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Hundreds of young, healthy Nepalis die sudden deaths in foreign lands. No one knows what’s killing them

Otherwise healthy men in the prime of life suffering cardiac arrests do not constitute ‘natural deaths’, say rights activists.
- CHANDAN KUMAR MANDAL
Nepali migrants upon their return from the Gulf region, at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. Post file Photo

Santosh Kumar Mandal had been working in Malaysia for three years as an industrial worker in a toy factory when his family began to ask him to come back. His father, Shani Lal, wanted to get Santosh married.
“We wanted him to come back, get married and settle down,” said Shani Lal. “Then, he could decide whether to go abroad again.”
But the Morang native refused; he wanted to work some more so he extended his contract by a year. On October 18 last year, before he left for work, Mandal reported a sharp pain in his chest. His fellow workers took him to the hospital, but Mandal died on a hospital bench, waiting for the doctor.
His friends and family were shocked by his sudden death. At 24, Mandal was young and in the prime of his life. As an industrial worker, he got enough exercise and had never reported any health issues. But he had died, suddenly, of a heart attack, according to the death certificate.
“There was no one as healthy and strongly built as my son,” said Shani Lal, holding up a photo of Santosh. “He had never even fallen sick when he was with us. How could he die of a heart attack?”
The way Mandal died is how many Nepali workers in foreign lands die—suddenly, without explanation or any prior signs. Young men and women, often with no previous health ailments are dying abroad at alarming rates—an average of two every day—and all too often, no one knows how or why they died.  
The same fate befell Indra Bahadur Chaudhary from Bara last year. Chaudhary had decided to work abroad after seeing his friends leaving for the Gulf and Malaysia. When he first left for Malaysia, he was only 17 or 18, recalled his father Ram Prasad Chaudhary, a retired police officer.
“Going abroad is in fashion and my son followed the trend,” Ram Prasad told the Post over the phone from his village in Bara. “I couldn’t stop him. There weren’t any jobs to be had at home and he said he would earn money and come back.”
What started as a one-time trip to Malaysia in order to make enough to start a business of his own turned into multiple stints abroad. He went to Malaysia for the third time in November 2017, paying over Rs100,000. He was making a decent wage—slightly above Rs30,000 per month, according to his father.
But Chaudhary would never come back. Like Mandal, 30-year-old Chaudhary too collapsed while leaving for work. He died of a “coronary artery occlusion by atheroma”, according to the death certificate issued by the Malaysian authorities. A coronary artery occlusion by atheroma is the partial or complete obstruction of blood flow due to a buildup of material inside an artery.  

“I had never imagined that he would die of a heart attack,” said Ram Prasad. “He was healthy and he had no health issues as such. He left and never came back.”  

 

In the last 11 years, a total of 7,467 Nepalis have died while working abroad as migrant workers, according to data from the Foreign Employment Board, the government body that works for the welfare of migrant workers. post file photo

Dying in large numbers
Every year, tens of thousands of Nepalis leave the country for foreign shores, hoping for better opportunities and a livelihood for themselves and their families back home. They send back billions in remittance, which has continued to fuel the Nepali economy for years now. But many of these Nepali workers never make it back home alive—every year, thousands make the journey home in a coffin.
In the last 11 years, a total of 7,467 Nepalis have died while working abroad as migrant workers, according to data from the Foreign Employment Board, the government body that works for the welfare of migrant workers.
This number, however, is estimated to be significantly larger, as the Board’s statistics only enumerates those migrant workers whose families received compensation for deaths. Not all deaths are compensated as the Board requires a labour permit and there are estimated to be thousands of undocumented Nepalis in foreign lands who go abroad through various illegal channels.
“Nepali workers do not deserve to die like this abroad. People dying in such numbers can never be a normal phenomenon,” said Barun Ghimire, a human rights lawyer and programme manager at the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice, an organisation that works on migrant rights issues. “Had they been dying while fighting a war, we could say they died in a brutal war. If workers from other countries were dying at the same rate then it might make some kind of sense. But Nepali workers are dying at a higher rate than workers from other countries.”  
Most Nepali deaths have been reported in the Gulf countries like Qatar, where thousands of migrant workers are building stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab of Emirates, and Kuwait. There are also many deaths in Malaysia, which hosts the largest number of Nepali migrants, and South Korea.
A majority of these deaths are sudden, meaning they occur in migrants with no prior history of disease or illness. But despite the fact that these deaths occur unexpectedly in young men and women, and at a startlingly high rate, they are often termed “natural deaths”.



What is killing Nepalis abroad?
The Centre for Migration and International Relations, an organisation housed in the peaceful inner lanes of Kathmandu’s Buddhanagar, provides all kinds of legal and paralegal support to the families of migrant workers in case of their deaths, including assisting in the repatriation of dead bodies and the preparation of official documentation. Every month, the centre deals with 15-20 deaths.
According to the centre, these deaths are broadly categorised into cardiac arrest, heart attack, murder, natural death, suicide, traffic accident, workplace accident, other or unidentified, and ‘under investigation’, which are categories maintained by government records. These categories in turn are generated based on documents—police and medical reports—issued by the local authority that accompanies the dead bodies.
“But there is room for investigation,” said Yubaraj Nepal, director of the Centre for Migration and International Relations. “These deaths are
basically categorised as per the death certificates. Most deaths appear to fall into the same handful of causes.”
Government records show that a majority of Nepalis die due to heart-related diseases—heart attack and cardiac arrest—workplace and traffic accidents, suicide, and other reasons. But a large number of Nepalis also die due to unknown
reasons, which are then clubbed into ambiguous categories like natural deaths, other, and under investigation.
In the last fiscal year alone, over 100 deaths were presented as ‘other’ (44), ‘unknown’ (29), and ‘under investigation’ (29).
The ambiguity generated by this classification of deaths has even been pointed out by the government’s annual report—Labour Migration For Employment: Status Report 2015-2016 and 2016-2017—the latest in the series. According to the report, the classification of the cause of death reflects a significant ‘grey area’.
Sometimes, dead bodies aren’t accompanied by death certificates. According to Nepal, while most bodies from the Gulf Countries come back with death certificates and medical reports, reports from Malaysia sometimes arrive without such documentation, as an investigation is ongoing.  These reports are generally forwarded later, but by then, they’ve already been entered into the ‘unknown’ or ‘under investigation’ category.
But in Nepal’s five years working with migrant workers, he’s found that death certificates are not always credible. In most cases, the organisation tries to reach out to the deceased worker’s employer, their relatives or Nepali colleagues in the same company. And there are times when reports from friends and colleagues contradict the death report.  
“There have been differences reported between the two sides, raising questions about the authenticity and credibility of the death certificates,” said Nepal. “As we don’t have any mechanism to check how authentic these reports are, we have to accept the cause of death mentioned in the documents.”     

