May 152017
 

Typical scene from the May 14 local election: peaceful voting in general, says EC

Initial Election Commission (EC) figures suggest a huge voter turnout: 71 percent! But was it a peaceful local election on May 14? In general it was, says the EC in a preliminary status of this first phase of the election process.

Indeed, reports on violent incidences are relatively few so far. The local election covered 34 districts – the rest of Nepal’s 75 districts are slated for local elections on June 14 – and (only) in four of these districts was violence reported:

Bombs were part of local election violence: socket bomb detonated by the army in Bhaktapur (photo: AP)

BHAKTAPUR: Early Sunday morning, a socket bomb – one of many leading up to the election – was found near the residence of UML mayoral candidate for Madhayapur Thimi Municipality, Madan Sundar Shrestha, and was detonated by an army bomb squad.

HUMLA: Supporters of Nepali Congress (NC) candidates and “rebel” candidates clashed around a polling station, and police fired two shots in the air to get the situation under control as supporters of NC’s candidate, Bhim Bahadur Shahi, and rebel candidate, Prakash Bahadur Shahi, pelted stones at each other.

Security was tight at the polling stations but booth capture and theft of ballot boxes did occur (photo: Skanda Gautam)

DOLAKHA: UML candidates and their supporters blamed NC and Maoist-Center candidates and cadres of capturing the election booth, preventing UML supporters from casting their votes and even from reaching the polling station. In one ward, police fired shots and a woman sustained minor injuries.

DOLAKHA: In the Melung Village Council area, police opened fire when NC and Maoist Center cadres attacked police to capture the election booths at the polling station. One man was shot and killed as a result. Locals told journalists in Dolakha that other people were injured in the incident as well.

In Kalikot, ballot boxes were stolen after voting was done, in a situation like this one (photo is from Lamjung district)

KALIKOT: Two persons were injured when Chand-Maoist cadres clashed with police in Malkot Village Council and police opened fire. Throwing stones at the police, the Maoist cadres were trying to capture the ballot boxes and set fire to them.

KALIKOT: An unidentified group – suspected by police of belonging to the Chand-Maoist faction – robbed the ballot boxes in the Naraharinath Village Council area as plainclothes police were bringing the ballot boxes to the counting station. The police officers involved have gone missing as well.

In the evening on May 14, the UML asked the Election Commission to arrange for re-election in a number of districts (the names of which are not known to us) where – the UML claims – election booths were captured and voters were put under threat.

To this account should also be added violent incidences during the days leading up to the election:

Family members and party friends demanding justice after murder of Kul Bahadur Tamang, son of local UML candidate in Dolakha

DOLAKHA: On May 9, Kul Bahadur Tamang, son of a local UML Ward Chairman candidate, was attacked and killed by Maoist Centre cadres in the Gaurishanker Village Council area. A total of 49 local cadres have been charged with involvement in the incident.

RUKUM: On May 9, Maoist Centre and UML cadres clashed in Musikot, leaving three injured. Police fired three rounds in the air to disperse the agitated crowd. Earlier on that day, police fired warning shots at a nearby Sanibheri Village Council polling station as well.

Police at the site of clashes between NC and Maoist cadres in Rukum

NAWALPARASI: On May 10, a bomb went off during an NC campaign speech at Purano Kawasoti Bazaar. The bomb exploded while Amrit Shrestha, an NC ward chairman candidate, was addressing a crowd, and everybody subsequently fled the area.

NAWALPARASI: On May 10, police recovered and disarmed socket bombs at the houses of three mayoral candidates in the district. The bombs were found at the houses of Maoist Center candidates, Durga Dutta Dhungana and Dansiram Bashyal, as well as UML mayor candidate, Bhimlal Adhikari, in Madhyabindu municipality.

SYANGJA: On May 11, a socket bomb was recovered at the residence of NC mayoral candidate in Galyang Municipality, Lal Gopal Aryal. The bomb didn’t go off, says police, because it was wet from the rain.

BHAKTAPUR: On May 12, a cylinder bomb exploded in the Changunarayan Municipality area right in front of the residence of RPP leader, Madhav Khatri. Eight window panes in Khatri’s house were shattered.

