Coronavirus and People

News Digest (May 21 – May 27, 2020)

CESIF Nepal Democracy and Political Parties, Development, Infrastructure, Corruption, Foreign Policy, Gender and Inclusion, News Digest, Security, Climate Change Leave a Comment

Domestic Politics

The Border Dispute: Targeting Indian government’s statement on the border dispute, Defense Minister Ishwor Pokharel warned India that Nepalis will not accept disrespect.[1]

On May 20, 2020, the Upper House endorsed the Special Service Bill, which allows intelligence agencies “to intercept the conversations between ‘suspects’ using electronic medium;” the bill awaits endorsement from the Lower House before it comes into enforcement.[2] 

In an interview, CPN leader Madhav Nepal stressed that Nepal does not lack evidence that establish Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura as its territory.[3]

The Federal Parliament & Constitutional Amendment: NCP spokesperson and lawmaker Narayan Kaji Shrestha urged the government to cancel the Parliamentary Development Fund for at least a year and use the money for employment generation-related programs.[4]

After a ministry council meeting on May 22, the government registered an amendment proposal to update Nepal’s political map in the constitution to include Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura as its territories.[5]

The JSP has urged the lawmakers to also accommodate Madhes’ demands while amending the constitution; the party’s senior leaders met NC president for the same.[6] 

Although the government called an all-party meeting on May 26 in an effort to build a national consensus for the constitutional amendment,[7] PM Oli asked not to raise other issues during this particular time.[8] During the meeting, Nepali Congress expressed its support for the government-proposed constitutional amendment to revise the emblem.[9]

Nepali Congress: To put pressure on the government by collecting data on Nepali people stranded overseas and wanting to return home, Nepali congress introduced a “Rescue Nepali” app.[10]

In the May 26 meetings of both National Assembly (NA) and the House of Representatives (HoR), Nepali Congress asked the government to form a parliamentary investigation committee to probe the murder of Dalits in Rukum West.[11]

NC president Deuba reasserted his demand with the government “to announce relief package for journalists and media houses.”[12]

Other Political Parties: The Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) reached an agreement to make Mahantha Thakur the party chief; the debate on how to manage the leadership of other members of the party is ongoing.[13]

A power struggle between the former Samajwadi Party Nepal (SPN) leaders, Dr Baburam Bhattarai and Upendra Yadav, has hindered the party unification process. According to the preliminary understanding, the JSP leaders had agreed to move ahead with two executive party chiefs, one from the SPN and one from the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N); while the RJP-N has already chosen Thakur from their faction, the SPN faction continues to try and settle the Bhattarai-Yadav debate.[14]

Sajha Party cautioned that the parliament should not endorse the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact without the necessary amendments.[15]

Governance

Prime Minister calls an all-party meeting to discuss the constitution amendment and COVID-19: Prime Minister Oli called a second all-party meeting in two weeks to discuss issues on May 26. The agenda included amendment of the constitution and the government’s response to COVID-19. Discussions on various issues, including country’s geographical boundary were held. The prime minister was also likely to discuss ways to ease the lockdown which has been in place for the last 64 days to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On May 13, Oli had invited leaders of the political parties represented in the Parliament to discuss the boundary row with India and the COVID-19 pandemic.[16]

Constitutional amendment to update map after national consensus: The discussion to amend the constitution to update the country’s map on May 26 in the Parliament has been delayed. Some parties decided to seek national consensus on the matter. The government had registered an amendment proposal in Parliament on May 22 after releasing a new political map of Nepal depicting Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limipiyadhura as its territories on May 18.[17]

Economic growth to go down this year: While presenting the annual budget for the fiscal year, the government estimates that the country’s annual economic growth will stand at 2.3% this fiscal year that ends in mid-July. The government revised the targeted growth rate from 8.5% to 2.3% due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.[18]

Government mulling to open labour bank to fight COVID-19-induced job crisis: The government started preparations to establish a labour bank to address job losses caused by COVID-19. In partnership with the private sector, the officials of Ministry of Industry and Commerce supplies claim that the bank could employ as many as two million people. The government is aiming to provide needful training and then avail vacant positions either for the government or private employers.[19]