Nepali migrants working in South Korea often meet and relax at Dongdaemun, a commercial district near Seoul. post photo: hom karki


In between natural and unnatural deaths
Nepal’s labour migration has been historically male-dominated but those migrating are overwhelmingly from an age group that is not only economically active but also healthy. But these are the same people who are dying ‘natural deaths’, a category that appears rather unnatural for an age-group that is between 20 and 44 years of age.
According to the Labour Migration Status Report, among the 5,892 migrants who died between 2008-09 and 2016-17, 1,351, or 23 percent, died ‘natural deaths’.
“These deaths are not natural, as those who’re dying are around 35 years of age and they had been certified as healthy before they left Nepal,” said Ghimire, the human rights lawyer. “What is a natural death? People are dying in Nepal as well due to road accidents and cardiac arrest but we need to look into the patterns and proportion. When people of that age group are dying ‘natural deaths’, that is problematic and contentious.”
In the last two fiscal years, 126 and 136 more deaths have been categorised as natural, according to government data.
It is possible that migrant workers are suffering cardiac arrests and dying, given their work conditions, especially in countries in the Middle East. According to Dr Meghnath Dhimal, chief research officer at the government’s Nepal Health Research Council, deaths in the Gulf countries can be attributed to high temperatures and workers not drinking enough water, even when they are working under the scorching sun.
But there are just too many such deaths, especially given that these migrants were properly checked before departure, said Ghimire.
Every migrant worker has to pass a medical test before leaving for jobs abroad. Medical examinations are also conducted once they reach their destinations.
“Migrants should actually be healthier, as they need to pass stringent medical tests,” said Anurag Devkota, who is also a human rights lawyer. “They are declared medically fit by the government. So the high number of deaths does raise suspicions.”
But given the state of the Nepali migrant labour industry, the effectiveness and authenticity of medical examinations and certificates issued by health institutions can raise questions.
“We also have to see how effective these health checkups are as they do not examine everything,” said Nepal, the director of the Centre for Migration and International Relations. “Sometimes, workers might have problems that were not detected during the medical test. Once they reach their destinations and start working under harsh conditions, these problems can exacerbate, leading to death.”
Dhimal of the health research council agrees.
“Health certificates are not detailed examinations,” he said. “They are only a check on whether the worker is physically fit or not suffering from diseases like tuberculosis.”



The mystery of ‘unknown’ deaths
Nepalis in foreign lands are not just dying ‘natural deaths’—they are also dying of unknown reasons. From 2008-09 to 2016-17, as many 921 deaths were classified as ‘other or unidentified causes’ and ‘under investigation’. In the last two fiscal years, 109 and 102 deaths were recorded under these
categories. The government started maintaining data on the ‘under investigation’ category only three years ago.
The classifications of ‘other or unidentified cause’ and ‘under investigation’ themselves raise suspicions, as they are inconclusive and do not provide any kind of closure to families.
“When medically fit persons die of unknown reasons, families do not even get compensation,” said Anjali Shrestha, a programme officer with the Centre for Migration and International Relations, who deals with repatriation of dead bodies and their documentation. “It’s tough for families to accept this. Most of the time the heart beat stops, but that is ultimately the case in all deaths. There is no definition of unknown deaths, making it even more dubious.”
The government’s labour report itself raises doubts about these categorisations for two primary reasons.
“First, many categories under which the cause of death of a migrant worker is classified are ambiguous and coupled with the lack of information and they can lead to speculative conclusions that need further research,” states the Status Report. “Second, if the available information is taken at face value, then it suggests an emerging public health problem that needs deeper understanding, backed by systematic analysis and immediate intervention.”
The report urges an in-depth investigation into autopsies and medical records to better under the causes of migrant deaths. There have not been any governmental studies to explore the causes of deaths of Nepali workers abroad, but according to the Nepal Health Research Council’s Dhimal, the Council has formed a committee to conduct research in the sector of migration and health.  
But as of now, neither the government, migrant organisations nor the media has attempted to try and figure out just what these unknown deaths are and why so many continue to die due to such mysterious reasons, said Ghimire.


“There must be some reason, like kidney failure or heart attack or anything else,” he said. “Unknown deaths or unidentified causes can be listed as the cause of death just because they do not fall into the list of causes maintained by the government.”
But mentioning of causes as unidentified only raises concerns about suspicious deaths in labour destination countries. Thereby, mentioning of natural causes and something as unidentified only raises suspicion on deaths of Nepali workers in foreign countries.
“We don’t know how they are dying. Who knows if they are also dying at the workplace.  They are being taken to the hospital, which does not check where they died but how they died,” said Devkota. “Workplace deaths might account for remuneration and other insurances. There is no strong connection between employer and workers and also there are no trade unions, mainly in Gulf countries to speak on behalf of workers.”
According to government data, between 2008-09 and 2014-15, the highest number of ‘other or unidentified’ deaths occurred in Malaysia (546), followed by Qatar (140), and Saudi Arabia (34). Malaysia, which is the most popular destination for migrant Nepali labour, is also the deadliest country for with 2,154 deaths, or 36.56 percent of all deaths reported between 2008-09 and 2016-17.
Malaysia also reports the highest number of unidentified deaths. Often, death certificates are missing the cause of death, which leads to the death being categorised as ‘unknown’.
According to Nepal, the lawyer, Malaysia has a dubious track record when it comes to reporting deaths.
“Unknown causes of death in Malaysia are high because they do not have an effective investigation process,” said Nepal. “They send dead bodies without mentioning anything on the death report. Even when the cause of death is mentioned, we have found contradictory evidence on the bodies.”
In such cases, where the cause of death is suspicious, applications can be filed with the Foreign Ministry’s Department of Consular Services, which coordinates with Nepali missions abroad to repatriate dead bodies. But there is often no response from foreign authorities. Cases that are marked ‘under investigation’ often never get resolved.
“We can not always keep these deaths as unknown. The family must know,” said Nepal. “These deaths are neither investigated nor are there post mortem reports. Nepali embassies are poorly resourced but they can at least take the initiative to investigate deaths of their citizens.”  
The first step to finding out the cause of death in such cases is to conduct a post-mortem, say labour rights activists. Forensic tests can also be conducted based on the evidence collected.
Two migrant rights organisations—the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice and Pourakhi Nepal—had even filed a case at the Supreme Court demanding that an investigation be conducted into the unidentified causes of death.

