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Rs1.86 trillion financial plan with lofty goals

Economists say the carefully organised fiscal plan is bloated and will boost growth. But it could also push up inflation.
- SANGAM PRASAIN

KATHMANDU,
Following an agreement to form a parliamentary committee to investigate the cooperatives scam, Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun on Tuesday presented the country’s annual financial plan in Parliament without any roadblocks from the opposition Nepali Congress.
The budget speech, which lasted less than two hours, received applause from the lawmakers in the joint parliament session on several occasions—particularly when Pun announced the
removal of VAT imposed on vegetables and fruits, and the return of at least Rs500,000 of each cooperatives depositor by recovering them from the properties of the directors.
Unlike in past years, Pun was seen carrying a bag made of local materials instead of a red or black briefcase.
In his speech, he later said that the government has given priority to promoting the private sector’s ‘Make In Nepal’ initiative.
The annual financial plan focused on agriculture growth, exports, and energy generation, while introducing measures to address the problems faced by credit cooperatives, is worth Rs1.86 trillion for the next fiscal year beginning mid-July.
The budget size is 6.2 percent larger than the unrevised budget of the current fiscal year.
With this expenditure, the government has targeted an economic growth rate of 6 percent for the next fiscal year and aims to cap inflation at 5.5 percent.
Some economists say pumping Rs1.86 trillion into the economy to achieve 6 percent growth and capping inflation at 5.5 percent appear to be contradictory steps. Economists say wise money supply is vital.
If the money supply grows at a faster rate than the economy’s ability to produce goods and services, inflation will also pick up, which is likely in the next fiscal year.
In the ongoing fiscal year, the money supply in the economy has not grown fast enough, leading to decreases in production, which in turn contributed to a rise in unemployment.
The government has allocated Rs1.14 trillion, or 61.31 percent of the total budget, for recurrent spending, which consists of regular expenses such as salaries and allowances.
It has set aside Rs352 billion, or 18.94 percent of the budget, for capital spending, which is used to build projects and critical infrastructure.
Similarly, the government has earmarked Rs367 billion, or 19.74 percent of the total budget, for financing.
According to Pun, the government will raise Rs1.26 trillion in revenue, Rs52.33 billion in foreign grants, Rs217.67 billion in external loans and Rs330 billion in internal loans.
Growth is slowing this year, which has divided economists and worried politicians. Thus, the budget offers even more hope than at other times.
“Overall, the budget is good. It covers almost all sectors,” said Rameshore Khanal, former finance secretary. “The industrial corridor launched by the government will help address the ongoing economic crisis by boosting industrial output.”
Economist Govinda Nepal said that, unlike the government’s policies and programmes, the budget is more balanced.
“But it has not given a clear view of how the cooperatives crisis will be settled. Similarly, the government lacks a vision to operate the new airports in Pokhara and Bhairahawa.”
He said that the budget has lofty goals, which are difficult to achieve given the uncertain political climate.
The government has raised the capital expenditure by Rs50 billion for the next fiscal year.
“For a long time, we have been unable to spend the capital budget wisely. We hope that an increase in capital expenditure will boost the economy. This is the beginning of the economic reform,” Pun told Parliament while presenting the budget.
He said the budget for the next fiscal year 2024-25 has focused on reform in three key areas.
First, boosting the slow economic growth; second, increasing the declining private sector investment and confidence; and third, improving the distressed agricultural productivity.
The government has announced the signing of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with other countries to attract foreign direct investment.
“Nepal has seen low public and private investment, which has slowed the growth rate and put the country into a low-growth trap,” said Pun.
He said the budget has focused on Nepal’s graduation from the ranks of the least developed countries, meeting the Sustainable Development Goals target by 2030, and becoming a middle-income country by 2030.
Pun said the other area of focus is employment generation by boosting private sector morale to invest, and implementing skills-based learning.
The government has announced an investment decade in the agriculture sector in order to modernise it. In the next fiscal year, Rs57.29 billion is allocated for the sector.
The government has announced interest subsidies, technical support, and tax waivers on machinery imports for individuals or firms engaged in commercial farming and livestock production through contract farming on 10 bigha (6.77 hectares) in Tarai and 50 ropani (2.54 hectares] in the hills.
There are new provisions for insurance premium waivers and soft loans for seven individuals and firms producing aromatic rice as part of a pilot project on more than 100 bigha of land. They will also have easy access to chemical fertiliser, seeds, and technical support.
The government may launch commercial farming of wild animals like musk deer in mountain districts like Myagdi, Mustang, Manang, Gorkha, and Dhading.  
Economist Pushkar Bajracharya said that the budget seemed focused on promoting innovation with the announcement of the agriculture investment decade, the science and technology decade, and the women’s empowerment decade, which are the bases for economic transformation.
“But it’s difficult to achieve the economic growth rate as we are in a crisis, and there was no concrete initiative to bail the country out of economic slowdown.”
Finance Minister Pun said that the country will see a revolution in energy production.
He said that the government hopes to add 900MW into the national grid by the next fiscal year and take the total generation to 4,500MW in the next fiscal year. It plans to increase per capita electricity usage to 450 units.
Pun said that to meet the dry season demand, construction of four reservoir-based projects—1,200MW Budhi Gandaki, 670MW Dudh Koshi, 417MW Nalgadh, and 280MW Naumure—will begin in the next fiscal year.
He announced that the government would start the construction of the 783MW Sunkoshi III hydropower project.
The government aims to connect 100MW of solar projects from the private sector to the national grid.
The government has made orientation training free of charge for people going abroad for work. Similarly, it plans to launch a ‘returnee entrepreneurship programme’ for migrant workers who have returned from foreign employment. Under the scheme, at least 100,000 people will be self-employed.
The finance minister said a necessary budget has been allocated to establish consumer courts. In February 2022, the Supreme Court directed that such courts be established in all provinces.
“Activities like black-marketing and syndicating in the market will be controlled. Consumer courts will also be formed. I have allocated a budget for the purpose,” said Pun.
The government said it would provide loans for technical education, including medical education. “Law will be amended to provide loans and concessions loans for technical education in high demand.”
Pun also said that the government aims to welcome 1.6 million foreign tourists in the next fiscal year.
The finance minister also announced plans to promote Nepal as a wedding destination among foreign tourists in a bid to promote cultural and tourist destinations.
The government will lease government lands to the private sector for hotel and resort construction in order to boost tourist numbers.
The government has a target of exporting information technology-related goods and services worth Rs3 trillion in the next ten years.
Pun has said that 500,000 direct and 1 million indirect jobs will be created in the IT sector.
“Nepal will be developed as an information technology hub,” he said. “Artificial intelligence will be developed, promoted and regulated,” he said.
The government has constituted a fund of Rs1 billion to address the financial needs of startups. The government will also pass necessary laws to brand, market, and sell local alcohol.
A sum of Rs21.60 billion has been set aside for the reconstruction of earthquake-affected Jajarkot and Rukum West. The two districts were badly hit by an earthquake in November, 2023.
Chandra Prasad Dhakal, president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Nepal’s apex private sector body, said that the budget has addressed almost all of the suggestions given by the private sector.
“We had demanded the formation of a high-level reform commission to address the ongoing economic crisis, and the budget has addressed it. “Similarly, the private sector had been pushing for contract farming, which the budget addresses as well.”
The budget has prioritised startups, promotion of Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) tourism, and hill stations. “If the budget is implemented properly, the 6 percent economic growth target is achievable,” Dhakal said.

HOME PAGE

House panel will probe cooperatives linked to home minister, others

CPN-UML’s Surya Thapa leads the seven-member committee, which has representation of five parties.
- ANIL GIRI

Kathmandu,  
After a weeks-long exercise, the four major political parties—the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML, the CPN (Maoist Centre), and the Rastriya Swatantra Party—on Tuesday agreed on the terms of reference (ToR) for the proposed parliamentary special probe panel on the cooperative scam.
The five political parties, including the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, have sent the names of the members to be represented in the parliamentary probe committee.
According to a Nepali Congress leader, Surya Thapa of the UML will lead the committee, and Sarita Bhusal of the party will serve as a member.
Likewise, Badri Pandey and Ishwari Neupane of the Nepali Congress, Lekhntah Dahal from the Maoist Centre, Shishir Khanal of the RSP, and Dhurbha Bahadur Pradhan of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party are other members of the parliamentary probe committee. The tenure of the special probe committee will be three months from the start of its work. The term will be extended if the panel is unable to complete the work in that time.
Earlier, the four-member task force led by Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Padam Giri agreed on a four-point ToR for the probe committee. The task force members handed over the ToR document to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. With this, the nearly two-months- long parliamentary impasse ended on Tuesday, allowing the government to present the government’s annual budget.
In the afternoon, Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun presented the budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 at the joint session of Parliament.
As per the agreement, the panel will conduct investigation and make recommendations on the resolving legal and institutional issues faced by cooperatives and on regulations, institutional purpose, supervision and transparency of their financial systems.
Despite the demand of the Congress, the name of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Rabi Lamichhane, who has been accused of illegally obtaining loans from three cooperatives based in Butwal, Chitwan, and Pokhara, has not been mentioned in the ToR of the parliamentary committee. However, the cooperatives from which Lamichhne had borrowed money will be investigated.
The first clause under the jurisdiction of the parliamentary committee states that the committee will look into cooperatives facing crisis, their legal and institutional purposes, financial systems, regulations, supervision, and transparency, and will make recommendations to the government. Similarly, the committee will study and recommend quick ways to return existing and misused savings.
Another task is to make recommendations for immediate return of savings to the depositors of the crisis-ridden cooperatives identified by the Department of Cooperatives and the Crisis-ridden Cooperatives Management Committee. The parliamentary panel has also been mandated to study and analyse the progress of the savings protection and return process on those crisis-ridden cooperatives identified in annex 1 and annex 2 of the ToR.
The Department of Cooperatives has listed 20 cooperatives as crisis-ridden, with billions of rupees of depositors at risk.
The fourth clause on the jurisdiction of the committee states that it will track the condition of funds from crisis-ridden cooperatives, including those allegedly transferred to the Gorkha Media Network and other companies and organisations. It will also look into the legality of such transfers, investigate anyone involved in illegal transfer of funds, and make recommendations to recover the funds.
As per police investigation, billions of rupees from several cooperatives were transferred to GB Rai’s Gorkha Media Network. He has fled the country and Interpol has issued a red notice against him.
As listed on annex 2 of the ToR, nine credit cooperatives, whose deposits were transferred to run the Gorkha Media Network and other organisations, come under the purview of the investigation committee.
Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Padam Giri coordinated the task force whose members were Jeevan Pariyar and Gyanendra Bahadur Kariki from the Nepali Congress; Mahesh Bartuala from UML; Sishir Khanal of the Rastriya Swatantra Party and Hitraj Pandey of the CPN (Maoist Centre).
After an agreement between the parties on Monday evening, the meeting of the task force held on Tuesday finalised the ToR.

