News Digest (May 14 – May 20, 2020)

Democracy & Governance, Economy & Development, Gender & Social Inclusion, International Relations & Foreign Affairs, National Security & Climate Change, News Digest, Thematic Areas 0 Comments

Domestic Politics

Nepal Communist Party (NCP) & the Government:On May 15, 2020, President Bidya Devi Bhandari presented the government’s Policy and Programs for the Fiscal Year 2077/2078 BS. Key promises made by the President were:

  1. Coronavirus-free country
  2. Diplomatic efforts to reclaim Kalapani
  3. Two new international airports
  4. Launch of two railway projects
  5. Use of Chinese ports
  6. Completion of post-earthquake reconstruction
  7. Efforts to address the COVID-19 economic losses.[1]

NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal admitted that the implementation of the policies and programs is full of challenges.[2]

Parliamentary Discussion on the Government’s Policy and Programs: Parliamentary discussion on the government’s announcement of its plans and policies began on May 17 and ended on May 19, with the Prime Minister’s address to the lawmakers’ concerns and questions.[3]

The Opposition’s comments on the Government Policy and Program for FY 2077-2078 B.S.: NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba accused the government of not knowing the true impact of the pandemic on Nepali people; he also stated that the government does not have the heart to feel and understand people’s pain.[4] NC deputy president Bimalendra Nidhi claimed that besides enforcing the lockdown and social distancing, the government has done nothing to fight the COVID-19 outbreak in Nepal.[5]

Opposition lawmaker Dr Dila Sangraula said that the government’s Policy and Programs presented by the President is like a hurriedly-written essay by a lazy student.[6] Nepali Congress MP Minendra Rijal accused the government of announcing its Policy and Programs by putting the lawmakers behind a closed door for more than three hours.[7]

Nepali Congress registered five different amendments (joint and personal) to the Policy and Program announced by the government. According to the opposition party, the government’s programs are not focused enough on the issues impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as agriculture, production, relief package, and so on.[8]

Governance

After the second COVID-19 death, the government extends lockdown till June 2: After two COVID-19 deaths were recorded, the government decided to extend the national lockdown until June 2. This is the sixth lockdown extension. The government’s previous decisions, including allowing agricultural, transport, and construction activities, will continue. However, following a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases, the lockdown is enforced more strictly.[9]

Home Ministry warns action against people involved in barring movements: The government warned the public against the restriction of the movement of people, especially those on the frontlines, in the name of fighting COVID-19. A statement released by the Ministry of Home Affairs warned the people to not be involved in evicting health workers and others from their apartments, misbehave with the commuters, discouraging people working on the frontline, and barring movement on streets and thoroughfares in the name of health security, or they will be punished according to the prevailing laws.[10]

Government wants Parliament to endorse the MCC deal: The government is preparing to endorse the controversial Millennium Challenge Corporation deal signed with the United States government in 2017 from Parliament in the current session. Concluding that the deal was a part of the US government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, NCP’s task force recommended the deal’s amendment before its endorsement. A board member of the Millennium Challenge Account-Nepal, the government agency formed to implement the MCC projects, says the government is seeking endorsement immediately after the discussion on the annual budget is presented on May 28.[11] NCP lawmaker Bhim Rawal claimed that the MCC Compact’s endorsement is being attempted through the backdoor.[12] PM Oli stressed that the parliament will ‘decide whether to endorse’ the agreement.[13]

Oli’s address to Parliament presents more problems than solutions: Oli’s speech at the Parliament on May 19 was an opportunity to lay out a roadmap for the days ahead, but Oli outlined a series of problems assailing the country, failing to provide any solutions. Besides controlling the flow of people, Oli did not provide specific measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 within the country and admitted that the government’s efforts to prevent deaths due to COVID-19 had failed. He took credit for coming up with a new political map that includes all disputed territories to the northwest of Nepal and vowed to bring back all land currently occupied by India through dialogues, but it was unclear how that process will move forward in the current circumstance. PM Oli also took a jibe at the Indian national emblem, raising controversy in both the countries, especially, India, and also blamed that the ‘Indian virus’ was more potent than the virus that Nepal imported from China and Italy.[15]