BHOJPUR: On May 12, a UML cadre, Sharda Tamang, was shot at with a rifle while out for an evening walk by a Maoist Centre cadre, Ekindra Bhujel, at Helaucha in Bhojpur municipality.

JUMLA: On May 12, a bomb exploded at a polling center near Bhairab Secondary School in the Sinja Village Council area. The incident happened at night.

HETAUDA: On May 12, an unidentified group – possibly Maoist Chand cadres, police says – abducted a Maoist Center ward chairman candidate in the Manahari Village Council area, Ram Kumar Uprety, while he was leaving home to go for a walk.

DHANGADHI: On May 12, the army defused two bombs planted at two separate locations in downtown Dhangadi. Police suspect Maoist cadres led by “Biplov” to be behind the bombs with the aim of spreading fear among voters.

Will election violence play a role in the local election on June 14 as well? Indeed, the potential for violence seems greater in the Terai district, given the Madhesi issue, but hopefully the generally peaceful conduct on May 14 – albeit incidences did occur – will come to inspire the second phase.

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May 082017
 

On April 20, the local election was split into two phases: May 14 (1st phase) and June 14 (2nd phase)

It’s a virtual cliffhanger to follow the drama in the run-up to the local election. The election was recently split into two phases – May 14 and June 14, as opposed to just May 14 – and now the second phase may be in the balance.

For reasons never made quite clear to the public, the newly formed six-party Madheshi coalition, Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), continues to reiterate a Madheshi demand for more local government units in their districts.

Madheshi leaders demand more local government units to be added in their districts

On March 8 the government partially met this Madheshi demand. It adjusted the decision of the Local Bodies Restructuring Commission (LBRC) upwards – from 719 local units to 744 – in order to grant more local units (Village Council divisions) to the Madheshi districts.

But the Madheshi coalition was still not content. They demanded more local government units in their districts. The UML made strong objections and yet, on April 28 the government granted the RJNP another 11 local units.

The LBRC defined the number of local units in its report of January 6 (picture) but it was changed to satisfy Madheshi demands

The UML objected as the LBRC was the body mandated to determine the number of local government units. The LBRC submitted its final decision – 719 local units in total – in January after much political interference already.

The government seemed to argue, on its part, that unless giving at least partially in to this Madheshi demand, the Madheshi coalition would boycot the local election and likely even try to obstruct the election in their districts.

The two-phase local election allows time to debate and satisfy Madheshi demands and avoid another Madhesi protest (picture)

But adding local units alone is not enough to appease the Madheshis. Their further demand – amidst UML protest – is that the government has a constitutional amendment in favor of Madheshi interests approved in parliament.

Indeed, on April 20 the local election was split into two phases – the election in the Madheshi districts to be held only on June 14 – after a government decision made to allow more time to debate and satisfy Madheshi demands.

After impeachment of Karki and RPP’s exit: can the government have Madheshi amendment passed in parliament?

Last week, the cliffhanger of the June 14 local election got worse. The RPP decided to leave the coalition government in protest against an impeachment of Chief Justice, Sushila Karki, issued by Maoist and NC government leaders.

Without the RPP onboard, the Maoist-NC government may now face great difficulties in securing a majority in parliament needed to approve the Madheshi constitutional amendments, if indeed it goes ahead and tries.

Will the Madheshi demands be met before the second phase of the local election on June 14? Will the Madheshi coalition participate in the local election even if their demands, including the constitutional amendment, are not met? The answers to these questions – hence the fate of the two-phase local election – remain uncertain.

Apr 272017
 

These scenes from Palanchowk illustrate the situation right now in so many other villages.

One question rises above all others on the 2-year anniversary of the earthquake in Nepal: how could it take so long to distribute the government reconstruction grant? Until now, less than 2,000 of the over 600,000 eligible households who lost their homes in the April 24, 2015, disaster have received more than the 1st instalment – a mere 50,000 rs. – an amount which can barely cover the costs of building the foundation for any new house.