Page 2
NATIONAL

For women in foreign employment, the way to empowerment back home is not easy

Stories of three women who returned from abroad for good and started a new life back home, overcoming barriers aplenty.
- SUNITA BARAL

MAHOTTARI,
Forty-nine year old Urmila Tamang of ward 1 of Bardibas Municipality struggled to manage her household expenses 11 years ago. She couldn’t even manage the cost of her children’s education. She had enrolled all three of her children in a private school thinking that they could get quality education there. “But I could not pay the school bills,” Urmila says. “I had no option other than going abroad as nobody would lend me any money due to my poverty.”
Things have changed now. Now Urmila is considered an exemplary woman in her society. She has built a house of her own and can now lend money to those in need, she says, proudly.
Moreover, she has now turned into something of a green entrepreneur, running a commercial vegetable farm near her freshly-built house.
Urmila had gone to Kuwait some 11 years ago, aiming to provide a good education to her children and making a house of her own. Since she didn’t get any support from her family—her mother passed away when Urmila was still a child and her husband abandoned her and followed the path of monkhood—she was conscious of not letting her children face the hardship she did.
“I raised two daughters and a son alone by working as a daily wage earner,” she recalls.
In Kuwait, Urmila worked hard for seven years as a cleaner. She was paid Rs40,000 per month. “What I could earn is the education of my children,” she says, adding that she earned a total of Rs4 million during her stay in the West Asian emirate.
In her new four-room concrete house in ward 1 of Bardibas, Urmila now lives with her younger daughter and son; while her elder daughter is now in Dubai for work.
Urmila returned home in 2020 and received financial literacy training under the Safer Migration Project. After that, she started commercial vegetable farming near her residence. “I now earn a good amount of money by selling green vegetables,” Urmila says. “The same people who did not support me before I went abroad for work praise me now.”
Marsangmaya Bamjan, 55, from Khairmara in ward 10 of Bardibas Municipality, is another woman who after returning from foreign employment for good has made herself a name in society back home.
Bamjan went to Saudi Arabia six years ago to pay off the loan her husband took to go abroad. Bamjan’s husband died due to paralysis after returning from abroad.
“We took the loan to send him abroad, but he fell ill within a year of living there,” Bamjan says. “He died soon after returning home, and to repay the loan, I went abroad.”
Bamjan returned home with a decent amount of money from Saudi Arabia, and the society that never helped her suddenly started recognising her and acknowledging her with positivity.
“My husband’s family never accepted us or my two children, not even during the time when my husband was sick, but after returning from abroad, they approached me,” Bamjan says. “I felt proud of myself and pity at the same time for the biassed
society.”
Like Urmila, Laxmimaya Tamang, a 41-year-old woman from ward 10 of Bardibas, also went for foreign employment in Kuwait, where she worked for 15 years. She got married to a Nepali man from Bardibas who she met in Kuwait.
Laxmimaya said that after returning home, life was not easy because everyone used to judge her for working in the Gulf.
“When I got married, my husband’s family was not willing to accept me because I worked in the Gulf, but not even after two months, everybody was impressed with me and started appreciating me,” Laxmimaya says. “I have bought land in two different places with my earnings and have started a business in Bardibas.”
The society, which was frequently judging her while she was working, suddenly started appreciating her for her achievements.
“I have a happy family and am working as hard as I was in Kuwait, and I am happy that everybody is recognising me,” she says. “I worked abroad for my family due to financial troubles and made a living in Nepal with my experience, and I am happy with that.”
Bardibas Municipality is currently conducting financial literacy classes and providing psychological counselling to families who have returned from overseas employment or have family members in foreign employment under the Safer Migration Project.
However, the municipality has no idea how many women from Bardibas are abroad for foreign employment.
Kamala Karki, a financial
literacy facilitator, says that she is conducting a class for every family to invest money they earn abroad in the right place. “After getting financial literacy, investment in vegetable farming, poultry farming, goat farming, and other fields becomes easy for the people who return from abroad,” Karki says. “The Safer Migration Project also helps people who are interested in small and cottage ventures but do not have funds.”
According to the Bardibas Municipality, there are 102 people in the municipality taking classes for financial literacy and counselling under the Safer Migration Project after returning from abroad.

NATIONAL

Man arrested on charge of underage marriage

District Digest

ARGHAKHANCHI: On Tuesday, police made public a 30-year-old man from Patauti in ward 4 of Panini Rural Municipality arrested on charge of marrying an 11-year-old girl. According to Deputy Superintendent of Police Pratit Singh Rana of the Arghakhanchi District Police Office, the man was arrested on Sunday and has been remanded into judicial custody for five days. A preliminary investigation by the police has revealed that the man married the girl religiously on April 23 and was living with her, luring her with various temptations. The arrest was made after getting an anonymous tip, and further investigation into the case is going on, said Rana. 

NATIONAL

Yarsagumba picker dies in Dolpa highlands

District Digest

RUKUM WEST: A 22-year-old Yarsagumba collector died apparently due to high altitude sickness in the highlands of Kaike Rural Municipality of Dolpa on Monday. According to Narasingh Bista, the chairman of ward 4 of Aathbiskot Municipality, Jamuna Bista of the ward died in the incident. The victim, who fell ill in the highlands, died while returning home. The body was taken to the district hospital in Dolpa for postmortem.

NATIONAL

Three people held on charge of fraud

District Digest

SINDHULI: Police on Tuesday arrested three people from Haibar in ward 6 of Golanjor Rural Municipality on charges of fraud. According to the District Police Office in Sindhuli, Shyam Tamang, 24, Tenjen Paina, 26, and Narayan Bahadur Paina, 27, were detained for investigation. The suspects allegedly swindled around Rs 1.8 million from different people by promising to exchange their money into US dollars.

Page 3
NEWS

Government to set up peace fund to address conflict victims’ concerns

Rs1 million was offered in relief to the families of those killed or forcibly disappeared during the decade-long Maoist insurgency but many have been left out.
- Post Report

KATHMANDU,
At a time when the transitional justice process has been stuck in the lack of necessary legislation, the government has decided to establish a peace fund to support conflict victims of human rights violations.
Presenting the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Minister for Finance Barsha Man Pun on Tuesday announced the establishment of the fund. “Rs1 billion has been allocated for the peace fund,” he said. “It would be used to provide compensation and financial support to conflict victims.”
In the past, successive governments have provided some relief packages to the victims of the decade-long insurgency that ended in 2006 but not many have been covered. The government provided Rs1 million in relief to the families of those killed or forcibly disappeared during the Maoist insurgency. However, many such victims have been left out.
Records at the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons show only 1,227 families of victims of enforced disappearances  have received the compensation. However, as many as 3,223 complaints of enforced disappearances implicating either security forces or the Maoists have been lodged at the commission. And the commission has identified 2,494 cases that fall under its jurisdiction for investigation.
Victims of sexual violence and rape are the ones who have been most neglected when it comes to receiving compensation from the government. As they are unable to lodge complaints owing to the social stigma, they have been left out from the government support.
Though advocates of the rights of conflict victims of rape and sexual violence claim their numbers to be in thousands, only 314 have lodged their complaints at the truth commission.
The conflict victims, welcoming the decision to create the fund, ask the government and the political parties to focus on amending the Enforced Disappearances Enquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act. “Amending the Act must be a top priority as it will open the door for compensation and justice,” Suman Adhikari, founding chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform, told the Post. “Searching for other options without making necessary attempts to amend the Act is unacceptable.”
The two transitional justice commissions have been defunct since July 2022, after the government decided to extend their terms without retaining their chairmen and members. Against the government’s claim that the amendment bill to the Act would be endorsed by October 2022, which will also open the door for recruiting new office bearers, there has been no progress in amending the Act.
The major political parties, despite making several attempts, have not been able to find a meeting point in the bill though there has been some progress.
After year-long discussions, the Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee of the House of Representatives has narrowed down the differences in the bill. However, the House panel had been struggling to decide whether to categorise arbitrary killings or all killings except those that occurred in clashes as serious violations of human rights. It had also been unable to decide what happens in case the victims of human rights violations refuse to reconcile.
There has been no discussion on the bill since the formation of the UML-Maoist coalition on March 4.
The government, however, has claimed the transitional justice process would be expedited. Prior to the presentation of the budget to the joint meeting of Parliament, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had said his government was committed to concluding the transitional justice process and providing financial support to the victims.
“The government is committed to concluding the peace process by expediting the transitional justice process,” Dahal said at a function held to mark the republic day. “We have completed most of the task of conflict management and peacebuilding as envisioned by the Constitution of Nepal.” He also claimed that Nepal’s practice in conflict management has set an example at the international level, he had claimed.

NEWS

Government allocates one percent of annual capital expenditure to R&D

The budget was earmarked as per agreement reached with social innovator Mahabir Pun last year.
- Post Report

KATHMANDU,
The government has announced it’ll increase investments to help institutes involved in research and development sectors.
“The government has allocated one percent of the annual capital expenditure for research and development,” announced Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun while presenting the budget in Parliament on Tuesday. “Investments will be increased in the institutes involved in research and development.”
While presenting the budget for the fiscal year 2024-25, Pun announced an annual capital expenditure of Rs352 billion in his budget presentation for the upcoming fiscal year. As per the policy of earmarking one percent of the government’s annual capital expenditure for research and development, the sector will get Rs3.52 billion.
Following a days-long protest last year, the government had reached an agreement with Mahabir Pun, chairman of the National Innovation Centre, and pledged to allocate one percent of its annual capital expenditure for the promotion of the country’s research and development sector.
“Government last year had signed an agreement with us to allocate one percent of annual capital expenditure for the innovation and research works,” Pun, who is currently in Nawalparasi to sell his biography to collect money to operate his innovation centre, told the Post over the phone. “If the government has allocated this sum of money, it is a positive initiative.”
Last year, then-deputy prime minister and minister for defense Purna Bahadur Khadka signed a seven-point agreement with Pun. When Pun started his protest last year, many people, including civil society members, leaders from various political parties and the general public had reached Maitighar to express their solidarity to his movement.
Immediately after signing the agreement, Pun had told the Post that they ended the protest as the government committed to allocate at least one percent of the annual development budget to support innovation and research work.
Before beginning his sit-in in May 2023, the 2007 Magsaysay Award winner had met leaders and top officials, including Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and nearly half a dozen ministers, in order to convince them to take some concrete initiatives to promote innovation in the country.
Finance Minister Pun has also announced that the government will establish a Rs1 billion research and development fund for the upcoming year.
Meanwhile, the people who have been involved in the start-up and innovation sectors are not very optimistic regarding the budget. For the last five years, every budget has pledged to promote the start-up businesses and innovation sector. However, the government has done nothing viable to support the people involved in the field, said those active in the sector.
“The budget presented last year had mentioned the tax refund for the start-up. However, the actual plan of the government could not reach the real start-up business,” Kavi Raj Joshi, founder and managing director of the start-up company Next Venture Corp, told the Post. “Let’s hope this initiation taken by the government through the budget is implemented soon.”
Joshi says that the government acknowledging the information and technology sector is in itself a positive thing.
The government in the budget also envisioned establishing Nepal as a hub of information and technology.
The government has an ambition to export IT-related goods and services worth Rs3 trillion in the next ten years and aspires to create direct jobs for half a million and indirect employment for one million people in the sector.