Government’s relief packages to be sustainable and realistic: Addressing questions raised by lawmakers in the HoR on Parliamentary address, PM Oli said, “The government is carrying out a detailed assessment of the losses that different sectors and the entire economy are facing due to the Coronavirus pandemic. As the government is under pressure to manage resources, relief packages will be announced for deserving and needy sectors in the coming days, based on the available resources.” Oli acknowledged that the Coronavirus has harmed the economy and efforts will be made to navigate Nepal’s economy towards self-sustainability in the future.[16]

International Relations & Foreign Policy

India suspends license to import palm oil: India, for the second time in 2020, suspended all import licenses on palm oil to protect the domestic industry. According to Indian media, “the licences were suspended to check illegal cheap imports and to protect domestic industry.” This varying trade policy of India is hurting the Nepali exporters, and they are at risk of losing huge investments due to restricted import.[17]

Uncertainty over Lipulekh: Experts claim that due to technical and political factors coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, the dialogue between the Indian counterpart and Nepal will likely be delayed. The southern neighbour also suggested holding discussions once the pandemic is over. However, the pressure over PM Oli is mounting from within the government to hold talks with Indian PM Modi.[18]

China says Kalapani issue is between India and Nepal: Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, suggested the two countries, Nepal and India, to bilaterally resolve the Kalapani dispute. Lijian said the countries should resort to friendly consultations and not take unilateral decisions. A statement from the Chinese spokesperson came on May 19 after political leaders called the Nepal government to speak to Beijing; China had remained silent till then.[19]

Government endorses an updated political map that includes all territories claimed by Nepal: The cabinet meeting on May 18 endorsed a new political map of Nepal that includes disputed lands of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh, and Kalapani. The endorsement follows India’s inauguration of a road link to Mansarovar via Lipulekh, a territory that Nepal claims as its own.[20] According to the government spokesperson, the new map will be updated in the constitution’s schedule, coat of arms, school curriculum, and government offices.[21]

Nepal-India amends the Commerce Treaty: The government of Nepal plans to export Nepali goods and therefore, has decided to review the Commerce Treaty. On May 15, President Bhandari announced that the transit treaty for the export of Nepali goods would be reviewed. Nepal is looking forward to signing deals with Bhutan and Bangladesh.[22]

India gifts PCR gifts to Nepal: On May 17, India donated PCR test kits to the government of Nepal. The kits manufactured by Mylab Pune were handed over by Indian Ambassador Kwatra on behalf of the Indian government to the Nepali Health Minister. The Indian Embassy said, “This will enable the ministry to carry out 30,000 COVID-19 tests.”[23] Foreign Minister Gyawali took to twitter to thank the Indian government for the medical supplies.[24]

Security

MOHA tightens restriction measures following a spike in Covid-19 cases: The Ministry of Home Affairs decided to tighten restriction measures following a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country. The restriction was eased after the last Cabinet meeting. With the new restriction in place, passes allowing inter district vehicular movement have been revoked except for essential services such as ambulance, health workers, media workers, flag-bearing vehicles, workers engaged in transporting essential goods and services, waste management staff, etc.[25]

Nepal sets up border security posts near Kalapani: Nepal set up border security posts at Chhangru in Darchula district on May 13 following the announcement that India opened a link road to Mansarovar via Lipulekh.[26] According to reports, 25 Armed Police Force (APF) personnel have been deployed at the outpost. Nepal claims that Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh, and Kalapani are Nepali territories. However, India has made counterclaims in these areas.[27]

Two COVID-19 deaths recorded: The Ministry of Health and Population announced on May 16 that a post-partum woman who died while being taken to Dhulikhel hospital, was the first recorded COVID-19 death in the country.[28] Three wards of Sindhupalchowk were sealed after the death.[29] On the following day, a 25-year-old man from Banke who tested positive for COVID-19 died that morning. He had come to Nepal from India on May 12 and was quarantined at a facility in Narainapur, Banke, where he died.[30]

Karnali Province reports its first Covid-19 case: Karnali province reported its first COVID-19 case on May 18 on a 35-year-old man who came home in Aathbis Municipality, Dailekh, from Mahendranagar a week ago. The individual is in an isolation centre at Dailekh District Hospital.[31]