Constitution amendment bill to be endorsed in the last week of May: The House of Representatives will begin a discussion on the constitution amendment bill on May 27. The bill is likely to be endorsed by the House on the last week of May. Earlier, on May 18, the government had registered the bill in the Federal Parliament Secretariat to revise the country’s coat of arms as per the new political map. Following normal procedures, it could take over a month to endorse a constitution amendment bill. However, if all the parties agree, the House can suspend some regulations and adopt a fast-track procedure to endorse the bill.[20]

Debate on amendment bill deferred: The Parliament Secretariat has removed the constitution amendment bill, which sought to amend Schedule 3 of the constitution to include the revised map of Nepal in the Coat of Arms from the business agenda of May 27th meet. It was removed from the business schedule as the main opposition Nepali Congress sought a few more days to take a formal call on the bill, said a source at the Parliament Secretariat,[21] a claim that has been refuted by Nepali Congress.[22]

International Relations & Foreign Policy

India doesn’t take well to Nepal’s new map: On May 21, Nepal released its new political map including the disputed territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura. The following evening, India said Nepal’s move was against the mutual understanding and a “cartographic assertion”. Anurag Srivastava, the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, called the decision unilateral and stated that it lacks evidence. He also added that India would not accept such artificial enlargement of territorial claims[23]

Tensions between India and Nepal intensify: As tensions between Nepal and India increased after Nepal released a new map on May 20, experts say it is time to “de-escalate” the situation and hold discussions. Nepal had been pursuing a diplomatic dialogue since November 2019, but India remained unresponsive. New Delhi didn’t acknowledge the diplomatic note Nepal handed over to the Indian ambassador. But after the release of the map, India finally agreed that a diplomatic dialogue is important to resolve this issue.[24]

Border issue won’t be internationalized: Yubaraj Khatiwada, the government spokesperson, said that the government is not planning to internationalize the border issue with India immediately. Khatiwada stressed that Nepal will try to resolve the border dispute through diplomatic initiatives with India based on evidence.[25]

Nepal Ambassador to India hardly in luck: Nilamber Acharya, Nepal’s Ambassador to India, is reportedly having difficulties in speaking to high officials from India’s External Affairs Department following the border dispute. This indicates that India has remained stern in its stance, especially after Nepal released a new map. Nepal has been attempting to make a conducive environment to resolve the issue, but Acharya has “failed to make any headway”. The recent development isn’t favourable, as Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra also didn’t respond well in Kathmandu.[26]

Security

Nepal reports its third and fourth COVID-19 related death: Nepal reported the third COVID-19 related death on May 21. The 41-year-old of Gulmi was being treated at the Crimson Hospital of Rupandehi district. He had gone to the hospital after developing fever which reportedly lasted over a week and was admitted in the intensive care unit of the hospital on May 14.[27] Similarly, a 70-year-old man from Bara, who died on May 17, tested positive for the presence of COVID-19. The man was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Birgunj-based National Medical College.[28]

Nepal Army unit deployed to construct Darchula-Tinker road project: The Nepal Army deployed a unit near Ghantibagar of Darchula district for the construction of 87 kilometers of road under the Darchula-Tinkar Road Project. An estimated 50 kilometres of the road construction runs in parallel with the Indian border side leading to Tinkar Pass in far west Nepal for trade with China. A statement released by the Nepal Army on May 21 said that people would not have to travel via the Indian route to come to their own village within Nepal’s territory after the road construction.[29]

PM Oli vows to widen scope of Covid-19 testing: In a televised address to the nation on May 25, the Prime Minister vowed to expand the scope of COVID-19 testing to at least two percent of the country’s population amidst rising cases in the country. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated population of Nepal, as of May 25, stands at 29.96 million. Based on this population figure, Nepal plans to conduct a test on nearly 600,000 people.[30]