NEWS

Government sets aside a meagre 4.6 percent of the annual budget for the health sector

Experts say health care is not in priority of the incumbent government, and the allocated amount is even insufficient to run the existing programmes.
- Post Report

KATHMANDU,
The government has allocated Rs86.24 billion to the health sector for the upcoming fiscal year, around a 2.5 percent increase from the 83.99 billion allocated for the current fiscal year.
The new allocation is only around 4.6 percent of the total budget.
Funds have been allocated to give continuity to most of the ongoing programmes—safe motherhood programmes, free essential medicines, setting up basic health care centres in all wards throughout the country, and financial relief to people from difficult and expensive diseases—cardiovascular disease, cancer, renal failure, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, head and spinal injury, sickle cell anaemia, and stroke.
The health budget also includes grants to Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Nepal Police Hospital, Nepal Army Hospital, Civil Hospital, and others.
The national budget has announced a few new programmes, including the establishment of the Sita Dahal Memorial College of Naturopathy and Yogic Science under Kathmandu University. Sita Dahal is the late wife of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who died in July last year.
Health experts said that the incumbent government neglected the health sector this year, too, as a slight increase in the annual budget does not help to continue the existing health programme.
“How can we achieve the Sustainable Development Goals targets from the budget allocated to the health care sectors?” said Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, former chief specialist at the Ministry of Health and Population. “We need to bring qualitative change, and for that, huge investments are required.”
Several healthcare programmes, including safe motherhood programmes, child health programmes, tuberculosis control, nutrition, vector control programmes, epidemic control, non-communicable diseases, and mental health programmes, have already been affected by the cut in the previous year’s budget.
Likewise, the budget doesn’t address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.
Non-communicable diseases—such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung disease—have emerged as major public health problems of late, accounting for 71 percent of deaths in the country.
A 2019 study by the Nepal Health Research Council on the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases, which primarily focused on behavioural risk factors—tobacco and alcohol consumption, biological risk factors, raised blood pressure, overweight, obesity, abnormal lipid prevalence, coronary artery disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes—found non-communicable diseases have emerged as a major killer.
Nepal has witnessed several outbreaks in recent years--dengue, cholera diarrheal diseases, and other vector-borne diseases. The country has failed to achieve the malaria elimination target.
“Every hour, one person commits suicide, the burden of non-communicable diseases has increased alarmingly, and neonatal deaths have not declined in the past several years,” said Shrestha.
“Several programmes of health, including a free screening of cervical cancer and renal problems in the state-run health facilities, could not be implemented due to various reasons. The budget allocated for health even does not support continuing the ongoing programmes.”
Experts caution that budget cuts in crucial healthcare programmes would have a long-term impact and could affect the achievements made over the years.
“The government has not allocated the health budget to strengthen the federal structures,” said Dr Padam Bahadur Chand, former chief of the Policy Planning and International Cooperation Division at the Ministry of Health. “Most of the health budget will be spent on the salaries of the staffers.”

NEWS

KMG Chairman Sirohiya flown to Kathmandu for further treatment

He has been admitted to Nepal Mediciti Hospital in Lalitpur.
- Post Report

KATHMANDU,
Kantipur Media Group Chairman Kailash Sirohiya was flown to Kathmandu on Tuesday for further treatment.
Sirohiya, who was in the Kavya Hospital in Janakpur after experiencing heart-related problems on May 25, was brought to the Capital and admitted to the Nepal Mediciti Hospital, Lalitpur.
He is being treated at the hospital’s coronary care unit (CCU), according to doctors attending him.
Earlier, Sirohiya was admitted to the Janakpur-based hospital on Thursday after he had a headache, high blood pressure and fluctuating heartbeat.
Sirohiya is in police custody in connection with the investigation after a cadre of Rastriya Swatantra Party of Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane filed a complaint stating that the number on Sirohiya’s citizenship certificate was the same as that on another person’s citizenship certificate.
The Dhanusha District Court on Monday extended his remand by three more days for the investigation.
A single bench of Judge Yaduraj Sharma allowed the district police office to keep Sirohiya in custody until Wednesday for further investigation. The court has also asked the police to expedite the investigation process and not to prolong it.
Previously, on Friday, the court had extended his remand for three days. Police presented him before the court on Monday to have his remand extended.
The police asked the court to extend the remand, saying the signature on Sirohiya’s citizenship mentioning the date of birth has been sent for forensic test and the report is awaited.
Police on May 21 arrested Sirohiya, weeks after RSP cadre Indrajit Mahato filed a complaint at the District Police Office in Dhanusha raising questions about the number on Sirohiya’s citizenship certificate.
The then administrative officer of the Dhanusha District Administration Office recently said the signature on the copy of the citizenship certificate is authentic and his own.
Various national as well as global bodies have denounced Sirohiya’s arrest from his media office.

Page 4
OPINION

A budget that overlooks federalism

The government prioritises strengthening federalism, but the policies don’t reflect that.
- KHIM LAL DEVKOTA

Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun on Tuesday presented a budget of Rs1,860 billion for Fiscal Year 2024-25, a 6.2 percent increase from FY 2023-24. The FY 2023-24 budget was Rs1,751 billion, but mid-year adjustments reduced it to Rs1,530 billion. As of Tuesday, only Rs1,116 billion (63.72 percent) had been spent, with just a month and a half remaining of the current fiscal year. This raises concerns about meeting expenditure expectations and the rationale behind such a large budget.
The National Planning Commission’s resource committee had set a budget ceiling of Rs1,800 billion, but the government did not consider revenue trends, expenditure capacity or the commission’s suggestions. The finance minister has projected Rs1,260 billion in tax revenue for FY 2024-25. For FY 2023-24, the expected tax revenue was Rs1305 billion, but only Rs777 billion (60 percent) had been collected as of Tuesday. Given this, the projected tax revenue is unlikely to be met, indicating that the budget size is not appropriate or based on sufficient evidence.
Regarding federalism in Nepal, functional responsibilities are constitutionally devolved, while revenue remains centralised. There is a provision to balance this fiscal gap through fiscal transfers. However, the current budget is not favourable to provincial and local levels, as it does not reflect their actual budgetary needs. The total size of fiscal transfers, including revenue sharing to the sub-federal level, has decreased from Rs574 billion in FY 2023-24 to Rs567 billion in FY 2024-25. This is unfortunate in terms of the budget ratio; it was 33 percent in FY 2023-24 and dropped to 30 percent in FY 2024-25.

Federalism sidelined
Post-federalism budgets in Nepal have hardly done justice to the sub-federal levels. According to the principle of fiscal transfers, the fiscal equalisation grant should increase proportionally to the budget size. However, its ratio is declining every year. For example, in FY 2018-19, the share of the fiscal equalisation grant to the budget for the sub-federal level was about 10.5 percent, which declined to 8.3 percent in FY 2023-24. In the latest budget, it further declined to 7.9 percent.
The ratio of conditional grants comprises the lion’s share of overall grant distribution. In FY 2023-24, out of the total grant distribution, the share of conditional grants to the local levels was 65 percent. This ratio increased to 67 percent in the FY 2024-25 budget. This is distressing for the local level.
Even within the jurisdiction outlined by the constitution, the tasks handled by various ministries during the pre-federalisation period should gradually be relinquished and delegated to sub-federal levels. However, judging by the trend of conditional grants, this transition does not seem to be occurring. While some institutional structures have been left intact, there is a concerning trend of authority consolidating under the guise of conditional grants. Federal ministries are establishing numerous sub-federal level project offices, ostensibly under the pretext of conditional grants. Looking at yesterday’s budget, it seems that most of the sectoral ministries are gradually eroding the authority of the sub-federal levels in the name of various projects.
Sub-federal levels lack autonomy on conditional grants. Projects and programmes must be implemented according to the conditions and standards set by the federal government. Conditional grants should empower sub-federal levels to execute programs and projects in alignment with national policies. However, the definition of a conditional grant outlined in the law has been ignored. Conditional grants are being distributed without consideration for the criteria set by law, instructions from parliamentary committees, and decisions of the fiscal commission.
Although Prime Minister Dahal promised not to reduce equalisation grants for sub-federal levels, he has failed to follow through. A few weeks ago, the Ministry of Finance sent a letter reducing the equalisation grants allocated to the local level by 26 percent, amounting to Rs24 billion. The same situation applies to the provinces. The Office of the Auditor General’s 61st report, released just two days ago, also stated that not only the fiscal equalisation grant but all grants, including revenue sharing, have been reduced towards the end of the fiscal year. For example, matching and special grants to the sub-federal levels were decreased by 25 percent in FY 2022-23. The revenue-sharing figure declined by 21.4 percent.
The ratio of the fiscal equalisation grant to the total budget for sub-federal levels was 8.34 percent in FY 2023-24, which declined to 7.96 percent in yesterday’s budget. In FY 2018-19, it was 10.27 percent. This is really unfortunate for the sub-federal levels.
Regarding the government policy and programmes, President Ramchandra Paudel spoke for about two hours, emphasising the implementation of the constitution and the strengthening of federalism, among other priorities. However, an important issue, the adjustment of the police security force at the provincial level, which is crucial for the strengthening of federalism, is not included in the policy and program. It was not included in the FY 2023-24 policy and program either.
Point 396 of the FY 2023-24 budget speech stated that the police security force would be adjusted in the provinces. Despite this mention, the issue of police adjustment in the provinces has not been addressed yet. This year, the problem is neither included in the policy and program nor the budget speech. Last year, although the police adjustment policy was included in the budget speech, the budget wasn’t allocated for it in the Ministry of Home Affairs’ budget line item. This year, it is excluded from the policy, programme, and budget speech.
Consequently, it is also not included in the budget line item of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Out of this ministry’s total budget of Rs1.99 billion, 99.8 percent is allocated to the federal level. Once again, the government has bypassed the provinces.

Lopsided priorities
One of the government’s stated priorities is strengthening federalism, but the policies and programmes don’t reflect this. The budget’s five priorities include economic reform, promotion of the private sector, agriculture, energy, information technology, tourism, industrial development, and infrastructure construction. However, strengthening federalism is not mentioned among the budget priorities.
The biggest problem in the FY 2023-24 budget was that the budget limits for the federal ministries’ programs and projects were minimal. For example, in the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, there were 2,829 projects, with 66 percent of them being up to Rs5 million. In the Ministry of Urban Development, the Ministry of Water Supply, and the Ministry of Youth, the percentages of projects up to Rs5 million were 98 percent, 84 percent, and 99 percent, respectively.
Most federal ministries, including these, had not embraced the spirit of the constitution. They had violated not only the constitution but also the ‘Government of Nepal (Allocation of Business) Rules, 2017’. According to these rules, the role of most federal ministries is to formulate and regulate policies, laws, and standards. However, these ministries were found to have gone beyond their role and scope. The role of federal ministries and agencies in selecting and implementing projects is to focus on national pride, game-changing, and other strategic projects. Instead, most of the ministries allocated their budget for small projects.
After widespread criticism, the federal government decided not to operate projects smaller than Rs30 million. For a thorough analysis, the details of the allocations of the sectoral ministries are needed, as they cannot be estimated based on the budget speech text alone. However, there is a risk that the federal government will forward all the small-scale programs and projects to the local level. More and more small-scale programs and projects are being sent to the local level, but staffing issues remain unresolved. Even now, staffing at the local level is a significant problem.
A quick review of the ministries’ allocation budgets reveals that most ministries have centralised all resources. For example, the total budget of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, amounting to Rs0.50 billion for FY 2024-25, is kept at the central level, with not a single pie allocated to the sub-federal level from this ministry.
Finally, this budget does not support federalism or favour provincial and local levels. Fiscal transfers and equalisation grants have decreased, centralising resources and undermining sub-federal autonomy. Despite government priorities, the budget fails to reflect a commitment to strengthening federalism.

OPINION

Indian elections and the question of jobs

Poor quality of technical education is blamed for the unemployability of graduates. That is only partly true.
- Kashif Islam

Economic distress and inflation were among the main concerns of the Indian electorate in the ongoing national elections. Even those holding favourable views of the government believed it hadn’t done enough on the jobs front.

Electoral games
It is interesting how the major political parties have positioned their campaigns in the ongoing general elections, now drawing to an end. Under the bold slogan “Choose jobs, not hate”, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi promised to fill more than 3 million vacant government posts if elected to power. The party manifesto included a commitment to the right to apprenticeship for all graduates, a guaranteed programme of urban employment, and time-bound recruitment of candidates appearing for the government exams, some of which drag on for years.
The ruling BJP’s manifesto also includes similar promises of jobs and empowerment. Yet, many of the party’s ads focus on welfare schemes, such as the payouts to farmers and cooking cylinders to low-income families, rather than the jobs. Also, economic performance has not been the primary focus of the party’s campaign. It is almost exclusively focused on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Instead, the party has chosen the well-trodden path of communal polarisation, with the Prime minister repeatedly bringing up unfounded and bizarre allegations of the opposition favouring the minorities.