Nepal Covid-19 cases climb over 400: Nepal’s COVID-19 cases surged to 402 on May 19, following 27 new cases of the virus. The virus has now spread to 38 districts in the country. With the expansion of tests, more cases are being reported from across the country. [32]

Provincial and Local Governments

COVID-19 response:The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) proposed 19 new health-related programs that fall under the Ministry in the policy and program for the upcoming fiscal year 2077/78 BS. The federal government also prioritized to set up an emergency fund of Rs one billion under the MoHP, construct a 300-bed infectious disease hospital at the central level, and a 100-bed hospital at the provincial levels in the upcoming FY.[33]

On May 15, a meeting of the Gandaki Pradesh Corona Crisis Management Centre decided to deploy security personnel at all entry points of the province. The meeting also decided that the RDT is mandatory for those people entering the Gandaki Pradesh. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law (MoIAL) reported that around 4,500 people entered the Pradesh through various border points in three days. Gandaki Pradesh is under high risk of Coronavirus due to increasing cases in its neighboring provinces, Province 5 and Bagmati Pradesh.[34]

On May 16, the Secretary Office of the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers of Province 2 organized provincial level discussion about COVID-19 pandemic. In the meeting, participants emphasized that all districts should increase Coronavirus tests as soon as possible. Province 2 is also preparing to add additional ventilators and PCR machines. The Province is processing to buy 50 ventilator machines.[35]

The government of Province 5 claimed that there is a lack of effective coordination among three tiers of government causing the slow response to control COVID-19, despite a 2-month long lockdown in the country and a fragile healthcare system. Similarly, Province 5 distributed Rs 130.06 million to the local governments for Coronavirus response and preparedness. Spokesperson of Province 5 informed that the Province is under high risk due to increasing cases, entry of migrant workers, and limited resources.[36] According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law, Sudurpashchim Pradesh spent Rs 320 million for the prevention and control of COVID-19. [37]

Economy, Development, and Budget Issues:On May 18, the cabinet meeting of Bagmati Pradesh decided to organize a budget session for the upcoming FY 2077/78 BS, to be held on May 25. Bagmati Pradesh has a plan to increase budget size in the upcoming FY. Similarly, the MPs will adopt social and physical distancing in an assembly meeting. The MPs will enter the assembly meeting after PCR tests.[38]

Administrative Issues: The main opposition party Nepali Congress (NC) obstructed the assembly session of Gandaki Pradesh on May 15; the obstruction continued from May 14. NC claimed that the provincial government has not addressed the demand of the opposition party in the upcoming fiscal year 2020/21.[39]The cabinet meeting stopped the temporary recruitment of staff in three tiers of government.[40] The Cabinet claimed that the local governments are recruiting staff unnecessarily.

Gender, Social Inclusion, Human Rights, and Migration

Children in lockdown: The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that due to the lockdown, as many as 4,000 children may die in Nepal over the next six months. Immediate action should be taken, otherwise, malnutrition and lack of routine health services will affect the lives of children. It also estimated an increase in the death of pregnant women and new mothers.[41]

Mental health during lockdown: According to Dr Ritesh Thapa, director and consultant psychiatrist at Rhythm Neuropsychiatry Hospital, the nationwide lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19 has affected people’s mental health and can have long term problems. Data of Nepal Police has also revealed that Nepal recorded 487 suicide cases in the first month of lockdown; earlier 400 cases were filed per month on an average.[42]

Nepali migrant workers protested in UAE: Nearly 500 Nepali migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates are protesting against their employers as they have not been paid two month’s salary. The pandemic has hit the lives and livelihood of migrant workers in the UAE, and most of them are ready to return home.[43] Meanwhile, Embassies of Gulf and Malaysia estimated that 20,000 migrant workers need immediate rescue.[44]

Repatriation of migrant workers: A report submitted by the Crisis Management Center to the high-level coordination committee for prevention and control of COVID-19 shows that one million Nepali migrant workers may repatriate to the country. The repatriation process will take a minimum of three months as the Nepal government can rescue ten thousand workers per day.[45]

NHRC recommendation to the government: The National Human Rights Commission urged the government to prioritize people’s right to health and employment in the upcoming budget for the fiscal year 2020/21. It also said the budget should address availability and access to agricultural inputs, markets, and disaster management.[46]