Most victim households in the worst affected districts merely got the 1st instalment: 50,000 rs. (click picture to enlarge)

Shortly after the earthquake, the government high-handedly promised every victim household a total reconstruction grant of 200,000 rs., recently raised to even 300,000 rs., and yet hundreds of thousands of households still live in tin shacks unable to afford building a new house. The situation is more or less the same across the fourteen worst affected districts, as shown opposite. Many of these households – already badly tested by the elements summer and winter – will face a third monsoon under a tin roof.

Political infighting over who’s to chair the NRA is another reason for the delay in grant distribution

The official reason for the government’s delay in distributing the grant starts with problems of making an ”exact count” of the victims. Then comes difficulties in issuing ”victim’s ID cards” and a troubled procedure of releasing the grants only through local bank accounts. Along the way, political in-fighting over who was to chair the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) only made matters worse. Can these problems, though, explain the whole delay in distributing the reconstruction grant? Well, it’s hard to judge or know for sure. But it’s certain that the earthquake has proven to be a prolonged disaster:

Living under a tin roof will continue for the far majority of victim households for still some months to come!

Feb 132017
 

Scenic wildlife, here inside Bardiya, a potential threat outside the reserves.

Wild animals lurk as a real threat to villagers living near some of Nepal’s national parks and local forests. In some districts, the risk of animal attack even exists inside the local towns. These attacks are a tragic reminder of how difficult it can be to achieve peaceful coexistence where human settlements and animal territories overlap. Last month alone witnessed several attacks involving all of Nepal’s “big five”:

Local threat to villagers and their livestock: the Himalayan Black Bear

BEAR. On January 30, a 54-year-old man in Salyan district was attacked by a bear just outside his home. He was the fourth villager in his area to be injured by the animal! Says one of the locals: “A bear along with a cub keeps entering the village in the evening after 5, attacking anyone it comes across”.

Calm one second, charging the next: scenes from a rhino attack in Chitwan.

RHINO. On January 28, a 35-year-old woman in Chitwan was out on her daily routine, collecting cattle fodder inside the jungle area, when she encountered a rhino. Many villagers who live near the jungle collect fodder, and rhinos are a quite common site. But in this case the rhino charged – and the woman was killed.

The elusive leopard hunts even inside human settlements and sometimes attacks occur, as here in Kapan.

LEOPARD. On January 8, four men were injured as a leopard was cornered and turned aggresive in a village in Kanchanpur district. Indeed, leopards are a real threat far beyond local forests and national parks. Last summer, a leopard attack occurred as a 61-year-old woman was stalked and killed just outside her village home at 10 at night.

The tiger can be observed in some safety on elephant back or motorbike like here in Bardiya, while encounters on foot can prove fatal.

TIGER. On February 7, one police officer and two other men were injured while trying to capture a tiger that had run amok in a village adjacent to the Parsa Wildlife Reserve. In fact, they were lucky. Last November, a 45-year-old man in a Nawalparasi village was killed by a tiger when out collecting grass for his cattle.

Elephant – darted with a sedative – after raiding a village in Bardiya.

ELEPHANTS. Wild elephants – the last of the “big five” – are in fact responsible for the highest number of fatalities as well as destruction of crops and houses. For example, just before New Year, a herd of elephants ravaged through a small town in Bardiya district, killing one man and injuring two others.

How big, though, is the risk of animal attack? Indeed, in the country as a whole it is quite low. One study shows that from 2010 to 2014, elephants – on top of the list – attacked 27 people a year on average, killing 18, while tigers – at the bottom – attacked 9 people a year, killing 5. So, the risk is relatively low.

But locally, the threat of animal attack can be a huge issue. In villages around the jungle reserves in Chitwan and Bardiya, villagers have struggled with elephant herds for decades. Using torches and loud instruments, they sometimes manage to scare the heards away. But every year entire villages are badly hit!

Two Tharu villages attacked by elephants last September lost loved ones, houses and crops but also their feeling of safety. Said one villager: “Elephants come at any time. They don’t care about day and night. This has stolen peace out of our lives.”

Animal attacks have become more frequent over the last two decades or so. Animosity towards these beautiful wild animals is part of the result. Villagers have staged retaliatory attacks sometimes deep into the reserves, killing 17 elephants in the last few years, as a case in point, just as many locals demand of the government to take action.

Growing animal populations and forest corridors are part of why animal attacks are going up.