A problem of supply
Unlike Western countries, where formal, stable employment is the norm,  a defining characteristic of a developing economy like India is that many young people are forced to work in low-skill professions, join family businesses, or get self-employed in low-paying occupations. The Indian economy has grown steadily over the past many years but has failed to add quality employment in line with its growing youth population.
Poor quality of technical education is often blamed for the unemployability of young graduates. Yet this misses the fact that if there is substantial availability of well-paid jobs in any sector, skill development follows, as has happened in the IT sector.
Formal unemployment figures are not a reliable way to understand the amplitude of the problem as they do not record many seekers who are not actively seeking work in lower-paid professions or in family businesses. Rather, one must depend on indirect evidence.
For instance, for every government post advertised, there are hundreds of applicants, many of them overqualified. Job aspirants spend years preparing for government exams because only a limited number can be filled yearly. The number of Indians going abroad for studies or jobs has assumed significant proportions in recent years, pointing to dissatisfaction with the opportunities at hand. Hundreds of technical colleges have shut down in the past decade because their graduates could not find appropriate job opportunities.

Government response
The Narendra Modi government has tried various strategies to revitalise the job sector over the years. When Modi entered office in 2014, he promised to create 20 million jobs. Part of his strategy was to revitalise the Indian manufacturing sector. He launched an ambitious programme named “Make in India” aimed at creating 100 million additional manufacturing jobs by 2022. Businesses were encouraged to reduce imports of manufactured goods and offered incentives to produce within the country. India was expected to rival China for its manufacturing capabilities. Ten years later, the results are mixed.
While imports of items such as mobile phones and toys declined and a few big names, such as Apple, started manufacturing in the country, India has yet to become the manufacturing giant as was hoped for. Most manufacturing units in the country remain small-scale, employing less than 50 people and there are fewer people employed in the manufacturing sector than was the case 10 years back. Tellingly PM Modi has not invoked the ‘Make in India’ program in his campaigning.
Moreover, a blue-collar manufacturing job may not be the path to prosperity, as was the case in China. There is a distinct trend of contractual employment where even large Indian manufacturers outsource operations or hire temporary staff. These are typically paid less than permanent employees, do not get health or retirement benefits, and remain outside the ambit of labour laws. The government itself makes extensive use of the contractual workforce.

Back-office of the world
For long, the Information Technology (IT) services sector compensated for the lack of vibrant manufacturing. Thousands of young graduates find work each year in local and multinational companies. Current estimates for the number of people employed by the IT services sector stand at over 5 million. Not only was the IT sector relatively immune from cost competition, unlike manufacturing, but it also paid well.
However, employment in any one sector cannot grow indefinitely. Traditionally, the big IT companies hired fresh graduates in the thousands from college campuses nationwide. While the best campuses still attract recruiters, the numbers have decreased drastically recently. The industry body NASSCOM reported that aggregate employment in the Indian IT sector dropped for the first time in 20 years. Many of the top Indian IT companies have shrunk their workforce. It needs to be clarified if this is a temporary slowdown after the COVID-era boom in hiring or a more permanent status quo.
Even if it is a temporary downturn tied to global events, there is a new disruptor in Artificial Intelligence, a double-edged sword for the Indian IT industry. While India leads in the number of available AI talent, there are apprehensions that advances in AI will make many traditional IT and back-office roles redundant. It is hard to predict whether the number of jobs that AI replaces turns out to be significantly higher than the ones it creates.

A daunting challenge
The new Indian government, which will form once the results are declared on June 4 will have to contend with this difficult problem. It is easy for the opposition to promise to fill 3 million government jobs, but the fact is that government employment has been declining over the past many years. Employment in manufacturing is unlikely to go up significantly from current levels. Over-reliance on the IT sector must also prove problematic sooner or later.
Economists often talk about a ‘demographic dividend’ for countries with a large youth population, such as India. The ability to create well-paid jobs and broad-based prosperity will determine whether the country’s large youth population will turn out to be a dividend or a demographic nightmare.


Islam works in the financial services industry based out of Gurgaon.

OUR VIEW

Undrinkable

Safe drinking water is a fundamental right. The authorities are duty-bound to fulfil that.

Access to safe drinking water has never been easy for the residents of Kathmandu Valley. This year, as in the past, algae and other harmful particles are being discovered in bottled water. In March, water samples from the source, community schools and taps of seven wards of Godawari Municipality in Lalitpur were found contaminated with faecal coliform and microorganisms found in faeces. Despite being a country rich in water resources, the government and authorities have failed to deliver safe water to the citizens, reminding us of a line by English poet Samuel Tylor Coleridge, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink”.
With people’s health already compromised, lack of budget to test the drinkability of supplied water is alarming as it may lead to more water-borne diseases. Experts warn that contaminated water also contributes to cholera, dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis A and E. Budgetary constraints have affected health agencies primarily responsible for regular drinking water testing. For the upcoming fiscal year, the government has set aside Rs86.24 billion for the health sector, a 2.5 percent increase from the Rs83.99 billion this year. However, the sector’s total share in the budget is only 4.6 percent, leaving us wondering if the amount will cover issues like water safety programmes.
The government’s efforts to supply safe water from public networks have been highly unsatisfactory. The Melamchi Drinking Water Project’s inconsistent distribution has disappointed people, and the leaks in the project’s pipes have only resulted in further contamination. Given this, jarred and bottled water are widely used in schools, offices, households and public spaces. However, most of these water sources remain unchecked due to the country’s poor monitoring facilities and human resources.
As responsible for unsafe water is the general public, having polluted water sources with faeces, sewage, harmful chemicals, pollutants and other wastes. Additionally, frequent floods and unprecedented rainfalls resulting from climate change contaminate water with pathogens, as shown by a technical paper, “Climate Change and Water”, of the International Panel on Climate Change. Yet, our policies often overlook human-induced water safety concerns.
Water contamination usually makes headlines before and during the monsoon, leaving us unaware of their status in other seasons. The government should immediately allocate more inspectors to test water sources and develop plans at local levels for year-round monitoring. Once the water jars and bottles are found unsuitable for drinking, they are sent back to their respective companies, but there’s no guarantee that these companies will later ensure water safety. Sensitising water suppliers on the public’s health and training them to follow the National Drinking Water Quality Standard, which includes water sampling and testing and physic-chemical and microbiological testing, is of paramount importance. The standard also mandates the suppliers conduct quality monitoring, which should be diligently followed.
Safe drinking water is a fundamental right; the authorities are duty-bound to fulfil that. This, however, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything at our end to protect our own health. According to the World Health Organization, diarrhoeal cases take a toll on around half a million low- and middle-income countries, with most deaths occurring in children under five. This suggests that simple preventive measures at home can also protect us from deadly diseases. For this, the government and health authorities should make people aware of proper water treatment methods and safe storage. Only serious steps in water security will ensure the government meets its pledge to ensure safe water access for everyone by 2030.

THEIR VIEW

Stop misleading

30 percent of total social safety allocations are going to the non-poor population.

The inclusion of pension payments for retired public servants and their families as well as interest payments on savings certificates in the category of social security programmes makes no sense. Yet, the government continues to include these payments underneath its allocation for social security programmes, portraying an inflated expenditure figure on social safety net programmes (SSNPs). In the current fiscal year, such expenditures accounted for 30 percent of the total social security programme fund of Tk 126,090 crore, according to the finance ministry. Social safety net is for the protection of individuals who are vulnerable, but they are not benefitting from a large portion of the allocation as advertised.
In its analysis of the budget for the current fiscal year, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) classified the SSNPs into three categories—acceptable, quasi-acceptable, and non-acceptable. By analysing the allocation, it found that the SSNP budget continued to remain “artificially inflated,” with seemingly unrelated allocations being reported in the SSNP list. The think tank further said that the share of compatible SSNPs in total social safety net schemes declined from 62.2 percent in FY2009-10 to 29.2 percent in FY2023-24. And its share as a percentage of GDP fell by more than half from 1.6 percent in FY2009-10 to 0.7 percent in FY2023-24. These are both significant reductions. What this indicates is that the government is spending a comparatively much lower share to protect the financially vulnerable, which is extremely concerning.
The immense economic struggle that the majority of people—particularly those in lower-income groups—are currently facing is well-documented. They need more support, not less. But as experts have pointed out, if the items included in the list of social security are examined thoroughly, the allocation for social safety net will come down to only one percent of GDP. So, why is the government including other expenses in the SSNP list? Is it to intentionally paint a misleading picture?
The government needs to stop pretending like it is doing a lot for financially vulnerable people—because it is not—and take genuine steps to alleviate their suffering. In that regard, it has to increase its budgetary allocation on actual social safety net programmes and separate other expenses into another more appropriate category.

—The Daily Star (Bangladesh)/ANN

Page 5
MONEY

Budget introduces green tax on petroleum products

Excise duties on alcohol, beer and tobacco have been increased. The customs duty on the import of skimmed milk has been reduced to 1 percent.
- KRISHANA PRASAIN

KATHMANDU,
The government has imposed a green tax on imported petroleum products to fulfil its international commitment to reducing carbon emissions, according to the Financial Act for the fiscal year 2024-25 presented on Tuesday after the budget speech.
Equitable taxes will be imposed based on the economic transaction of the new business model and digital transaction, Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun said.
The objective of the revenue policy is to expand economic activities and promote investment by improving the revenue system, prioritising domestic industries, developing coordinated revenue systems by expanding the boundary of revenue, and controlling revenue leakage through coordination among government bodies, he said.
To encourage domestic industries, import duty on raw materials for medicine, induction stove, thread, helmet, incense stick, sanitary pad, cashew and peanut processing will be reduced, he said.
The import duty and excise duty has been reduced for firms producing these goods.
Likewise, to protect domestic firms, the import duty and excise duty on some finished imported goods have been increased.
To attract foreign direct investment, the government has reduced income tax on interest from loans obtained from foreign banks and financial institutions.
A double tax avoidance agreement will be made with the potential countries to draw foreign direct investment.
“If IT firms capitalise their profits, they will be provided with a waiver on dividend tax,” said Pun. “Tax subsidies will be provided to foreign companies if they reinvest or increase the capacity of business.”
The customs duty on the import of skimmed milk has been reduced to 1 percent from existing 15 percent for dairy firms that produce more than 1,000 litres of milk daily.
The customs duty on the export of plates made from waste leaves have been removed.
Instead of refunding the VAT on scooters imported by differently-abled people, a waiver will be provided at customs points.
Pun said that a provision would be made for all taxpayers associated with VAT to issue invoices electronically. Taxpayers with transactions of more than Rs250 million annually will be associated with a central invoice monitoring system.
The VAT imposed on potatoes, onions, apples and other green vegetables has been removed. “I believe this will protect domestic production,” said Pun.
The excise duties on alcohol, beer and tobacco have been increased.
The government has imposed a health risk tax this year.
Imported or domestically manufactured bidi (hand-rolled unfiltered cigarettes) have been subjected to an extra 30 paisa per piece as health risk tax and 60 paisa per cigar. Readymade tobacco, gutkha, and pan masala will face a health risk tax of Rs60 per kg.
The government will impose a 3 percent education service charge on foreign currency exchange on students going for foreign study.
To develop an IT-based customs system, coordination will be done with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Pun said.
A single person earning Rs500,000 annually from employment will have to pay 1 percent income tax, while a married couple earning up to Rs600,000 will also be subjected to the 1 percent tax.
The digital services provided by Non-Resident Nepali to Nepali consumers will be imposed with a 2 percent digital service tax on the transaction of digital services.