Health ministry insists country has not yet entered the stage of community transmission: Due to the surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, experts opine that the country has entered the stage of community transmission, but the health ministry insists it has not. Up until recently, it was believed that only people with a travel history were vulnerable to the virus. Health experts blamed the government’s failure to contact trace infected people and stop illegal entries.[31]

COVID-19 spreads to 46 districts in Nepal: Health Ministry confirmed 90 new cases of coronavirus infection on May 26, which has taken the case tally to 772 in the country. This is the highest total recorded in a single day in Nepal so far. With this single day surge, the disease has been detected in 46 districts of Nepal.[32]

Provincial and Local Governments

COVID-19 Response: Provincial-level coordination committee of Province 2 has decided to set up 305 more isolation beds to manage, prevent, and control large number of coronavirus patients. As per prioritization, the committee set up isolation beds at various hospitals and health facilities in eight districts.[33] Similarly, Province 2 is starting to set up three more coronavirus testing machines – Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (R-T PCR) – at Birgunj, Janakpur, and Rajbiraj. The machines can test 24 people in one hour. Earlier, only one PCR machine was operational at Birgunj.[34]

The government of Province 1 has planned to set up 850 isolation beds for a potential COVID-19 outbreak. Province has 11 ventilators and is preparing to add more isolation beds. The Corona Management Committee of BP Koirala Institute of the Health Sciences (BPKIHS) expanded its services due to the lethal virus and increasing number of patients. Province 1 plans to test 40,000 people for coronavirus.[35]

Budget session: The government of Bagmati Pradesh summoned the budget session of the Provincial Assembly on May 25. Meanwhile, the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Planning presented its policy and program for the fiscal year 2077/78 BS. Bagmati Pradesh has prioritized health, agriculture, employment, and entrepreneurship in its budget.[36]

The government of Karnali Pradesh is preparing policy and program prioritizing health, production, and employment for the fiscal year 2077/78 BS. The provincial Planning Commission informed that the province will present its policy and program on May 29.[37] 

Similarly, the government of Province 5 has prioritized health, production, agriculture, and employment in its policy and program for the fiscal year 2077/78 BS. [38] The provincial government will decide its name and the capital city after the control of corona epidemic permanently.[39] Province 5 has set up Corona special hospitals and PCR machines at Butwal, Dang, and Nepalgunj and corona special hospital at Bhairahawa. Province 5 has set up 30,000 quarantine facilities.

The government of Sudurpashchim Pradesh started the budget session on May 26.[40] The MPs are adopting social and physical distancing regulations in the assembly meeting and discussing pre-budget, prioritization, and principles of budget, policy, and program.

The government of Gandaki Pradesh summoned the budget session on May 24 for the fiscal year 2077/78.[41]

Gender, Social Inclusion, Human Rights, and Migration

Suicide cases: Nepal Police’s data show an increase in suicide rate by 20% during the lockdown. Only in the first month of the lockdown, a total of 487 people committed suicide throughout the country.[42]

Repatriation of stranded migrant workers:  The government is planning to bring migrant workers stranded overseas. The officials said that the repatriation will start within two weeks. Earlier, the Prime Minister wasn’t in favor of repatriating migrant workers, but lawmakers from opposing and ruling party advocated for the process.[43] Meanwhile, a report says that about 500,000 -600,000 migrant workers want to return home soon.[44] However, the government has not taken any decisions regarding quarantine, health facilities, and visa processes for those workers.[45]

Rukum Massacre: Four Dalit men from Jajarkot were found dead in Bheri River. News sources say that this is a result of caste-based discrimination where a 21-year-old man along with 18 of his friends were allegedly attacked by the supposedly ‘upper caste’ people. The boy was in a relationship with an ‘upper caste’ girl. The villagers attacked, bound, and threw them in Bheri River. Bodies of two of them were found the next morning and two were found a few days later. UN body and other government bodies are asking for a transparent review of this incident.[46]

‘Marry the rapist’ law is still in Nepali villages: In Rupandehi, a 13-year-old Dalit girl, who was raped, was forced to marry her rapist by local elites and the local level representative. The girl was later found hanging on a tree on the same day. This has also been seen as an incident instigated by caste-based discrimination.[47]