But why has the number of wild animal attacks grown? One cause is that more people have settled near to where the animals live; another that animal populations have grown, pushing more animals outside the natural parks in search of food and territory; and a third is an increase in forest cover which is allowing animals to scatter over wider areas.

It is necessary to keep animal populations down now, said Krishna Acharya, former head of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, back in 2013. The number of animals is not huge – tigers count around 200, elephants not more than 125, rhinos around 650 animals – but the habitat avilable is limited, so there’s not space for many more!

Another part of the problem: human activity moving closer to forest reserves, here locals with firewood from inside Chitwan National Park.

Conservationists are celebrating Nepal’s success in protecting its endangered mammals. The population of tigers, elephants and rhinos has increased sharply over the last ten years. But the flip-side of the coin is, paradoxically, that this very success may lead authorities to deem culling of the populations necessary to protect human lives.

Has the authorities, though, started culling the populations? Not to our knowledge. Instead, it has pledged to double the tiger population by 2022! One study says electrical fences around livestock and houses, proper storage of food items that attract elephants, and better tools for scaring off the animals, may help. But will that be enough?

Says Krishna Acharya on Nepal’s animal conservation: “The time has now come for us to determine how many such wildlife species we can have in our protected areas.” The attacks just last month involving all of Nepal’s “big five” underlines that the question of how to solve the intensifying conflict between humans and wild animals is as acute as ever.

“The numbers of rhinos and tigers are increasing in the national park and they are moving out in search of food and space. Meanwhile, the increasing human population needs more of the natural resources available, and that competition creates conflict.” Krishna Acharya, former head of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

“We are used to the elephant menace. People have died even earlier. The recent incident has only added to our losses and refreshed our sorrows and fears. The government cannot provide security and we can’t evacuate our ancestral place. This has complicated the problem.” Shyam Chaudhari, Suryapatuwa VDC, Bardiya.

PS: Wild animal attacks are tragic and the risk extremely scary. But even if taken together, Nepal’s “big five” are a much smaller threat compared to the country’s venomous snakes. No certain data is available, but health authorities estimate that 20,000 mostly villagers are bitten every year and 1,000 do not survive.

Feb 032017
 

PM Dahal and his Cabinet just asked EC to start preparations for local elections in mid-May

The Cabinet decided on February 2nd to instruct the Election Commission to get things ready for local elections by mid-May. So, it finally announced at least an approximate election date. Will the elections happen for sure, though? Well, it’s hard not to be optimistic. However, there are still hurdles ahead, to say the least.

The last word from the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) is that they can’t go ahead with local polls whatsoever unless the Maoist-NC government’s proposal for amendment of the constitution – which is in favour of Madhesi demands – has been passed. The Madheshi Morcha (SLMM) even pledged just a few days ago that if local elections are announced without meeting their demands with respect to the constitution, they will return to violent protest. Continue reading »

Jan 312017
 

Was the budget shifted to some other district? The incomplete bridge at Kamala river, Sindhuli.

It’s just another example of local infrastructure projects that are left half completed for years, sometimes forever. We once witnessed a similar case in Chitwan where the government was said to have funded a dike project along a river to protect villagers from the annual floods. On inspection to the remote river bank, however, all we found was a bit of rock and iron in the water! In this more recent case, it’s a bridge across Kamala river in Sindhuli that’s still incomplete.

The pillars were erected four years ago and the bridge project was off to a good start. But then nothing happened. Was the budget shifted to some other district or project after another party came to power; was it misused, perhaps even siphoned off by politicians, bureaucrats and contractors involved; or was the money simply not enough to complete the project in the first place? We don’t know. But those are typical questions, and locals along Kamala river are still waiting for an answer.

Jan 282017
 

Mira Rai in her right element: from Maoist guerilla to international trail runner

Young ultra-runner, Mira Rai, grew up in a village in the eastern district of Bhojpur. As a young girl, she joined a local Maoist platoon – it was under the Maoist conflict – where she learned not only guerilla warfare but also how to train and run in the mountains. Today, she’s a professional trail runner, and a good one too. She has several international medals to her name, close to taking the Ultra Sky Marathon World Series Championship in Europe, too, and now she’s a National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the year! Read Mira’s fascinating story here – plus a bit about trail running in Nepal.