Tax compared
Goods                                  This fiscal           Next fiscal
Beer without alcohol                Rs35 per liter        Rs45 per liter
Energy drinks                           Rs50 per litre        Rs52 per litre
Sparkling wine (12% alcohol)    Rs444 per litre      Rs460 per litre
Chyang (country beer)             Rs43 per liter        Rs48 per litre
Brandy (48.5% alcohol)             Rs1,800 per litre    Rs1,860 per litre
Whiskey (48.5% alcohol)           Rs1,800 per litre    Rs1,860 per litre
Rum (48.5% alcohol)                 Rs1,800 per litre    Rs1,860 per litre
Cigar with tobacco                   Rs30 per piece      Rs31 per piece
Microbus (11 to 14 seated)        55 percent            40 percent

MONEY

iPhone sales in China jump 52 percent in April

- REUTERS

BEIJING,
Apple’s smartphone shipments in China rose 52 percent in April from a year ago, extending a rebound seen in March, according to data from a research firm affiliated the Chinese government.
The jump follows a weak performance by the US tech giant in the world’s biggest smartphone market earlier this year amid intensifying competition in the high-end smartphone category from local rivals like Huawei. Shipments of foreign-branded phones in China increased by 52 percent in April to 3.495 million units from 2.301 million a year earlier, data from the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) showed on Tuesday.
Although the data did not explicitly mention Apple, the company is the dominant foreign phone maker in China’s smartphone market. This suggests that the increase in foreign-branded shipments can be attributed to Apple’s performance.
Apple’s shipments in China increased by 12 percent in March, marking a significant improvement from the first two months of 2024, when the company experienced a 37 percent slump in sales.
Sales may see a further boost in May as Apple launched an aggressive discounting campaign this month on its official Tmall site in China, offering discounts of up to 2,300 yuan ($318) on select iPhone models.
Earlier this month, Apple CEO Tim Cook forecast iPhone sales growth in some markets, including China, after the company reported an 8.1 percent drop in second-quarter revenue from the Greater China region.
The price reduction, double the size of a discount it offered in February, comes after Huawei introduced last month its new series of high-end smartphones, the Pura 70, following the launch of the Mate 60 last August.

MONEY

US to unveil ‘guardrails’ needed for carbon markets to succeed

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON,
President Joe Biden’s administration is set Tuesday to unveil “guardrails” it says will ensure that carbon offset markets effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a significant win for advocates of the contentious schemes.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will lay out the government’s first broad guidelines for “high-integrity” carbon markets, aimed at boosting confidence in a system that critics have panned as greenwashing.
To transition to a low-carbon economy, “We need to use all the tools at our disposal—creatively, thoughtfully, and at scale,” she will declare in an event with other senior officials, including White House senior climate adviser John Podesta.
“I believe that harnessing the power of markets and private capital is critical. This includes efforts to grow high-integrity voluntary carbon markets.”
Carbon credits enable corporations and countries to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, with each credit representing the reduction or removal of one tonne of CO2, often in developing countries through projects combating deforestation.
The carbon offsets market is currently worth around $2 billion, but has come under intense fire recently after research has shown that claims of reduced emissions under the schemes are often hugely overestimated—or simply non-existent.
Yellen will outline principles emphasizing integrity in three key areas: supply-side credits tied to genuine emissions reductions or removals; demand-side corporate accountability that prioritizes emission reduction; and market integrity through greater transparency and reduced complexity.
The release of the guidelines signal the US government is throwing its weight behind the controversial climate financing mechanisms.
Prominent advocates of carbon markets, including former US climate envoy John Kerry, argue that government funding alone is insufficient to meet the Paris accord’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Kenya’s President William Ruto has hailed Africa’s carbon sinks as an “unparalleled economic goldmine” with the potential to generate billions annually. The UN special envoy on climate ambition and solutions, business tycoon Michael Bloomberg, welcomed the announcement.
“These will help increase investment in projects that reduce emissions and help more businesses grow while reducing their carbon footprints,” he said in a statement with UN special envoy on climate action and finance Mark Carney, and Mary Schapiro, former chair of the US securities and exchange commission.
But scientists emphasize that offsetting should not be used as a license to continue polluting, as emissions must fall by nearly half this decade to meet global warming goals.

MONEY

China wheelchair users claim outdoors with hand-cranked bikes

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HOHHOT (China), 
Speeding along crumbling roads past dusty villages and herds of sheep, a team of cyclists turns heads in China’s Inner Mongolia with their unusual equipment.
The group, most of them wheelchair users, were strapped into low-slung, three-wheeled handcycle bikes instead of the two-wheeled mountain bikes more commonly seen on the challenging terrain.
Dodging trucks and car-sized potholes, they barrelled down country roads towards the regional capital Hohhot, frequently greeted with excited shouts by groups of villagers.
The cyclists are members of Krankin’ Thru China, formed over a decade ago to promote wheelchair users’ participation in open-air sports.
China passed an accessibility law last year aimed at creating a “barrier-free” society but everyday life for people with disabilities can still be challenging in many parts of the country. “From the very start we wanted to use handcycle bikes as a way to encourage injured friends to come outdoors,” said Wang Feng, who discovered adaptive bikes years after losing the use of his legs because of a childhood illness.
Krankin’ Thru China has embarked on multiple long-distance trips in remote parts of the country, including a three-month journey in 2017 from the mountainous southwestern province of Yunnan to the capital Beijing.
They have also collaborated with a Shanghai-based university to help build a prototype aimed at making handcycle bikes more affordable and widely available, one of which they tested on the odyssey through rural Inner Mongolia.
Wang and teammates Pan Yifei and Joshua Dominick set off in early May from Qahar Right Rear Banner, a sparsely populated area known for its mines and a nearby volcano park.
Wang said he often meets people who don’t realise the bikes are designed with disability in mind.
“When I tell them this is a hand-cranked bike for disabled people, they’re shocked... they think it’s so impressive,” he said. In Hohhot, the group met a disability association who took turns trying out the bikes.
The locals propelled themselves rapidly around a running track as curious children and retirees looked on. “I saw this before in videos but I never tried it myself,” Di Wenke, a 36-year-old wheelchair dancer, told AFP. “I felt as fast as a machine... and I felt like onlookers envied me.”
Di said that adaptive sports—including wheelchair dancing and handcycling—helped tackle some of the social stigma surrounding disability. “Compared to my previous closed-off mindset, my heart has opened up,” he said. “Having a hobby of your own can be a very nurturing thing.”
As well as bike trips, Krankin’ Thru China hosts regular adaptive swimming and horseback riding events.
“Among the injured friends that I know, they have experienced a change in their attitude,” Wang said, with many asking him for advice on becoming more involved.
Many challenges remain.
As the team approached Hohhot, they relied on word of mouth and trial and error to find country inns that could accommodate their wheelchairs.
The riders needed assistance to climb the front steps of one place, and stairs and elevated bathroom floors were frequent obstacles.
While China’s largest cities are making progress in building accessible infrastructure, smaller towns and rural communities are largely constructed without wheelchair users in mind. And when it comes to mountain biking, most adaptive bikes on the market are prohibitively expensive and constructed out of specialised parts that are difficult to replace.
“It happened before, where we were on the road in Yunnan... that there was a breakdown, so this was quite a big safety risk,” Wang said.
“A lot of assistive equipment has to be custom-made, causing it to be very expensive or for there to be very few (options)... so there are also very few people who can access these sports,” teammate Pan said. The prototype bike tested on this trip—designed by New York University researchers and built by the team alongside lecturer Noel Joyce and students at NYU’s Shanghai campus—is an attempt to change that.

MONEY

US allows Cuban entrepreneurs conditional access to banking system

Bizline

WASHINGTON: Private sector entrepreneurs in Cuba will be able to establish US bank accounts which they can remotely access, US officials said Tuesday, in announcing an update to the country’s Cuba policy. The new rules modify a longstanding embargo on Cuba, allowing conditional access to the US banking system among moves to support the private sector. “These amendments will facilitate greater access to internet-based services for the Cuban people,” a senior US official told reporters. They will also “provide the independent Cuban private sector greater access to international transactions and US banking services, including through online payment platforms,” the official added on condition of anonymity. In particular, independent private sector entrepreneurs will be able to set up remotely accessed US bank accounts for authorized transactions. (AFP)

MONEY

Volkswagen plans cheaper battery model ‘from Europe for Europe’

Bizline

FRANKFURT: German auto giant Volkswagen on Tuesday announced plans for a cheaper-than-ever electric model, as it faces increasingly strong competition from Asian rivals that have taken a lead in battery technology. The new model, which would be priced at around 20,000 euros ($21,800) and be presented in 2027, would offer “entry-level electric mobility from Europe for Europe”, VW CEO Oliver Blume said in a statement. Volkswagen also detailed plans for a range of new battery-powered cars for under 25,000 euros to be unveiled as soon as the end of 2025. These included two compact cars from its VW and Cupra brands, as well as two small SUVs, one each from VW and Skoda. All four vehicles would be produced in Spain, Volkswagen said. (AFP)

MONEY

OpenAI forms AI safety committee after key departures

Bizline

SAN FRANCISCO: OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, announced the formation of a new safety committee on Tuesday, weeks after the departures of key executives raised questions about the firm’s commitment to mitigating the dangers of artificial intelligence. The company said the committee, which will include CEO Sam Altman, is being established as OpenAI begins training its next AI model, expected to surpass the capabilities of the GPT-4 system powering ChatGPT. “While we are proud to build and release industry-leading models on both capabilities and safety, we welcome a robust debate at this important juncture,” OpenAI stated. Comprised of board members and executives, the committee will spend the next 90 days comprehensively evaluating and bolstering OpenAI’s processes and safeguards around advanced AI development. (AFP)

MONEY

Consumer confidence sees surprise uptick in May

Bizline

WASHINGTON: US consumers appeared less gloomy about the job market and future business conditions in May, according to a survey released Tuesday. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index posted a surprise increase this month to 102.0, despite analyst expectations of a decline from April’s 97.5 level. “Confidence improved in May after three consecutive months of decline,” said The Conference Board’s chief economist Dana Peterson. While consumers’ were less optimistic of current business conditions than before, “the strong labor market continued to bolster consumers’ overall assessment of the present situation,” Peterson said. (AFP)

Page 6
WORLD

Georgian parliament overrides presidential veto of the divisive foreign influence bill

President has five days to endorse the bill. If she doesn’t, the Speaker will sign it into law.
- ASSOCIATED PRESS