Photo: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


[1] http://annapurnapost.com/news/155950

[2] http://annapurnapost.com/news/niiti-tthaa-kaarykrmko-kaaryaanvyn-cunautipuurnn-ch-prcnndd-155966

[3] http://annapurnapost.com/news/prtinidhi-sbhaako-arko-baitthk-jetth-4-gte-155951

[4] http://annapurnapost.com/news/156087

[5] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/43664/2020-05-19

[6] https://deshsanchar.com/2020/05/18/357818/

[7] https://deshsanchar.com/2020/05/17/357266/

[8] https://deshsanchar.com/2020/05/17/357367/

[9] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/17/government-extends-nationwide-lockdown-until-june-2

[10] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/18/home-ministry-warns-action-against-those-involved-in-barring-movements

[11] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/govt-wants-parliament-to-endorse-mcc-deal-this-session.html

[12] https://deshsanchar.com/2020/05/18/357692/

[13] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/19/house-should-decide-whether-to-endorse-mcc-compact-says-oli

[14] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/annual-policy-and-programme-seven-key-promises-in-presidents-three-hour-address.html

[15] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/05/20/in-three-hours-before-parliament-oli-presents-problems-but-offers-few-solutions

[16] https://thehimalayantimes.com/business/govts-relief-packages-to-be-sustainable-realistic/

[17] https://kathmandupost.com/money/2020/05/14/nepal-s-palm-oil-exports-could-suffer-as-india-suspends-import-licences

[18] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/14/immediate-talks-with-india-over-lipulekh-unlikely-in-near-future-given-technical-and-political-factors

[19] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/19/kalapani-issue-is-between-nepal-and-india-says-chinese-foreign-ministry

[20] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/18/cabinet-endorses-new-political-map-that-includes-all-territories-that-nepal-claims

[21] https://www.nepalisansar.com/government/nepal-endorses-new-political-map-featuring-kalapani-and-limpiyadhura/

[22] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/15/96572/

[23] https://kathmandupost.com/miscellaneous/2020/05/17/india-gifts-covid-19-pcr-test-kits-to-nepal

[24] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/foreign-minister-gyawali-thanks-goi-for-providing-medical-equipments/

[25] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/authorities-tighten-restriction-measures-following-surge-in-covid-19-cases/

[26] https://en.reportersnepal.com/nepal-sets-up-border-outpost-near-kalapani/

[27] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nepal-establishes-border-outpost-near-kalapani/

[28] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/16/no-evidence-yet-that-covid-19-patient-s-death-on-thursday-was-due-to-the-disease

[29] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/16/96747/

[30] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-5/2020/05/17/nepal-reports-second-covid-19-death

[31] https://kathmandupost.com/karnali-province/2020/05/19/karnali-province-far-from-prepared-to-combat-possible-spread-of-covid-19

[32] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/05/19/nepal-s-covid-19-tally-crosses-400-after-the-confirmation-of-27-new-cases

[33] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/05/864262

[34] https://kathmandupost.com/gandaki-province/2020/05/15/gandaki-province-at-high-covid-19-risk-due-to-lax-border-security

[35] https://nagariknews.nagariknetwork.com/social-affairs/212211-1589643111.html

[36] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-5/2020/05/18/lack-of-coordination-among-federal-provincial-and-local-governments-may-prove-costly-in-province-5-say-officials

[37] http://annapurnapost.com/news/155906

[38] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/43618/2020-05-19

[39] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/38673/2020-03-14

[40] http://lokaantar.com/story/64571/2018/12/21/pmo-?fbclid=IwAR0EN1OhZC17jW0_KVKapTHbTshogTjYKGs8c0zYvrGeO2oKQYKTSXUQMn8

[41] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/as-many-as-4000-children-may-die-in-nepal-in-next-six-months-due-to-lockdown-unicef-warns/

[42] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/covid-19-pandemic-likely-to-unleash-a-long-term-mental-health-issues-in-nepal/

[43] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/18/without-work-and-salary-nepali-migrants-protest-in-covid-hit-uae

[44] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/20/15899441255398183.html

[45] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/20/15899450898865600.html

[46] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/14/national-rights-watchdog-tells-government-to-prioritise-people-s-right-to-health-and-employment-in-the-upcoming-budget

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