Nepali migrants working in Incheo, South Korea, rest in their homes. post photo: hom karki


Responding to the petition, earlier this year, in January, the Supreme Court issued a mandamus order against the concerned authorities, including the Nepal government, Labour Ministry, Department of Foreign Employment and Foreign Employment Board, to conduct investigations into unknown causes of death. The court asked the government to abide by provisions regarding minimisation of the risk of death to migrant workers, a compulsory post-mortem in case of natural or sudden deaths, and insurance and compensation.
“The family has the right to know how their loved ones died,” said Devkota, one of the lawyers who argued the case at the Supreme Court.”
But according to migrant rights activists, there is a benefit for employers to not identify causes of death, or categorise them as natural—they don’t have to pay compensation.
“In Qatar, for instance, a natural death does not require any medical investigation,” said Devkota. “If there are hazardous or suspicious deaths, then they are accountable for insurance payments that can reach as high as $80,000.”
According to lawyers, it is the responsibility of the governments of both countries, as well as the employer, to conduct post-mortems. But it is the Nepal government that needs to make sure that such an investigation is done.
“A post-mortem is also required because there have been reports of organ theft from the dead bodies of Sri Lankan migrant workers,” said Ghimire, who also argued the case. “Causes of deaths should be made public for two reasons—closure to the family and knowledge that could help minimise or prevent such deaths in the future.”
If suspicious deaths are investigated in Nepal, it is the responsibility of the Nepali state to ensure that such deaths are investigated in foreign lands as well, say activists.
“A mandatory post-mortem will help us find the real cause of death,” said Devkota. “If we had done this long ago, we might have an understanding of why these deaths continue to occur and find ways to prevent them from happening. Sadly, we had to wait for hundreds to die.”  
Low and middle-income countries like Nepal do not have practice of investigating deaths, with most categorised as natural deaths, according to Dhimal.
“Only suspicious cases are further investigated,” said Dhimal. “But since the deaths of migrant workers is a crucial issue, there should be post-mortems and causes of deaths should be specified.”  
For families, a sudden or unknown death is a wound that festers, leading them to wonder what could have been.
In Bara, Indra Bahadur Chaudhary’s family has been struggling to move on.
“There should be an investigation into all the deaths of migrant workers abroad. I keep wondering what killed my son,” said Ram Prasad. “I still cannot believe he died of a heart attack.”

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Oli is cornered in party—because of his own making

Over the last two years, Oli has ignored genuine calls for changes to his unilateral working style, which alienated many leaders who were once on his side.
- TIKA R PRADHAN

KATHMANDU,
When KP Sharma Oli returned to power in February 2018, he had a strong electoral mandate—a near two-thirds majority in Parliament. After the unification of his UML with the Maoists, Oli, as one of the chairs of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, became the strongest prime minister the country has had in recent times.
For two years, Oli ran the government and the party almost unilaterally, some might even say “with an iron fist.” But today, Oli is seeing shadows everywhere and a confrontation with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other party chair, threatens to derail his government.
The situation that Oli is facing today was in the making for quite some time and party insiders say that there is no one to blame but himself. Despite criticism—from the public as well as a section of leaders from within the Nepal Communist Party—that the government was failing to deliver on its promises, Oli refused to pay any heed. “Over the last two years, the prime minister tarnished his own image because of his arrogance,” said Hemraj Bhandari, a central committee member. “He surrounded himself with a vicious circle of near and dear ones and different interest groups, ignoring genuine concerns and suggestions from party members.”
Oli pushed through decisions in the party and ran the government the way he wanted, providing ample room for his detractors to band together against him, say insiders. Despite agreeing to lead the party together with Dahal, Oli also refused to provide the latter with any room. A frustrated Dahal then began bringing up a “gentleman’s agreement” between him and Oli to lead the government in turns.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has stayed mum on ongoing party issues. Post Photo


After continued pressure from Dahal, coupled with Oli’s frail health—he has been undergoing dialysis—he finally made a concession. The party decided that Oli would run the government for the full term while Dahal would become the executive chair of the party.
But even then, Dahal seethed as Oli refused to let go of the party. Oli even publicly said that every party has a junior and senior leader, insinuating that Dahal might be the executive chair, but he was junior to him.
At around the same time, Oli also managed to alienate some of his old colleagues from the CPN-UML days, and Dahal was only too happy to cultivate these leaders.
The real coup came when Dahal last month managed to extract the Speaker’s post for the man of his choice, resisting Oli’s pressure to go for his own confidante Subash Nembang. Dahal’s success was largely attributed to an alliance he had created with leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam, all long-time comrades of Oli’s.
Now, Dahal controls a majority in the nine-member Secretariat, which on Wednesday decided to send Gautam to the National Assembly. Oli has said that he will not nominate Gautam and will continue with Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada, whose two-year term is ending on March 3.
“If he ignores the party’s decision at this point of time, his opponents could make a bid to oust him,” said a close aide to Oli. “I think Oli would rather nominate Gautam for the Upper House and continue with Khatiwada as finance minister for the next six months.”
Dahal knows that Oli is in a pickle. If Oli relents and allows Gautam into the Upper House, Dahal will claim victory, but if he sticks to his guns and refuses, he will be violating a decision made by the party’s Central Committee for the party and the government to work together. Either way, he will come out on the losing end.
Talking to journalists at Bharatpur Airport on Friday, Dahal reiterated that Gautam would be a National Assembly member.
“It was a unanimous decision of the party Secretariat to send Vice-chair Gautam to the National Assembly,” said Dahal. “The prime minister must abide by the decision and he will.”
Earlier on Friday, Dahal had held a meeting with Nepal and Khanal where they decided to press the Gautam issue, according to party leaders from the Dahal camp. Oli’s detractors know that they can bolster Gautam’s position to force Oli into a corner.
“What I know is that he [Oli] will recommend Gautam. I don’t want to talk about what ifs. I cannot even imagine that he will reject a decision taken by the Secretariat,” Dahal told reporters.
However, one of Oli’s advisors, Rajan Bhattarai, said that the recommendation for the National Assembly is not for the party to decide.
“As per the constitution, it’s a matter for the government and the president,” Bhattarai, the prime minister’s foreign affairs advisor, said at an event on Friday. “Things will be amicably settled in a few days.”
According to constitutional provisions, three National Assembly members are nominated by the government, pending endorsement by the President. All National Assembly members serve staggered terms, with the Finance Minister Khatiwada’s current two-year term expiring in March. Gautam has been slated to replace him, but Oli shows no signs of budging on continuing with Khatiwada.
Oli, who does not usually refrain from speaking his mind, however, has stayed uncharacteristically quiet about ongoing party issues.
At an event organised by the party’s Bagmati Province Committee on Thursday, Oli only said that he would go for a kidney transplant soon and defended his close confidante Gokul Baskota, who resigned on February 20 after he was heard negotiating a Rs700 million ‘commission’ in exchange for awarding the contract for a security printing press to a Swiss company.
“Baskota has said that the tape was fabricated. No complaint has been filed against him,” said Oli.
Complaints, however, have been filed at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority against Baskota.
Despite calls from opposition parties, Oli has yet to respond to the Baskota scandal in Parliament. Baskota’s loss, at a time when opposition within the party is getting stronger, will certainly be felt in the Oli camp.
A sitting minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that his defence of Baskota shows that the flaws that led to his current position in the party continue to drive him.
Bhandari, the central committee leader, too said that Oli will only face more and more problems if he continues unilaterally, ignoring advice from party members. Ultimately, it is Dahal who will benefit, said Bhandari.
“Oli could not change his unilateral and arrogant style of working,” said the minister, “so he is himself to blame for the situation he is in today.”