TBILISI, Georgia,
The Georgian parliament on Tuesday overrode a presidential veto of the “foreign agents” bill that has prompted weeks of massive protests by critics who say it will restrict media freedom and obstruct Georgia’s chances of joining the European Union.
The legislature, controlled by the ruling Georgian Dream party, dismissed the veto of President Salome Zourabichvili, an independent.
The president now has five days to endorse the bill. If she doesn’t do so, the parliament speaker will sign it into law.
The bill that was approved by the parliament earlier this month requires media, nongovernmental organisations and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.
The president now has five days to endorse the bill. If she doesn’t do so, the parliament speaker will sign it into law.
The bill that was approved by the parliament earlier this month requires media, nongovernmental organisations and other nonprofit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad.
Zourabichvili, who is increasingly at odds with the governing party, vetoed the bill on May 18. She has accused the governing party of jeopardising the country’s future and “hindering the path toward becoming a full member of the free and democratic world.”
The veto was rejected by an 84-4 vote in a contentious parliament session, during which a Georgian Dream deputy doused the leader of an opposition party with water while he spoke from the rostrum.
Opponents of the bill thronged outside the parliament building and some shouted “Slaves!” as the vote was announced.
The government says the bill is needed to stem what it deems to be harmful foreign actors trying to destabilise the South Caucasus nation of 3.7 million, but many Georgian journalists and activists argue that the bill’s true goal is to stigmatise them and restrict debate ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for October.
Opponents denounce the legislation as “the Russian law” because it resembles measures pushed through by the Kremlin to crack down on independent news media, nonprofits and activists. Critics say the measure may have been driven by Moscow to thwart Georgia’s chances of further integrating with the West.
The bill is nearly identical to one that the ruling party was pressured to withdraw last year after massive street protests. Renewed demonstrations again gripped Georgia as the bill made its way through parliament. Demonstrators scuffled with police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.
The European Union’s foreign policy arm has said that adoption of the law “negatively impacts Georgia’s progress on the EU path.”
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that travel sanctions would be imposed on Georgian officials “who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia.”
He noted that “it remains our hope that Georgia’s leaders will reconsider the draft law and take steps to move forward with their nation’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”
The EU offered Georgia candidate status last December, while making it clear that Tbilisi needs to implement key policy recommendations for its membership bid to progress.
The opposition United National Movement has described the bill as part of efforts by Georgian Dream to drag the country into Russia’s sphere of influence—claims it vehemently denies.
Georgian Dream was founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a former prime minister and billionaire who made his fortune in Russia.
Zuka Elbakidze, a student who was among protesters rallying in Tbilisi ahead of Tuesday’s vote, said “this day will determine the fate of our country,” adding that “we are making a choice between Europe and Russia, and all the people gathered here, except the policemen, want Europe and the West.”
“We are physically witnessing, literally witnessing, how Georgian citizens, how members of the Georgian Parliament are selling out our country,” said another protester, Mariam Geguchadze.
Russia-Georgia relations have often been rocky since Georgia became independent after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
In 2008, Russia fought a brief war with Georgia, which had made a botched attempt to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Moscow then recognised South Ossetia and another separatist province, Abkhazia, as independent states and strengthened its military presence there. Most of the world considers both regions to be parts of Georgia.
Tbilisi cut diplomatic ties with Moscow, and the regions’ status remains a key irritant even as Russia-Georgia relations have improved in recent years.

WORLD

145 countries now recognise a Palestinian state

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS,
Israel’s war in Gaza since the October 7 attack has revived a global push for Palestinians to be given a state of their own.
Norway, Spain and Ireland on Tuesday became the latest countries to recognise a state of Palestine, breaking with the long-held view of Western powers that Palestinians can only gain statehood as part of a negotiated peace with Israel.
Their move, which has infuriated Israel, brings to 145 out of the 193 UN member states that have recognised a Palestinian state.
They include many Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries, but not the United States, Canada, most of western Europe, Australia, Japan or South Korea.
In April, the United States used its veto at the UN Security Council to prevent a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member state.
Here is a quick recap of the Palestinians’ quest for statehood:

1988: Arafat proclaims state
On November 15, 1988, during the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat unilaterally proclaimed an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
He made the announcement in Algiers, at a meeting of the exiled Palestinian National Council, which adopted the two-state solution as a goal, with independent Israeli and Palestinian states existing side-by-side.
Minutes later, Algeria became the first country to officially recognise an independent Palestinian state.
Within weeks, dozens of other countries, including much of the Arab world, India, Turkey, most of Africa and several central and eastern European countries had followed suit.
The next wave of recognitions came in late 2010 and early 2011, at a time of crisis in the Middle East peace process.
South American countries including Argentina, Brazil and Chile answered calls by the Palestinians to endorse their statehood claims.
This came in response to Israel’s decision to end a temporary ban on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
2011-2012: UN recognitionIn 2011, with peace talks at a standstill, the Palestinians pushed ahead with a campaign for full UN membership for a State of Palestine.
The quest failed but, in a groundbreaking move on October 31 of that year, the UN cultural agency UNESCO voted to accept the Palestinians as a full member. In response, Israel and the United States suspended their funding of the body. They quit UNESCO outright in 2018, although the United States rejoined last year.
In November 2012, the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time at the United Nations in New York after the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to upgrade the status of the Palestinians to “non-member observer state”.
Three years later, the International Criminal Court also accepted Palestine as a state party.

2014: Sweden first in western Europe
In 2014, Sweden, which has a large Palestinian community, became the first EU member in western Europe to recognise a Palestinian state.
The move followed months of almost daily clashes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
A state of Palestine had earlier been recognised by six other European countries—Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania.
Israel reacted angrily to Stockholm’s move, with then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman telling the Swedes that “relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA”.

2024: New push in Europe
Israel’s relentless offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 36,050 people dead, according to the territory’s health ministry, in retaliation for Hamas’s killing of more than 1,170 people in Israel, has boosted support in Europe for Palestinian statehood.
After months of warnings, Norway, Spain and Ireland on Tuesday finally took the step, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez describing it as a matter of “historic justice.”
Malta and Slovenia have also expressed “readiness” to recognise a Palestinian state when “the circumstances are right”.

WORLD

Six arrested under Hong Kong’s new security law for ‘posting messages’ online

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG,
Hong Kong police arrested six people on Tuesday under the city’s new security law for “posting messages with seditious intention” online on a Facebook page about commemorating Beijing’s deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Five women and one man were arrested for “posting messages with seditious intention on an anonymous social media page since April 2024”, the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force said in a statement.
One of the women arrested is already on remand in a maximum-security prison. Security chief Chris Tang confirmed the woman was Chow Hang-tung, a prominent activist who has been jailed since September 2021.
Chow was the former leader of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance, which had organised an annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong to mourn the victims of June 4, 1989, when Beijing sent troops into Tiananmen Square to quash protests calling for political change.
Tuesday’s arrests came as the 35th anniversary of that crackdown approaches.
Tang also told a news briefing the Facebook page in question was the “Chow Hang-tung Club”.
He said the six, aged between 37 and 65, were “making use of a sensitive day to incite the public to commit acts that endanger public safety, public order and national security”.
Discussion of the Tiananmen crackdown is highly sensitive for China’s communist leadership and commemoration is forbidden on the mainland.
The Chinese government sent troops and tanks into Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 to break up peaceful, weeks-long protests.
Hundreds, by some estimates more than 1,000, were killed.
Police said the messages were written “with the aim to incite hatred towards” the governments of China and Hong Kong “as well as inciting netizens to organise or take part in unlawful activities at a later stage”.
The police statement said the six were suspected of violating Hong Kong’s newly enacted “Safeguarding National Security Ordinance”.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. Tuesday marked the first such arrests under the new law, which was enacted in March and is commonly referred to as Article 23.
It includes penalties of up to life imprisonment for five categories of crime including treason, insurrection, and external interference.
It also expanded the British colonial-era offence of “sedition” to include inciting hatred against China’s Communist Party leadership.

WORLD

Melinda French Gates to donate $1B over next two years in support of women’s rights

- ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York,
Melinda French Gates says she will be donating $1 billion over the next two years to individuals and organisations working on behalf of women and families globally, including on reproductive rights in the United States.
French Gates earlier this month announced she would step down from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and vowed to focus on women and families.
French Gates, one of the biggest philanthropic supporters of gender equity in the US, said on Tuesday in a guest essay for The New York Times that she’s been frustrated over the years by people who say it’s not the right time to talk about gender equality.
“Decades of research on economics, well-being and governance make it clear that investing in women and girls benefits everyone,” she wrote. French Gates touched upon the high maternal mortality rates in the US, noting that Black and Native American mothers are at the highest risk.
“Women in 14 states have lost the right to terminate a pregnancy under almost any circumstances. We remain the only advanced economy without any form of national paid family leave.
And the number of teenage girls experiencing suicidal thoughts and persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness is at a decade high,” she said.
French Gates said over the last few weeks she’s started directing new grants through her organisation, Pivotal Ventures, to groups working in the US to protect women’s rights and advance their power and influence. The groups include National Women’s Law Center, National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Teresa Younger, the president and CEO of the Ms Foundation for Women, who also received a grant, has long called on donors to give unrestricted, multi-year funding to organisations. She praised French Gates’ new commitment as a part of a larger trend of major women donors giving generously to nonprofits.
“If philanthropy took lessons from the way that women are moving money, we would see more money in the field having greater impact,” Younger said.
Her organisation learned of the grant, which is the first they’ve received from Pivotal Ventures last week, and Younger said there was no application process. She declined to disclose the amount of the grant but said it would help expand their work with organizations in the South and Midwest.
French Gates’ Pivotal Ventures is a limited liability company that also manages investments for profit ventures, so there is little public information about its grantmaking or the assets it manages. Pivotal Ventures has focused on a number of avenues to increase women’s economic and political participation and power, like closing the wage gap, compensating care work often done by women, and encouraging women to run for political office.
French Gates plans to introduce a $250 million initiative in the fall that will concentrate on improving the mental and physical health of women and girls worldwide.

WORLD

Key tiger habitat swamped by Bangladesh cyclone

More than a million people fled inland to concrete storm shelters before the cyclone hit.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

DHAKA,
Bangladesh forest experts warned on Tuesday a key tiger habitat hit by a deadly cyclone had been submerged by seawater deeper and longer than ever before, raising fears for endangered wildlife.
Cyclone Remal, which made landfall in low-lying Bangladesh and neighbouring India on Sunday evening, killed at least 38 people in both nations and affected millions more.
More than a million people fled inland to concrete storm shelters before the cyclone hit.
But it was the vast Sundarbans mangrove forest straddling Bangladesh and India—where the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers meet the sea—that took the brunt of the force.
The forest, which hosts one of the world’s largest populations of Bengal tigers, was swamped, said Mihir Kumar Doe, the head of Bangladesh’s southern forest department.
“The entire Sundarbans was under water for more than 36 hours during the cyclone,” Doe told AFP.
“All its freshwater ponds, numbering more than 100, were washed away by saline tidal water.”
At least 114 Bengal tigers live in Bangladesh’s portion of the Sundarbans, according to official figures.
Abu Naser Mohsin Hossain, Bangladesh’s senior forest official for the Sundarbans, had said he feared for the wildlife if the freshwater lakes were tainted.
“We are worried,” said Hossain. “These ponds were the source of fresh water for the entire wildlife in the mangroves—including the endangered Bengal tigers.”
The Sundarbans, the world’s biggest mangrove forest, is regularly battered by intense monsoon storms.
But Azizur Rahman, director of the state-run Bangladesh Meteorological Department, said the cyclone was “one of longest in the country’s history”, blaming climate change for the shift.
Doe said his teams had recovered dozens of dead spotted deer, as well as boars, the tigers’ main prey.
“We are very concerned over the wild animals including tigers,” Doe said.
“The Sundarbans is such a dynamic ecosystem, it is tough to know whether any tigers or wild animals were washed away or died.”
Mangroves grow mainly in seawater or brackish water but Doe said the flooding was on a scale he had not witnessed before.
“This 36-hour inundation is very unusual,” he said, noting that it was three times longer than during Cyclone Sidr in 2007.
During the latest cyclone, areas nearer the sea were three metres underwater, while areas further upstream were under 1.2-1.5 metres of water.
“Even during low tide, the water did not recede,” Doe said.
“This is very unusual.”
Tiger expert Monirul Khan, zoology professor at Jahangirnagar University, said he feared smaller animals such as deer would be hardest hit.
“I fear for the animals who are less strong such as spotted deer,” he said.
“Spotted deer are helpless to strong tides during cyclones or longer inundation of the forest. But Bengal tigers can climb trees.”

