15 countries on high risk from COVID-19.
Border Issues: A political map released by India last November formally included Nepali territories of Kalapani, Lipulek, and Limpiaadhura as a part of India. India’s move was widely opposed in Nepal, and after a series of protests, Prime Minister Oli convened an all-party meeting to discuss the issue. It was proposed that the Prime Minister discuss to resolve the issue with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Information officer of the National Department of Survey Damodar Dhakal said that the political leadership had the responsibility and authority to determine the national and international boundaries. And there were no instructions or decisions made from the political level yet.
India-Nepal border measurement: However, after much criticism on Oli’s negligible efforts to take any action following India’s inclusion of Kalapani in its map, there is a team silently inspecting the southern border. PM Oli has not publicly acknowledged that two teams consisting of representatives from various ministries have been working on measuring the border. The team assigned to the Indian border is led by Yagya Bahadur Hamal, a joint secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only the final round of inspection is left. Despite several rounds of meetings and commitments to address issues along the border, the two countries have yet to find an amicable solution. Another technical team will conduct a similar inspection along the northern border though Sino-Nepal has no border issues.
Cybersecurity: Personal information of more than 50,000 users of Foodmandu, a popular food delivery online service, has been publicly exposed following a cyber-attack. Names, addresses, and mobile phone numbers of Foodmandu users were released on a website. Releasing a statement on Sunday, Foodmandu said it fixed the loophole in its web application immediately after incident identification. The company, however, did not make it clear about the loophole that the hacker exploited to gain access to the user accounts and take control of them. The release of the personal records of users has also highlighted the security vulnerability and lack of tighter control of the company in protecting its users’ personal information.
SOCIAL INCLUSION, MIGRATION & CLIMATE CHANGE
Acid Attack: A Hari Narayan Barai attacked his neighbor, a 51-year-old woman, with acid in Kapilbastu. On a dispute for providing compensation on a broken cricket bat by their children, neighbor Hari Narayan threw acid on her. The cases of acid attacks are in an increasing trend in recent days.
Political Participation of Women: Though there is significant numerical participation of women in the local government of Makawanpur district, the gender equality gap remains. Poor women of the district face a huge gender pay gap as male laborers get Rs 350 and the women laborers get only Rs 200 as daily wages. Eight out of ten local units are yet to formulate equal pay for equal work policy.
Gender and Sexual Minorities: According to a survey conducted by Mitini Nepal, an organization for gender and sexual minority community, 20% out of 200 GSM people aged between 15-50 years, revealed their gender identity and sexual orientation with their family. Due to the social norms of heteronormativity, GSM people still fear to open up in society.
Rape Case: Former Deputy Superintendent of Police Rajkumar Khiuju who was accused of rape, has been arrested from Bhaktapur. A 21-year-old woman had filed an FIR against him saying he frequently raped her. Similarly, a member of parliament of Sudurpashchim Province, Akkal Bahadur Rawal has been arrested on a rape allegation.
Environment: The government has issued “Kathmandu Valley Air Quality Management Action Plan 2020” to guarantee the fundamental right of citizens to live in a clean and healthy environment. The action plan has set eight objectives to reduce pollution and secure eco-friendly environment. It came into force after approval from the council of Ministers in February.
PROVINCE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
Name and Capital: Member of Parliament of both the ruling and opposition parties and local businessman held a discussion in Province 5 to put pressure on declaring Butwal as the permanent capital city of the province. They claimed that the Chief Minister is trying to declare Dang as the capital city.
Development works: Nine pride road schemes chosen by Sudurpaschim Pradesh are at a standstill. Although six months of the fiscal year have passed, the province failed to move ahead from the contract stage to the implementation of the projects. The government claims completion of the pride project within five years.
Excavation: In Godavari Municipality, 21 crusher plants are in
operation against the government standard. Most of the industries are owned by
elected representatives despite their commitment to remove such industries.
Excavation of the natural resources from the rivers has hence gone unchecked.