Death of daily wage earners and migrant workers: News from several parts of the country report multiple deaths due to starvation and lack of medical support. At least two people died in Surkhet as they got back from India. They had walked for at least a week to reach Nepal.[48] Similarly, a daily wage earner was also found dead in the national capital. He was forced to rely on foods distributed by various organization due to the ongoing lockdown. The cause of his death is yet unknown.[49] 

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


[1] http://annapurnapost.com/news/156428

[2]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/20/upper-house-endorses-bill-on-special-service-allowing-phone-tapping-without-court-order    

[3] https://ekantipur.com/Interview/2020/05/22/159015555772865518.html

[4] https://deshsanchar.com/2020/05/25/360991/

[5] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/05/866535

[6]https://www.bbc.com/nepali/news-52783984?at_custom2=twitter&at_custom4=15CF6E00-9CF1-11EA-9304-EFF2923C408C&at_campaign=64&at_custom1=%5Bpost+type%5D&at_custom3=BBC+Nepali&at_medium=custom7

[7] http://annapurnapost.com/news/156953

[8] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/26/15905124101385306.html

[9] https://deshsanchar.com/2020/05/26/361364/

[10] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/43718/2020-05-20

[11] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/44105/2020-05-27

[12] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/deuba-renews-demand-for-relief-package-to-journos-and-media-houses/

[13] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/22/159010897678851368.html

[14] https://deshsanchar.com/2020/05/25/361011/

[15] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/26/159046930710249826.html

[16]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/26/prime-minister-oli-calls-an-all-party-meeting-to-discuss-constitution-amendment-covid-19

[17] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/27/house-to-discuss-constitutional-amendment-to-update-map-after-national-consensus

[18] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/govt-hopes-to-achieve-2-3-economic-growth-this-year.html

[19] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/govt-to-open-labour-bank-to-address-covid-19-induced-job-crisis.html

[20] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/constitution-amendment-bill-to-be-endorsed-in-a-week.html

[21] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/debate-on-amendment-bill-deferred/

[22] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/44180/2020-05-28

[23] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/20/india-calls-nepal-s-new-political-map-cartographic-assertion

[24]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/22/with-tensions-escalating-on-both-sides-officials-recommend-holding-nepal-india-talks-at-the-earliest

[25] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/22/98372/

[26]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/25/indian-officials-snub-to-envoy-acharya-in-new-delhi-does-not-bode-well-for-talks

[27] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/05/21/nepal-reports-its-third-covid-19-death

[28] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/05/25/nepal-reports-fourth-covid-19-related-death

[29]https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/nepal-deploys-army-unit-to-construct-darchula-tinkar-road-project/articleshow/75942289.cms

[30]https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/pm-oli-vows-to-expand-scope-of-covid-19-testing-in-two-percent-of-country-s-total-population-with-video/

[31]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/26/health-ministry-insists-nepal-has-still-not-entered-community-transmission-stage

[32]https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/nepal-reports-highest-single-day-spike-covid-19-spreads-to-46-districts/

[33] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/21/97718/

[34] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/05/866671

[35] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/05/867018

[36] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-3/2020/05/26/159046448351066510.html

[37] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-6/2020/05/25/159040347351798604.html

[38] http://annapurnapost.com/news/156664

[39] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/05/866935

[40] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/05/866392

[41] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/monsoon-session-of-gandaki-provincial-assembly-called-for-may-24/

[42] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/suicide-cases-on-the-rise-mental-health-experts-warn-of-a-grim-situation/

[43]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/21/government-preparing-to-bring-stranded-migrant-workers-home

[44]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/21/at-least-500-000-migrant-workers-want-to-return-home-at-the-earliest-says-report

[45] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/indecision-prevails-on-managing-migrants-mulling-return-to-nepal/

[46] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/25/bodies-of-two-dalit-men-recovered-from-bheri-river

[47] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/44103/2020-05-27

[48]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/28/thousands-of-returnees-from-india-run-out-of-food-and-water

[49] https://gaunsahar.com/news-details/30937/2020-05-24

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