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Fate of Sagarmatha Sambaad hangs in balance amid virus fears

The first edition of the Sambaad, scheduled for the first week of April, is likely to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the measures taken to limit its spread.
- ANIL GIRI

KATHMANDU,
The rapid spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus has meant that many international events have either been cancelled or could be in the near future. With speculation over major events like the Tokyo Olympics, there is concern about the first edition of Nepal’s Sagarmatha Sambaad, slated for the first week of April.
Though the government has yet to postpone the dialogue, as officials are still assessing the situation, experts in the field of health and international relations say that the government should rethink the Sambaad due to the large scale of the coronavirus outbreak, which, since December, has spread to 50 countries and six continents.
The Sambaad, held under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is a multi-stakeholder dialogue forum akin to the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi and the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. The first edition of the Sambaad is planned for April 2 to 4 in Kathmandu on the theme, ‘Climate Change, Mountains, and the Future of Humanity.’
The government has already sent out invitations to 150 foreign delegates—of whom 60 are speakers—but in the wake of the global pandemic, numerous countries have restricted international travel and either cancelled or postponed various public functions, events, gatherings and sports events.
Khadga KC, a professor at Tribhuvan University’s Department of International Relations who is also on the Steering Committee of the Sambaad, told the Post that they have yet to assess the potential impacts of the coronavirus on the Sagarmatha Sambad.
“But now, the time has come to think it over,” said KC. “We have seen reports that numerous flights are suspended and many events have been rescheduled. Travel has also been restricted. We need to hold a meeting and rethink holding the Sagarmatha Sambaad.”
Burdened with a weak health system, Nepal lacks critical infrastructure at the airport to check travellers and their travel records, along with proper health and quarantine facilities, trained health workers, adequate logistics and other equipment to deal with an outbreak.
Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a reemerging infectious diseases specialist at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, said that Nepal should definitely assess the unfolding situation outside the country and its own pandemic preparedness.
“The spread of the virus has become a global concern and several developed countries are facing difficulties tackling it. But what is our plan?” said Pun. “The outbreak has not stopped events like Visit Nepal Year 2020. The Sagarmatha Sambad should be postponed for the time being. It can be organised once the outbreak stops.”
But officials at the Sagarmatha Sambaad Secretariat told the Post that they’ve been receiving confirmations to attend from various speakers and as of now, there is no plan to cancel or postpone the event.  
“We are aware of the outbreak and we have been continuously following news from across the globe. But as of now, we have not taken any decisions to postpone the Sambaad,” said Kumar Kharel, joint secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is coordinating the Sambaad.
One senior Foreign Ministry official, however, admitted that very few high-profile people have expressed interest and there is likely to be a turnaround in speakers and participants due to the sudden outbreak of the virus.
The World Health Organization has said that it is greatly concerned about the outbreak, which began in China’s Hubei Province. Although cases are falling in China, the virus is spreading fast across the world.
“It’s what is happening in the rest of the world that is now our greatest concern,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, on Thursday.
According to Kharel, the government is waiting for the situation to unfold, as there is still a month to go for the Sambaad and no participants have cancelled so far.
“As of now, we are very much on track and we are hopeful that event will be held as per the schedule,” said Kharel. “Around 50 out of 70 speakers have confirmed their participation so it is too early to decide whether to postpone it or not.”

Page 3
NATIONAL

Medical Education Commission plans to roll out new regulation

Colleges not up to the mark could lose their permits, if they do not improve in two years.
- BINOD GHIMIRE

KATHMANDU,
The Medical Education Commission has formulated a new regulation under which colleges and institutes that fail to secure at least 70 percent marks in their evaluation for two consecutive years could have their licenses revoked.
The commission, which has finalised 1o compliance indicators for medical colleges and nuristing institutions, plans to evaluate colleges based on their quality of their infrastructure, service, equipment, and teaching staff.
“If they fail to secure the minimum of 70 percent for two consecutive years, the commission can recommend the university concerned to scrap their licence,” Dr Shree Krishna Giri, vice-chairman of the commission, told the Post. The new regulations come as various reports said medical colleges in Nepal lack infrastructure and quality teaching staff.  Some colleges reportedly hired temporary faculties, mostly from India, to show the inspectors when they come for checks.
As per the draft regulation, being rolled out amid concerns over quality of medical and nursing education in the country, research conducted by colleges, the quality of their hostels and their performance in terms of fulfilling social responsibility will also be evaluated.
When the new regulation is implemented, all medical colleges will evaluate themselves on the criteria set by the commission. The evaluations will then be verified by a team of experts, appointed by the commission. Colleges that receive less than 70 percent marks will get one year to improve themselves.  Based on the score each college receives, the commission plans to place them in three categories. While institutions that score more than 90 percent will be categorised as ‘A’, those scoring between 80 to 90 percent will fall under the ‘B’ category and those that get between 70 to 80 get the ‘C’ label. Colleges that score below 70 shall fail the evaluation.
The commission, which was formed following hunger strikes by reform activist Dr Govinda KC, has already approved the draft regulation and forwarded it to the Cabinet.
There are 17 medical colleges affiliated with Kathmandu University and Tribhuvan University. Similarly, there are over a hundred nursing colleges offering various levels of education ranging from ‘certificate’ to masters. They are affiliated with the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) and various universities.