Jan 242017
 

Will they make local elections happen in May? PM Dahal and Chief Election Commissioner, Yadav.

It’s hard to believe but if PM Dahal’s promises and recent actions are anything to go by, local elections might happen as early as in May – 20 years after the last local election was held in Nepal. Dahal just informed Chief Election Commissioner, Yadav, that he plans to announce the election date “in a few days”, and meanwhile the parliamentary State Affairs Committee just passed two election-related bills critical to going ahead with fresh local elections.

Huge obstacles in the way of local elections still exist – at least last time we checked – such as the dispute over delineation of provinces under the new constitution and the restructuring of local units. Will Dahal somehow make local elections happen now, nevertheless? Indeed, promises of local elections have been notoriously broken in the past. But optimism with a dash of caution could seem in order… (another update will follow soon).

Jan 172017
 

Waiting for the NRA’s reconstruction grant: one of 600,000+ households who still got little or nothing to rebuild their homes

The formation of Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) in the fall of 2015 was as political as the creation of many other “high-level” commissions and agencies in Kathmandu. Barely had donors pledged over 4 billion dollars in reconstruction grants and loans before the main parties started to bicker over who was to chair the NRA. The CEO of the new agency would come to manage – together with the Prime Minister – a huge sum of money. Was it to be Nepali Congress’ (NC’s) man, someone closer to the UML, or maybe someone affiliated with the Maoist party, or…? Continue reading »

Sep 092016
 

Ashmin Parajuli - aka FlowPilot - is just one of many young artists on the rap stage in Hetauda.

Ashmin Parajuli – aka Inkie – is just one of many young artists on the rap stage in Hetauda.

What’s the rap stage like in Hetauda? Well, we didn’t know there was one until Ashmin Parajuli – aka Inkie – told us about it. Just 15 years old, Ashmin has already recorded a few singles at his local favourite studio, HTD productions. “This year I have to focus on my SLC, so maybe I won’t be recording a lot of songs, but next year I will release my first album!” says Ashmin. Studio time is 2-3,000 rs. per song, which is even low, and it’s the rate if you want good sound quality. Uploading his tracks on youtube, Ashmin performs at the local music venues too! Continue reading »

Sep 022016
 

The Karorias - one of the last free-roaming hunting tribes of Nepal - come to central and eastern Terai every winter to hunt for birds, the way they have done it for centuries.

The Karorias are one of the last free-roaming hunting tribes of Nepal. It’s one of the least documented too – their history, traditions and way of life remain largely unknown. Were they to be settled and forced to give up their age-old livelihood as bird hunters in the wetlands and jungles along the India-Nepal border, few would ever have known about them in the first place! In fact, the Karorias may not exist a few years from now as a hunting tribe. Already banned from their old hunting grounds in India and forced to join modern-day developing society of “education” and “work”, their last refuge is in southern Nepal. Arun Chalise at LocalNepalToday had a chance to spend a day with them last November, and here’s a presentation of his unique footage. We hope to bring their full story to light in a near future – but until then, enjoy this rare glimpse of their tribal everyday life!

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May 112016
 

Medical and aromatic plants (MAPs), collected in the wild for centuries, are now fetching small Hill and Mountain farmers unprecedented income - a recipe for motivating young men to stay at home, says TMI.

In Nepal’s hill and mountain communities, food insecurity and lack of income sources continue to drive thousands of young men abroad as migrant workers in low-paid and often dangerous jobs. Women and children are left behind in villages where vast areas of agricultural land are left fallow as nobody is home to farm it. Out-migration is transforming many hill and mountain villages into communities in gradual disintegration! But in recent years, TMI – the Mountain Institute – has succeeded in slowing down this process in some districts. Their recipe? Training farmers in production of medical and aromatic plants (MAPs). Collected in the wild for centuries, these plants are now cultivated on a commercial basis and exported to India, China and beyond, fetching household farms annual incomes of USD 5,000+, thanks to a TMI programme started in 2002. This video – produced by LocalNepalToday – tells the story and how it can grow.