WORLD

Pope apologises after being quoted using vulgar term about gay men

- ASSOCIATED PRESS

VATICAN CITY,
Pope Francis apologised on Tuesday after he was quoted using a vulgar and derogatory term about gay men to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s ban on gay priests.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni issued a statement acknowledging the media storm that erupted about Francis’ comments, which were delivered behind closed doors to Italian bishops on May 20.
Italian media on Monday had quoted unnamed Italian bishops in reporting that Francis jokingly used the term “faggotness” while speaking in Italian during the encounter. He had used the term in reaffirming the Vatican’s ban on allowing gay men to enter seminaries and be ordained priests.
Bruni said Francis was aware of the reports and recalled that the Argentine pope, who has made outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics a hallmark of his papacy, has long insisted there was “room for everyone” in the Catholic Church.
“The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he extends his apologies to those who were offended by the use of a term that was reported by others,” Bruni said.
With the statement, Bruni carefully avoided an outright confirmation that the pope had indeed used the term, in keeping with the Vatican’s tradition of not revealing what the pope says behind closed doors. But Bruni also didn’t deny that Francis had used the term and acknowledged that some people had been offended by it.
Francis was addressing an assembly of the Italian bishops conference, which recently approved a new document outlining training for Italian seminarians. The document, which hasn’t been published pending review by the Holy See, reportedly sought to open some wiggle room in the Vatican’s absolute ban on gay priests by introducing the issue of celibacy as the primary requirement for priests, gay or straight.
The Vatican ban was articulated in a 2005 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, and later repeated in a subsequent document in 2016, which said the church cannot admit to seminaries or ordain men who “practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture.”

Page 7
SPORTS

Canada expose Nepal’s batting frailty ahead of World Cup

The Rhinos begin their T20 World Cup preparations with a heavy 63-run warm-up defeat against Canada in Texas after their batters fail to make a mark again.
- Sports Bureau

KATHMANDU,
Nepal began their preparations for the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup with a heavy 63-run warm-up defeat against Canada at the Grand Prairie Stadium in Texas on Monday, thanks to their batting consistencies that have come back to haunt them since the turn of the year.
Last year, Nepal’s batting won the hearts of many when they pulled off a sensational comeback to win 11 out of 12 matches of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2 and qualified for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier. The Rhinos also qualified for their maiden Asia Cup and ended the year by securing their ticket to the T20 World Cup for the first time since 2014.
But all that steel and resilience now seem to have suddenly vanished into the thin air.
The year 2024 has been a roller-coaster ride for Rohit Paudel’s Rhinos, even in their roaring and perfect hunting ground—TU Cricket Ground, Kirtipur. They opened the League 2 with a loss against Namibia which ended their 15-match winning streak at home and won only one of their four matches of the home tri-series.
They also failed to qualify for the 2025 Asia Cup last month and a four-wicket defeat to less fancied side Hong Kong in the third-place playoff of the ACC Men’s T20 Premier Cup also banished them out of the 2024 ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup.
One of their memorable moments came when they swept the three-match bilateral series against Canada in Kirtipur in their opening event of the year.
However, their batting has been characterised by unsteadiness since and it was out in the open again against Canada in their first warm-up match of the T20 World Cup.
Nepal’s bowling unit has been their strength always and proved key in the middle overs on Monday as well when they struck five times in the space of 27 deliveries limiting Canada from 111-2 in the 14th over to 135-7 in the 18th over, with Abinash Bohara taking 2-27, and Karan KC, Sompal Kami, Gulsan Jha, Lalit Rajbanshi and Sagar Dhakal all picking up one wicket each.
Nicholas Kriton’s 50 runs off 39 balls and opener Navneet Dhaliwal’s 32 runs off 27 balls had driven Canada past 100 to give them a great start.
Despite a tight bowling from Nepal, Ravinderpal Singh’s explosive 17-ball 41 guided Canada to 183-7.
Nepal could never stay in the chase of an 184-run target.
Opener Kushal Bhurtel and Aasif Sheikh struggled again and departed making 10 (16) and 22 (22), respectively.
Skipper Paudel has been the most consistent batter for Nepal. He was Nepal’s leading run-scorer last year with 403 T20I runs from 13 innings and was facing Canada having scored 265 runs from four innings that included a century and two half-centuries—all of which came during the five-match T20 series West Indies A.
He was out for a duck in his last outing—the fifth T20 against West Indies A—and failed to make a mark again after being dismissed for one.
Sundeep Jora (6), Jha (0), Kami (4), Dhakal (5) and Bohara (0) all handled the bat poorly and returned back to the pavilion with single digit scores, as Nepal could not only manage 120 runs.
Canada’s Dilon Heyliger returned the match figures of 4-20 in this 2.3 over spell. Jeremy Gordon and Saad Bin Zafar took two wickets each while Kaleem Sana and Pragat Singh pocketed one wicket apiece.
Malla and Dipendra Singh Airee also had a golden year in 2023.
During the Asian Games, Malla scored a century off just 34 balls against Mongolia. The score stands as the second fastest T20I century.  Malla scored 402 runs in his 12 innings last year. After struggling with the bat most of this year, he is regaining his shape gradually at a perfect time. He top-scored against Canada with 37 runs off 30 balls, carrying his form from this last match against West Indies A where he scored a valiant 37 not out off 18 balls.
Airee is Nepal’s highest run-scorer in the T20Is with 1626 runs from 56 innings. He scored a 50 off just nine balls against Mongolia last year to break the record for fastest fifty in T20s. A month ago, the big-hitting finisher smashed six sixes in an over during the Premier Cup against Qatar, joining the ranks of Yuvraj Singh and Kieron Pollard in achieving the rare feat in men’s T20I. Airee did not bat against Canada.
Anil Sah’s batting does not look like a bigger concern. He was outstanding again and comfortably scored 24 runs off  16 balls. He returned to the national team for Nepal’s home series against Canada in February and immediately made an impact with a fifty and an unbeaten century. Although he lost his form following the Canada series win, he has refound his confidence lately. He scored a half-century against West Indies A in what was his last inning before the Canada warm up.
Nepal will face co-hosts United States in their second warm-up game on Thursday.
Nepal, drawn in Group D, begin their T20 World Cup against the Netherlands on June 4 in Dallas, followed by group matches against Sri Lanka on June 12, South Africa on June 15 and Bangladesh on June 17.
Nepal are making only their second appearance at a cricket World Cup—their first since World T20 in Bangladesh in 2014.

T20 World Cup Warm-up
First Warm-up, DALLAS
TOSS: Nepal, field first.
Canada 183-7 (20/ 20 overs)
Nicholas Kirton 52 (39), Ravinderpal Singh 41* (17), Navneet Dhaliwal 32 (27); Abinash Bohara 3-0-27-2
Nepal 120-10 (19.3/ 20 overs)
Kushal Malla 37 (30), Anil Sah 24 (16); Dilon Heyliger 2.3-0-20-4, Jeremy Gordon 4-1-25-2, Saad Bin Zafar 4-0-25-2
Canada win by 63 runs.
Nepal play the US in their second warm-up match on Thursday.

SPORTS

Nadal out of possible last French Open

The 14-time French Open champion says he hopes to return to Roland Garros for the Olympic Games after making a premature exit from the Grand Slam.
- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS,
Rafael Nadal’s illustrious French Open career came to a likely end with his first ever defeat in the opening round by Alexander Zverev on Monday.
Nadal matched world number four Zverev for long periods on a packed Court Philippe Chatrier, but slipped to a 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 loss as he was beaten for just the fourth time in 116 matches at the tournament.
This year’s event was expected to be the 14-time champion’s farewell to Roland Garros, but he had since insisted he could not confirm “100 percent” it would be his last appearance.
“If it is (the last time), then you have been amazing,” Nadal told an adoring crowd under the Chatrier roof. The feelings I have today are difficult to describe in words. It is the place I love the most.”
Nadal, who turns 38 next week, showed all his trademark fighting qualities in a gripping match, but only managed to convert two of 11 break points against an inspired opponent.
“The first round wasn’t ideal,” he admitted, before saying he “hoped” to be back at Roland Garros later this summer for the Paris Olympics but would almost certainly skip Wimbledon.
“It will be difficult playing on grass considering that right after Wimbledon are the Olympic Games.”
It was only Nadal’s fifth tournament since January 2023 after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear, arriving in Paris a lowly 275th in the world rankings.
“It’s hard to say about the future,” he added. “I am travelling with my family and I am having fun. The body is feeling better than it did two months ago.”
Nadal was unseeded for the draw and vulnerable to a difficult opening round.
German Zverev, who lifted the Rome Open title last month, proved too strong despite the fans desperately attempting to raise Nadal to past glories.
The 27-year-old banished the memories of the duo’s last meeting, when he left Chatrier court on a wheelchair after injuring his ankle during their 2022 French Open semi-final.
His reward for becoming just the third player to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros—after Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling—is a match against either David Goffin or home wildcard Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard.
 
Swiatek makes strong start
Women’s world number one Iga Swiatek raced to a 6-1, 6-2 victory against French qualifier Leolia Jeanjean after just 61 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier to make a winning start in her bid for a fourth title.
The Pole will next face fellow four-time major champion Naomi Osaka on Wednesday.
The 22-year-old Pole is aiming to become the first woman to win three straight Roland Garros titles since Justine Henin in 2007, and only the second ever after Serena Williams to win the Madrid, Rome and French Opens in the same year.
Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner started his title tilt with a confident 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win over Wimbledon quarter-finalist Christopher Eubanks.
The Italian second seed, who withdrew from the Madrid Open and missed the Rome Open with a hip injury, set up a second-round meeting with French veteran Richard Gasquet.
Daniil Medvedev had lost in the first round on five of his previous seven Roland Garros appearances, but made no mistake this time, seeing off Dominik Koepfer in four sets.
Former finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Marton Fucsovics of Hungary 7-6 (9/7), 6-4, 6-1.
Women’s third seed Coco Gauff, the current US Open title-holder and who lost the 2022 French Open final to Swiatek, raced through in just 52 minutes by crushing Russian Julia Avdeeva 6-1, 6-1.
But sixth-seeded Greek Maria Sakkari bowed out in the first round for the second straight year with a three-set loss to Varvara Gracheva.
Marketa Vondrousova, also a former Roland Garros runner-up and the reigning Wimbledon champion, eased past Rebeka Masarova of Spain in straight sets.
Tunisian eighth seed Ons Jabeur booked her place in round two with a comfortable win over US wildcard Sachia Vickery.

MEDLEY

Horoscope

ARIES (March 21-April 19)
Do your best to stay grounded in the present moment and consider taking a breather from the news and your social media feeds. Luckily, you’ll feel more composed, giving you the encouragement and grace to pull things back together.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20)
Pull back if you need a moment to reset, connecting with yourself. This cosmic climate is ideal for reclaiming motivation, so be sure to encourage and embolden yourself through positive affirmations.

GEMINI (May 21-June 21)
Startling revelations could find you, dearest Gemini, and it may be necessary to break away from your routine in order to go within. You’ll feel more social and willing to connect with others, especially when you surround yourself with those who motivate and uplift you.

CANCER (June 22-July 22)
Unpredictable and brooding vibes filled the air this morning, dear Cancer. You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells when dealing with moody peers but don’t hesitate to pull back if the energy becomes too unstable. You’ll sense an uplifting shift.

LEO (July 23-August 22)
You may sense tension, dearest Leo, causing moods to fluctuate. Do your best to focus on cultivating balance and moving away from people or situations that might be triggering. You’ll feel a surge of motivation and optimism, inspiring you to reach for vast horizons.

VIRGO (August 23-September 22)
Trying to do too much at once may cause you to topple over, dearest Virgo. Take your time, stay organised, and lean into your spirituality to rise above these choppy cosmic tides. Focus on cutting out the unnecessary, empowering yourself with each obstacle removed.

LIBRA (September 23-October 22)
Be mindful of who you trust, dear Libra, which could unleash envy amongst your peers. Steer clear of negative competition or power struggles, focusing instead on self-improvement and building confidence. Connect with your spirituality.

SCORPIO (October 23-November 21)
Watch out for moodiness between yourself and loved ones, dearest Scorpio. Tensions will rise under these unpredictable vibes, conjuring restlessness and rebellion at home. Pull back from drama to focus on your personal agenda.