NATIONAL

All winter expeditions to Everest called off due to bad weather

No one has made it to the top of the mountain in the ‘off season’ after Japan’s Shinsuke Ezuka achieved the feat in 1993. This year, the winter climbing season ends today.
- SANGAM PRASAIN
Everest normally sees the highest number of climbers during the spring season. Winter expeditions are rare.  AP

KATHMANDU,
All three winter expeditions planned on Mt Everest have been called off due to threats of avalanches following the accumulation of fresh snow deposits on the world’s highest peak.
Nepal’s winter season officially ends on Saturday and along with it, the climbing permits issued for a winter expedition become invalid.
Expedition organisers said that the mountain received heavy snowfall for two consecutive days—starting February 25—amassing large snow deposits on the higher reaches of the mountain. These deposits risk causing avalanches when they are blown down to the lower reaches by high winds. The snow also obstructs the Khumbu Icefall, among the most treacherous sections on the Everest route, causing difficulties in passing.
The Breathless Winter Everest Speed Climbing team abandoned its winter expedition on Thursday. The team, comprising four Sherpa climbers, had set off to the mountain earlier this week in a bid to make the fastest climb on Everest—reaching the top from Kathmandu in just seven days.
The team led by Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, an eight-time Everest summiteer, had left Kathmandu for Everest Base Camp on Monday. It had planned to reach the summit on Saturday and return to base camp and then Kathmandu on March 1, as per the team’s itinerary.
In normal circumstances, it takes several weeks to climb Everest.
“The team reached Camp III at 7,100m and decided to abandon the expedition due to 34 hours of fresh and soft snowfall on blue ice surfaces that can become slippery and dangerous,” said Seven Summit Treks, the organiser of the expedition, on its Facebook page.
German alpinist Jost Kobusch, who had been camping on the slopes of Everest for the last three months, also abandoned his mission as the winter climbing permit is only valid until February 29, said Rishi Bhandari, managing director of Satori Adventures, which is handling his climb.
“He reached the high point at 7,329 meters,” said Bhandari. “A high wind factor—blowing over 120km per hour—stopped his climb and during the last push, heavy snowfall ended all hope.”
The German climber was exploring a new route on the west ridge, which has never been climbed in winter before, without supplemental oxygen.
“I reached my goal—planned to reach the 7,200m again on this climb and I reached 7360 m. I felt great up there and took some pictures. Could have even continued, the weather seemed to be holding up, but my intuition told me: stop—if you want to tackle the summit you should have stayed at least 7500m-8000m before and have been relegated again,” Kobusch said on his Facebook page on Thursday.
Spanish alpinist Alex Txikon is also returning to Kathmandu on Saturday. Initially, his team, which was making a winter attempt without supplemental oxygen, consisted of two other Spanish climbers Oscar Cardo and Jonatan Garcia Villa, along with three Sherpas. His two colleagues have already abandoned the mission.
Pemba Sherpa, managing director of Outware Treks and Expedition which is handling the Txikon expedition, said that the team reached a highest point of 6,900m and ended there.
“It’s over now. We’re all fine... by miracle! If we would have continued, we would not have made it back alive. Nearly 1m snow in C1. 50cm on the way to C3. The entire Lhotse face was about to slide down upon us. Feeling lucky to be back,” Txikon tweeted on Friday.
Krzysztof Wielicki of Poland first climbed the world’s tallest peak in the dead of winter on February 17, 1980. The last successful winter ascent, according to Tourism department records, was made by Shinsuke Ezuka of Japan on Dec 20, 1993.
The winter climbing permit lasts up to the end of February. The government charges $2,500 per person for climbing Everest using other routes. During the spring and autumn, the other routes cost $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.
Everest normally sees the highest number of climbers during the spring season.
In the 1980s, climbing in autumn and winter was more popular than in the spring. After the advent of democracy in 1990, the government adopted a liberal economic policy and Everest was also opened to everyone. As a result, climbers started to avoid the autumn and winter climbing seasons due to the risk of snow and the extreme cold.

Page 4
NATIONAL

New lane rule on Suryabinayak road to minimise accidents, punish rash driving

Traffic police say heavy vehicles, including buses, need to stay on the left, private vehicles on the right.
- ANUP OJHA
Some 200 accidents occur every month on the 9.1km stretch of the highway. Post File Photo

KATHMANDU,
In a bid to enforce traffic discipline and cut-down on traffic accidents on the Koteshwor-Suryabinayak road section, the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division has come up with a new rule on the use of lanes.
Under the new rule, heavy vehicles, including buses that move slow need to take the left lane, while private vehicles such as cars, jeeps, vans, and motorcycles need to keep right.
“We have strictly implemented this rule from Wednesday, and this will help decrease the number of accidents on the road,” said Jeevan Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the division.
Bhaktapur Chief District Officer Hum Kala Pandey and Senior Superintendent of Police, Bhim Dhakal, on Wednesday jointly inaugurated the new drive.
According to police, some 200 accidents occur every month on the 9.1km stretch of the country’s first four-lane highway.
The division office, in association with Bhaktapur District Office, has set up 13 check posts and mobilised 27 traffic personnel on the road to surveil the movement of vehicles.
Forty information boards have also been installed on the road to educate the people about the new lane use rule. “We are in the first phase, and trying to make riders and drivers habituated. Once we reach the second phase, we will take action,” said Pandey. Fines of up to Rs 1,500 are being discussed for lane violations.  
“This move will surely help decrease the number of accidents, and check reckless driving,” said Dhakal. The stretch from Koteshwor to Lokanthali has become notorious for traffic jams over the past few years.
A report shows that an estimated 971,000 vehicles pass through the Koteshwor crossing every day between 8am and 6pm.  
Two weeks ago, the Department of Roads and the Department of Transport Management had lobbied with the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation to be allowed to widen the road by using land belonging to the Tribhuvan International Airport.