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Mar 052016
 

It still happens: two women who were tortured by a mob, accused of casting spells on villagers

It still happens: two women who were tortured by a mob, accused of casting spells on villagers

It’s hard to believe that witch burnings and child sacrifices still happen. But they do! It’s also true, though, that these occurrences are relatively rare – maybe they happen just once or twice a year, although some say numbers are higher. It’s indeed ages ago that witch burnings and child sacrifices were common parts of religious practices in South Asia in general. But this “dark side” to traditional beliefs is still alive today! Why write about it, though, if it’s rare, not to mention blood shivering to talk about? Well, we have chosen to make a note about it simply because it does exist! Here are a few recent examples. Continue reading »

Feb 052016
 

Rojina Barcharya - co-founder of "Girls in Technology" and software developer - winner of Silicon Valley scholarship

Rojina Bajracharya – co-founder of “Girls in Technology” and software developer – winner of Silicon Valley scholarship

Who says computer programming is only for boys? Rojina Bajracharya, a young Bachelor student from Bhaktapur, just won a Toptal Scholarship for Female Developers! Who is Toptal? Well, it’s one of the fastest-growing companies to emerge from Silicon Valley in California in recent years, today connecting thousands of elite freelance programmers around the world with billion-dollar companies like J. P. Morgan and Pfitzer! The scholarship – launched last October – is designed to “empower and support the next generation of female computer scientists, software engineers and developers”. But how did Rojina, a young girl from a local community – seemingly so far away from the buzz of international software development – get selected?

Well, it was not a difficult choice, explains Toptal’s Director of Engineering, Anna-Chiara Bellini, who is also leading judge on the scholarship selection committee: “Rojina’s application [for the scholarship] just blew us away. She is both brilliant and ambitious, and is not only working hard to develop her own Continue reading »

Jan 142016
 

VDC secretary at work a few years back: these days, attendance of secretaries is lower than ever before

VDC secretary at work a few years back: these days, attendance of secretaries is lower than ever before

Local government in Nepal is now suffering almost as badly as during the height of the Maoist conflict. In post-quake communities, where the need for infrastructure and local services has never been greater, some locals can hardly find a VDC secretary! Indeed, VDC secretaries – officially in charge of Nepal’s Village Development Committees (VDCs) since 2002 – were always hard to recruit, let alone make attend regularly. But now it’s much worse as only few VDC secretaries are present at all! Continue reading »

Jan 132016
 

The NRA just allocated 290 million rs. to create seven local offices under it - is that a "good thing" or...?

The NRA just allocated 290 million rs. to create seven local offices under it – is that a “good thing” or…?

The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) which finally “took off” on December 26 after a six months delay has now allocated some of the USD 4,4 billion supposed to be spent as quickly as possible on rebuilding houses and public infrastructure. So, what’s the allocation going to be spent on – so far an amount of 290 million rupees? Well, in one word, “administration”: the NRA is setting up seven local offices which it needs to plan and implement the reconstruction. Continue reading »

Jan 112016
 

"I keep my baby wrapped around my back most of the time, so that she don’t get cold." Pisang Lama, Ramechap

“I keep my baby wrapped around my back most of the time, so that she don’t get cold.” Pisang Lama, Ramechap

Ramechap district is freezing and locals are struggling to keep warm as temperatures are dropping below zero. Pisang Lama, 31, is just one of thousands living in temporary shelters completely unfit for winter. Like in most of the earthquake affected districts, also in this area south-east of Kathmandu the ruins of the old mud and stone houses have been replaced with tin shelters. There’s no insulation and no real protection from the elements. Lama explains: Continue reading »

Jan 112016
 

Post-quake, many students are left to study in tin shelters or under tarpaulins

Post-quake, many students are left to study in tin shelters or under tarpaulins

Will this year’s SLC students have a better chance than, say, last year’s class? Well, it was always hard to get through the “Iron Gate”: 10th graders have had to struggle a lot – the pass rate is barely 35 percent – and this year it’s not likely to get better. In the districts hardest hit by the earthquake, thousands of schools still lie in ruins – many students are left to study in tin shelters or under tarpaulins – and in the Terai, bandhs and unrest over the constitution have locked down many schools for months on end! Continue reading »