SAGITTARIUS (November 22-December 21)
Speaking impulsively could create a mess or two this morning, Archer. You may also find yourself on the defensive, especially when others offer feedback or advice. While this cosmic climate might be disorienting at first.

CAPRICORN (December 22-January 19)
Choose your battles wisely, dearest Capricorn, bringing a rebellious and unpredictable energy to the table. Survive these vibes by staying grounded while maintaining a healthy and sensible ego. You’ll feel called to heal other people’s pain.

AQUARIUS (January 20-February 18)
Be cautious of what you take personally, dear Aquarius. It would also be wise to assess your sense of compassion, especially when dealing with rebellious or agitated individuals. Speak clearly to find the best route forward.

PISCES (February 19-March 20)
Be mindful of the words you choose when speaking to yourself and others, dearest Pisces. Find reasons to feel grateful when using your senses to reconnect with the world and your sense of passion. You’ll feel uplifted as evening rolls in.

Page 8
CULTURE & LIFESTYLE

Middle-class struggles and aspirations

‘Indreni Khojdai Jada’ is a tender portrayal of three siblings navigating their shared space, struggles, and aspirations in a cruel city.
- Anusha Dhakal

Kathmandu,
There are no rainbows without rain. ‘Indreni Khojdai Jada’ explores this intricately by delving into the lives of three siblings stereotyped as “the pragmatist”, “the loser”, and “the dreamer”, from oldest to youngest. It explores their lives together and apart and raises questions on whether one can be happy despite the material inadequacies they feel in their lives.
The film starts with a beautiful shot of the oldest sister gazing out the window, peering into the neighbour’s TV, while her brother and sister call her for dinner. Over the meal, she expresses her frustration about not being able to engage in discussions about popular television soap operas with her friends, as they do not own a TV. Her siblings also voice their own grievances on the matter, discussing the amount of money they’ve saved and whether it is sufficient to purchase a television.
The film cleverly showcases a wishlist the three siblings have affixed to their mirror, consisting of items such as a fridge, a washing machine, and other appliances they aspire to own. The collective aspiration of acquiring a TV binds the character arcs of all three siblings in the film. Despite each harbouring individual dreams of success in the city, they must all navigate their own set of challenges.
The film faithfully portrays the middle-class experience in Kathmandu, with subtle details woven throughout that underscore this reality. Instances such as using newspapers as tablecloths during dinner or the inconvenience caused by having only one bathroom effectively convey the challenges faced by the characters.
A scene where the landlady reprimands them for making noise further highlights the nuances of the middle-class existence. The lack of privacy proves to be a catalyst for conflicts, exacerbated by the tight budget of Rs3,000. The eldest sister, a pragmatist, urges her siblings to spend judiciously and confronts them with the harsh reality of their financial situation. Despite her practical outlook, she grapples with her own issues, particularly a toxic relationship where she is objectified by her partner.
There are moments when she feels deeply uncomfortable due to his sexually suggestive behaviour, yet initially, she hesitates to sever ties due to emotional investment. However, as the film progresses, she gradually embraces her pragmatism, ultimately finding the strength to end the relationship for good.
The middle sibling, struggling in his engineering studies, grapples with the weight of family and societal expectations to the extent of contemplating suicide. The film adopts a somewhat comedic tone as he absurdly researches ‘easy ways to die’ on Google.
However, beneath the comedic facade lies a poignant exploration of the detrimental impact of societal norms and familial pressures on mental well-being. The brother also faces peer pressure to host a gathering for a football match, adding to his stress due to the absence of a TV. This compels him to scour the market for affordable television sets, highlighting the strain caused by societal expectations and the desire to fit in.
The youngest sibling, a dreamer with aspirations of relocating to the USA through a diversity visa, frequently indulges in daydreams about the possibilities of living abroad and attaining wealth. Despite her lofty aspirations, she subtly reassures her siblings during conflicts, hinting that she would resolve their issues without disclosing her visa application, which she wishes to keep as a surprise.
She delicately introduces the topic of her potential absence by posing hypothetical questions about what they would do without her. Additionally, she finds solace in conversing with her houseplant, showcasing her tendency towards maladaptive daydreaming, where her fantasies often overshadow reality. This habit, though a source of comfort, also poses challenges in her life, adding a unique dimension to her character.
The film’s cast effectively captures the essence of youth and urban living. Their portrayals are grounded and relatable, adding depth to the characters and enriching the overall narrative.
While the film showcases some visually appealing shots and promising sequences, the overall poor production quality serves as a significant distraction for viewers. The prevalence of shaky camera work, jarring cuts, and subpar graphic design detracts from the film’s potential impact.
Despite being praised for its storytelling, a more thoughtful approach to production and filming could have greatly enhanced its reception. Shot within a month’s timeframe, it’s possible that allocating additional time to this aspect could have yielded better results. It’s worth noting that several low-budget films, such as The Florida Project, have managed to achieve impressive production quality despite limited resources. By prioritising production values, this film might have realised greater success.
The film struggles to effectively convey its message, particularly regarding societal perceptions of female virginity, which can feel muddled at times. While the eldest sister’s essay on the subject is a powerful statement, the film falls short of fully articulating the idea that a woman’s worth isn’t determined by her virginity.
There’s a missed opportunity to delve deeper into this theme, as the narrative primarily focuses on the consequences of societal pressure rather than challenging the underlying perceptions themselves. The portrayal of young women losing their virginity as a problem, rather than addressing society’s problematic views, further complicates the film’s message.
Despite these shortcomings, the film offers a warm depiction of the common struggles faced by middle-class youngsters. It provides closure for its characters as they realise that happiness is attainable despite their challenges and that they can overcome life’s obstacles. The culmination of the siblings finally acquiring a TV serves as a poignant symbol of both the joys and tribulations of life.

Indreni Khojdai Jada
Director:     Sahara Sharma
Year:    2013
Cast:     Deepak Ghimire, Kritika Lamsal
Language:     Nepali
Run Time:     1 hour 30 minutes
Available on Youtube

CULTURE & LIFESTYLE

Blending workouts in your regimen

Tony Prajapati discusses cross-training, its advantages and potential drawbacks.
- Anish Ghimire

Kathmandu,
Cross-training, in simple terms, is a dynamic approach to fitness which involves incorporating a diverse range of exercises and activities into one’s workout routine. By integrating elements from various disciplines, such as strength training, cardiovascular exercise, flexibility work, and sports-specific drills, cross-training offers a comprehensive way to enhance overall fitness and performance. This multifaceted approach not only prevents boredom but also reduces the risk of overuse injuries while promoting balanced muscle development and functional movement patterns.
Tony Prajapati, with almost thirty years of experience in this field, explains further. Prajapati, a trainer and partner at The Pump, a fitness centre, has been practising cross-training for decades. As an athlete, he has trained in gymnastics, football, basketball, and various other sports. In addition to providing one-on-one training, he also conducts numerous fitness workshops at The Pump, many of which focus on cross-training.

What is cross-training and how would you explain it to someone new to fitness?
Cross-training involves training in various modalities. In fitness, it entails engaging in a variety of exercises to enhance health and fitness. This could include swimming, strength training, cycling, running, yoga, or other forms of exercise that complement your primary workout routine.
Most people who are into fitness training incorporate some type of cross-training, knowingly or unknowingly. They may utilise various styles to complement their primary training goal.

What are the benefits of incorporating such training into a fitness routine?
Incorporating cross-training into your fitness routine offers a multitude of benefits beyond simply diversifying your workout regimen. By engaging in a variety of exercises spanning different modalities, you stimulate diverse muscle groups and movement patterns, fostering a more well-rounded and functional physique.
Unlike focusing solely on one type of exercise, such as weight training, cross-training promotes balanced development across multiple fitness domains. Running improves cardiovascular endurance, cycling enhances lower body strength and endurance, and mobility exercises enhance flexibility and joint health. This comprehensive approach not only improves overall fitness levels but also enhances athletic performance in various activities and sports.
Beyond physical benefits, cross-training also offers mental stimulation and variety, making workouts more enjoyable and sustainable in the long term. The excitement of trying new activities and the satisfaction of mastering different
skills can boost motivation and adherence to your fitness routine.

How does it help to improve overall fitness and prevent injury?
Cross-training is instrumental in injury prevention by reducing the risk linked to repetitive movements and overuse of specific muscle groups. Moreover, it contributes to a comprehensive improvement in fitness by targeting various elements such as strength, agility, cardiovascular endurance, stamina, flexibility, balance, accuracy, speed, power, and coordination.
This holistic approach transforms individuals into well-rounded practitioners, adept in different training methodologies. The diverse nature of cross-training not only enhances skills but also elevates motivation, fostering continuous improvement across various training methods.

Are there any downsides or risks associated with cross-training that people should be aware of?
While cross-training offers numerous benefits, it also comes with limitations that must be considered. Mastery of different fitness methodologies demands significant time investment for noticeable improvement, potentially detracting from the development of specific skills. The diverse nature of cross-training can lead to plateaus in fitness progression, and the requirement for resources, both time and financial, can be substantial due to the multiple disciplines involved. Despite its overall lower injury risk, engaging in new activities without proper progression/regression protocols can increase the likelihood of injury.
Incorrect approaches to cross-training may hinder goal achievement, particularly when attempting to optimise performance across multiple modalities simultaneously. To mitigate these disadvantages, it’s essential to carefully plan the fitness routine, ensuring that exercises complement each other and align with the overall fitness objectives. This strategic approach helps maintain balance and progress while minimising the risks associated with cross-training.

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a cross-training program but isn’t sure where to begin?
When embarking on a cross-training journey, it’s crucial to define your goals and what you aim to achieve through this approach. Select activities that align with and complement your objectives to maximise effectiveness. As you delve into new activities, start with the basics and gradually introduce additional exercises to your routine.
Seeking guidance from fitness professionals can provide valuable insights into navigating various modalities and optimising workout routines. Prioritise consistency in your training regimen over intensity, maintaining a regular schedule for sustained progress. Ensure adequate rest and nutrition to support your fitness journey.
Patience is key when engaging in cross-training, as progress may take time to materialise across different modalities. Above all, enjoy the process of working out. With a variety of exercises available, boredom is less likely, and you can tailor your routine to align with your progress and interests. By embracing the diverse nature of cross-training, you can cultivate sustainability and enjoyment in your fitness journey over the long term.

CULTURE & LIFESTYLE

Johnny Wactor killed in Los Angeles shooting

Three suspects drove away from the scene, police said.
- ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOS ANGELES, US
Former ‘General Hospital’ actor Johnny Wactor was shot and killed when he interrupted thieves stealing the catalytic converter from his car in Los Angeles, his family said Sunday.
The shooting occurred around 3 am Saturday when the victim approached three men in downtown LA, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
His mother, Scarlett Wactor, told ABC 7 that her 37-year-old son had left work at a rooftop bar with a coworker when he saw someone at his car and thought it was being towed. A mask-wearing suspect opened fire, his mother said.
Three suspects drove away from the scene, police said. Wactor was rushed to a hospital, where he died.
There were no arrests as of late Sunday.
Wactor’s agent, David Shaul, said the actor was “a real moral example to everyone who knew him.”
“In the highs and lows of a challenging profession he always kept his chin up and kept striving for the best he could be,” Shaul said in a statement Sunday. “Our time with Johnny was a privilege we would wish on everyone. He would give you the shirt off his back. After over a decade together, he will leave a hole in our hearts forever.”
Wactor portrayed Brando Corbin on the ABC soap opera from 2020 to 2022. He also appeared in a variety of films and TV series, including ‘Station 19’, ‘NCIS’, ‘Westworld’ and the video game ‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’.