Page 5
NATIONAL

Video of police officer baton charging a woman carrying a child enrages public

The video has brought to light the police’s use of excessive force against peaceful protestors who pose no threat.
- SHUVAM DHUNGANA
screengrab via twitter

KATHMANDU,
A video showing a police personnel baton charge a woman with a child in her arms went viral on Friday, prompting criticism, once again, against Nepal Police’s excessive use of force against civilians.
The video was widely shared on social media, with many calling out the police’s actions. Others pointed to the incongruity between the Nepal Police’s ‘police, my friend’ (prahari, mero sathi) campaign and the numerous documented instances of police excesses.
“What kind of brutality is this?” questioned one user on Twitter while others called for departmental action against the personnel in the video.
Another Twitter user wrote that the police’s actions were “utterly despicable and outrageous”, especially as they targeted a woman carrying an infant.
According to police, the incident took place on Thursday at the Bhainsepati residence of Hem Khatri, a retired Nepal Army general, where a group of women had gathered to protest, “demanding justice” for Mala Shah, who has alleged that she was in a relationship with Khatri. Shah began protesting after Khatri allegedly broke off contact with her, according to Senior Superintendent Tek Prasad Rai, chief of the Lalitpur Police. Hema Shrestha, the woman seen being beaten, was there to support Shah in her protest.  
“They’ve been protesting for some months now,” said Rai. “We requested them to initiate legal action if they had a case, but they refused to budge.”
Rai, however, said he was unaware of the video or of the policeman’s actions.
“Women police cannot be present everywhere all the time. If a policeman was involved, he must have tried to disperse the crowd,” Rai told the Post. “We’ve formed a three-member committee to look into the matter and we will take action based on its recommendations.”
Police took six women, including Shrestha, into custody and charged four of them with indecent behaviour, according to Rai. Two have already been released.
The policeman in question has been identified as Inspector Devi Prasad Paudel, chief of the Bungamati Metropolitan Police Sector. Paudel conceded to the Post that he had used his baton to disperse the women after repeatedly asking them to leave.
“We asked the women to initiate legal processes,” said Paudel. “But they refused to move and we had to clear the area. We have to use some force when the situation gets out of control.”
A police team, which also included a woman, arrived at Khatri’s residence on his call. The team used force to disperse the crowd after the women refused to end the sit-in.  
Inspector Paudel is seen pushing Hema Shrestha, who was carrying a baby, from the police vehicle and hitting her with a stick from behind in the video.
Despite Nepal Police promising to be friends with the public, the department of late has been embroiled in controversies for failing exercise restraint.
Earlier in December, police baton-charged fans gathered in front of the Dashrath Stadium to watch the South Asian Games football final between Nepal and Bhutan. The police’s actions were widely criticised on social media, especially as video and photos emerged of police aiming kicks and batons towards people who posed no threat.
Again in December, in Kohalpur, images of police officers baton-charging students in school uniforms were widely shared and condemned, with many drily asking if this was what the Nepal Police meant when they began their ‘police, my friend’ campaign.

NATIONAL

Bagmati to launch maternal and child health care programme in remote areas

- SUBASH BIDARI

MAKWANPUR,
The Bagmati provincial government is all set to launch a special health programme aimed at improving maternal and child health care in remote areas of the province.
The Ministry of Social Development said the programme will be launched in 14 wards of seven districts. The programme prioritises settlements  in high altitudes where maternal and child health care remains neglected.
“We are going to launch the special health programme in impoverished settlements where maternal and child health care needs improvement,” said Satish Bista, chief at the health unit of the ministry. He claimed that 57,933 families will benefit from the programme.
According to the ministry, the two-year programme will be launched at the beginning of the new fiscal year. The ministry has allocated Rs 70 million for the programme.
Under the health programme, the capacity of the local maternity service centre will be enhanced with round-the-clock service. Similarly, solar panels will be installed to setup air-conditioned rooms.
According to Bista, the government will also manage human resources, open laboratories and make provisions for free transportation for women who visit the centre for safe delivery.
“We will provide all necessary physical and technical services along with nutritious food to save mothers and their new-borns,” said Bista, adding that the special health programme would be implemented in other wards in the future.
The provincial government has selected Ward No. 5 of Rubi Valley and Gangajamuna rural municipalities in Dhading district; Ward No. 4 of Myagang and Ward No. 1 of Kispang rural municipalities in Nuwakot for the programme. Likewise in Rasuwa, ward No. 2 of Uttargaya and Ward No. 5 of Naukunda rural municipalities have been selected. In Sindhupalchok, Ward No.3 of Panchpokhari and Ward No. 1 of Bhotekoshi have been shortlisted.
In Dolakha, the programme will be launched in Ward No 8. of Bigu and Ward No. 1 of Kalinchok rural municipalities. In Kavre, ward No. 2 of Khanikhola and Ward No. 5 of Mahabharat rural municipalities have picked. In Ramechhap, the special health programme will be launched in Ward No. 5 of Gokulganga and Ward No. 7 of Umakunda rural municipalities.

NATIONAL

Tembathan is 110km from Kathmandu but feels like a world apart

The three villages in Jugal Rural Municipality do not have the most basic infrastructure—not even a phone network.
- ANISH TIWARI
The nearest health post is two days’ walk away from Tembathan. Post Photo: ANISH TIWARI

SINDHUPALCHOK,
Tembathan in Jugal Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchok, might be just 110km from Kathmandu but it feels a world apart.
“Anybody who visits the village for the first time gets amazed—as if they’ve just landed on a different country,” Saila Sherpa, a local leader, told the Post on a recent visit.
This, however, is not a fact to be cherished for the locals; it’s more a matter of shame, as Tembathan, along with two other villages in the rural municipality, Dipu and Tega, lack basic infrastructure facilities—there’s no electricity, no road connection, drinking water or a health post. It takes nearly a day to travel to these villages from Chautara, the
district headquarters. The three villages collectively have 220 households. People depend on helicopters
to get treatment during emergencies. The villages are virtually closed off from the outer world. This has prompted many to dub the villages the “Karnali of Sindhupalchok”.
“We don’t even have a working phone network here,” Sherpa said. The villagers have to walk for over two days to receive basic healthcare; many can’t afford to book a helicopter. Yangji Sherpa said her family flew her pregnant daughter-in-law to Kathmandu for delivery, the cost of which the family is still struggling to pay back.
“If we hadn’t booked the helicopter, we wouldn’t have seen the face of my grandson today,” she said.
The state of education looks dire as well. Most of the children in the villages drop out after primary levels.
“If all we do in our life is stay in this village and engage in agriculture, why would we need further education?” said Mingmar Sherpa, 29. He said he was compelled to drop out of school after grade five, as the nearest lower-secondary school is in Gumbathan, a five-hour walk away.
It takes two days’ walk to reach the nearest health post in Pangarpu. Sherpa said that most of the children in the villages are reared up without being immunised.
In Tembathan, the lines between the rich and poor are most apparent during the night: those who can afford have solar panels installed in their house to light bulbs, but the poor people make do with tukis. Even the rich get disappointed during the rainy season when the sun doesn’t show up and the solar energy lacks power.
The people’s representatives the Post talked to said they have plans on the pipeline to develop the local unit. Hem Narayan Shrestha, chief of Jugal Rural Municipality, claimed he is “committed” to connect each ward to the road network. “We will soon be taking the road to the villages,” he said. “The tender process for electricity and road service is ongoing.”
But the locals are not so sure about their representatives’ promises. According to Mingmar, they are still miffed with the tall promises made by provincial assembly member Saresh Nepal, who said he’d work towards a speedy delivery of basic facilities to the villages a year ago.

NATIONAL

Baskota files defamation case against Mishra

- Post Report

KATHMANDU,
Former communication minister Gokul Prasad Baskota has filed a defamation case against Bijaya Prakash Sharma Mishra over a leaked audiotape where he was heard allegedly negotiating for a Rs700 million “commission”.
He said he filed the case at Kathmandu District Court demanding justice. Baskota took to Twitter on Friday saying he was innocent and the accusations against him were false.
On the recording, first obtained by online portal hamrakura.com, Baskota can be heard negotiating with Mishra, the local agent for a Swiss company vying for a government contract regarding the purchase of a security printing press.
Two voices on the recording discuss various ways of extracting commission and the sharing out of that commission. The voice said to be of Mishra informs Baskota that the Swiss company will be coming to Nepal on the invitation of the Swiss embassy with an expectation of signing a Memorandum of Understanding.
Baskota resigned last Thursday, saying questions had been raised against him.

NATIONAL

Locals start returning encroached forest land in Bardiya

- THAKUR SINGH THARU
Farmers handed over eight bighas of encroached land to Tripura forest two weeks ago. Post photo: THAKUR SINGH THARU

BARDIYA,
Twenty-two farmers from Chaudharipur and Gauripara villages in Badhaiyatal Rural Municipality, Bardiya, returned the encroached land of Tripura Community Forest two weeks ago.
“The farmers cumulatively handed over eight bighas of land to the community forest,” said Dronaraj Sharma, assistant forest officer at the Division Forest Office in Bardiya.
The locals of Badhaiyatal Ward No. 8 had formed a community forest users’ group for Tripura Community Forest a decade ago. But over the years, some locals have converted the forest land into their private properties.
To free the encroached forest land, the community forest users’ group had recently organised various programmes and interactions in the area, as a result of which some locals agreed to return the land owned by the community forest.
“I decided to return the land after I realised that conserving and protecting forests and their resources is important. Forests are an inseparable part of our life and we must protect them,” said Raju Chaudhary.
Many farmers in the rural municipality have converted the forest land into agricultural fields.
In Ward No. 6, approximately eight bighas of land belonging to Rihar Community Forest had been encroached by individuals, a temple and a campus. The encroached land was recently returned to the community forest.
“Discussions were held for a long time regarding the encroached forest land. Finally, the people who had been using the land agreed to return the land. Even landless squatters have agreed to return the forest land,” said Ram Dulare Tharu, chairman of Rihar Community Forest Users’ Group.
Similarly, around 10 bighas of encroached land were recovered by Doraha Community Forest in Butaha while Rambazaar Woman Community Forest in Gulariya Ward No. 4 has recouped one and a half bighas of encroached land.
According to Sharma, nearly 372 hectares of the forest land in the district has been encroached upon by illegal settlers and farming community.  Bardiya has a total of 21,700 hectares of forest land.
 “A growing number of people are returning the encroached forest land. The forest office is helping the community forests to fence the returned forest land and to plant saplings,” Sharma said.
Usually, it takes an intervention from the government authorities to recover encroached forest land. “What the community forest groups have done in Bardiya to recover the lost forest land is exemplary,” Sharma added.

Page 7
MONEY

Export revenues from listed products down 4 percent in the first six months

Shipments from mid-July to mid-January were worth Rs 18.09 billion, according to Trade and Export Promotion Centre.
- KRISHANA PRASAIN
People shop for pashmina at a roadside store in Kathmandu. shutterstock

KATHMANDU,
Export revenues from Nepal Trade Integrated Strategy-listed products contracted by 4 percent year-on-year in the first six months of the fiscal year, which trade experts attributed to lack of support in production and valuation and market diversification.
Purushottam Ojha, former secretary of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supply, said that shipments had been going down for failure to improve the quality and quantity of the products and link them with the international market.
“Most of the export goods go to India, and the time has come to diversify to other international markets by enhancing the quality of production,” he said.
“For example, Nepal exports ginger in its raw form, but if traders could export the spice only after processing it to some extent and branding it, they could enlarge their market to other places besides India.”
There is strong competition in the international market, so the country needs to create a strategy according to international demand, he added.  
According to a report issued by the Trade and Export Promotion Centre, shipments of listed products during the period mid-July to mid-January were worth Rs18.09 billion, compared to Rs18.87 billion in the same period of the previous year.
Bacchu Poudel, president of the Nepal Trans-Himalayan Border Commerce Association, said that exports could drop as a fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. Most of the raw materials used to manufacture export goods come from China, and deliveries from the northern neighbour have practically stopped, he said.
Exports of tea, ginger, medicinal and aromatic plants, leather, fabric, textile, yarn and rope, carpets and footwear declined during the first half of the fiscal year. Cardamom and pashmina were the only two products that saw an export growth.
Cardamom shipments jumped by 64 percent to Rs2.5 billion. In the first half of the last fiscal year, exports were valued at Rs1.5 billion.
Nirmal Bhattarai, immediate past president of the Large Cardamom Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal, said that shipments surged due to a sharp growth in stocks available for export from increased cardamom acreage this year.
The farm gate price of cardamom has remained in the range of Rs600-800 for the past two years, which was an encouragement for growers, he said.  
Cardamom farming has spread to the far western part of the country while it used to be grown only in the eastern region in the past. The spice is now grown on 15,000 hectares across the country, he said.
Bhattarai said that the country exported 5,000 tonnes of large cardamom in the last fiscal year and predicted that shipments could swell to 5,500 tonnes this year. India is the largest buyer of Nepali cardamom followed by Dubai, Qatar and European countries, said Bhattarai.  
Exports of pashmina increased by 6.8 percent to Rs1.53 billion in the first six months of the current fiscal year from Rs1.43 billion in the same period last year. Shipments had been on a constant decline during the past few years which traders blamed on lack of branding and promotional activities in the international market.
Pushpa Man Shrestha, immediate past president of the Nepal Pashmina Industries Association, said that production had been hit in recent days as the supply of raw materials from China had stopped due to the epidemic there. Nepal imports almost all raw materials needed to make pashmina from China.
Tea exports saw a steep year-on-year drop of 24 percent to Rs1.65 billion. Shipments in the first half of the previous year totalled Rs2.19 billion.
Gaurab Luitel, information officer at the National Tea and Coffee Development Board, said that the production of the first batch this year was disrupted due to labour unrest, leading to exports falling sharply. Lack of organic certification is also one of the major reasons for the drop, he added.  
Exports of fabric, textile, yarn and rope also declined by 10 percent to Rs7 billion from Rs7.8 billion in the previous year.
Carpet shipments fell 3 percent to Rs3.6 billion from Rs3.7 billion while ginger exports decreased by 11 percent to Rs285 million from Rs322 million last year.
The export of footwear decreased by 15 percent to Rs568 million from Rs672 million.
Krishna Kumar Phuyal, president of the Footwear Manufacturers Association of Nepal, attributed the drop in exports to manufacturers focusing on the domestic market.
“We are working to fulfil the requirement of the domestic market first in a bid to promote import substitution,” he said. India is a major market for Nepali footwear, and the increase in customs duty by the southern neighbour could hurt exports.
Nepal produces 50-60 million pairs of shoes annually compared to the requirement of 80-100 million pairs.
Exports of medicinal and aromatic plants declined by 12.7 percent to Rs718 million during the review period from Rs823 million previously. Leather exports plunged by 53 percent to Rs116 million from Rs247 million in the first half of the last fiscal year.

MONEY

OPEC leaning towards larger oil cuts as virus hits prices, demand

- REUTERS

LONDON, 
Several key OPEC members are leaning towards a bigger than previously expected oil output cut, four sources with knowledge of the talks said, as oil prices fell to $50 per barrel on fears the coronavirus outbreak will hit oil demand badly.
Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer in OPEC, and some
other members are considering agreeing an output cut of 1 million barrels per day (bpd) for the second quarter of 2020, more than an initially proposed cut of 600,000 bpd, the
sources said.
The Financial Times newspaper was first to report the deeper cut idea.
The virus has caused almost 2,800 deaths in China and has spread to dozens of other countries.
Oil LOCc1 has slid by almost 25 percent this year on lower demand and slower expected economic growth, alarming OPEC members.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, a grouping known as OPEC+, have already been curbing oil output by 1.7 million bpd under a deal that runs to the end of March.
They are scheduled to meet on March 5-6 in Vienna to decide further policy.
In an initial response to counter the impact of the virus on the oil market, an OPEC+ committee this month recommended the group deepen its output cuts by 600,000 bpd, a figure now seen as not enough by some in the group.
One source familiar with the talks said the kingdom now supported an oil output cut of 1 million bpd. Two other OPEC sources said the need for additional action was clearer than when the OPEC+ committee recommendation was made.
“The situation has deteriorated,” said an industry source who has discussed the issue with some producers. “There is a lot of concern.”

MONEY

Sri Lanka offers tax cuts, subsidies to revive jinxed airport

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Photo COURTESY: Anuradha Dullewe Wijeyeratne
A view of the check-in counters at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Sri Lanka.

COLOMBO,
Sri Lanka’s new government on Friday offered tax breaks and subsidised fuel to revive the island’s second international airport built with Chinese loans but which ended up a white elephant.
Authorities announced plans to suspend the $60 departure tax for two years and allow airlines free landing and parking after scheduled carriers abandoned Mattala Rajapaksa airport.
Ground handling services will also be offered at discounted rates while migrant workers flying out of the airport—250 kilometres (150 miles) from Colombo—will be offered concessionary fares.
Budget carrier Flydubai was the last scheduled operator to pull out of the airport, which is named after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The previous administration, which lost the November presidential election to Rajapaksa’s younger brother Gotabaya, had been in talks with neighbouring India to revive the airport as an aircraft maintenance facility.
It was not immediately clear if the new government had abandoned those plans but the country’s cabinet said in a statement they wanted scheduled passenger services to resume.
The airport—a five-hour drive from the capital—is in the middle of a migratory route for birds.
Several aircraft have hit birds since it opened in 2013, and four years ago the military deployed hundreds of troops to clear deer, wild buffalo and elephants off the sprawling facility.
The airport, which cost an initial $210 million and employs about 550 workers in Rajapaksa’s home district, has failed to generate enough business to pay staff, let alone make a profit.
The first foreign airline to operate out of the facility was Air Arabia in 2013 but they pulled out after six weeks of scheduled services. Flydubai quit in June 2018 without giving a reason, but officials said poor passenger traffic may have spurred the budget carrier to leave.
Even Sri Lanka’s national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines, stopped flying to Mattala in 2015 soon after Rajapaksa was defeated in the January 2015 elections. Sri Lankan later said they saved $18 million annually by not flying to the airport.
But the facility has remained an emergency alternate landing location for flights heading into Colombo International, about 30 minutes away by air.
In 2017, China took over a loss-making deep-sea port at Hambantota, in the same area as the airport, on a 99-year lease under a $1.1 billion deal, sparking concern in neighbouring India.

MONEY

Europe looking for positive signal from US on trade

- REUTERS
European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. REUTERS

WASHINGTON,
The European Union hopes to de-escalate trade tensions with the United States but wants Washington to lower steel tariffs or make another goodwill gesture after a series of concessions by Brussels in recent years, a top EU lawmaker said on Thursday.
European lawmakers were stung when Washington this month expanded steel tariffs just as the two economic powers were trying to resume trade negotiations, Bernd Lange, who chairs the European Parliament’s trade committee, told reporters.
Lange, who led a delegation of European lawmakers who met with senior US government officials in Washington this week, said the US side appeared open to talks, but Brussels would insist that any deal had to benefit both sides.
European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan is due to return to Washington on March 16 as part of a drive to improve transatlantic ties and avert the threat of US tariffs on European cars that President Donald Trump renewed last month.
Trump in July 2018 had agreed to hold off on imposing car tariffs while Washington and Brussels discussed ways to improve economic ties. The EU has since agreed to boost imports of soybeans, liquefied natural gas and beef from the United States but work on a larger trade deal remains at an impasse.
“In the European Parliament there is a feeling that we’ve made a lot of concessions and now it’s a little bit the time (for) a signal coming from the US side,” Lange said.
“Yes, we want to talk, but we also need one step – reducing the steel tariffs or something else,” he said. Any memorandum of understanding or mini-trade deal would have to be balanced and benefit both sides, he said.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday said there were ongoing discussions with the EU on trade but gave no details. He said the President reserved the right to impose car tariffs, but no decisions had been made. He also acknowledged increased investment by European carmakers in the United States.
After reaching trade agreements with China, Canada and Mexico, Trump now hopes to reach a “big” deal with Europe, Lange said, referring to comments made by the President earlier this year although he conceded he did not know what exactly was meant by “big”.