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House of confrontation

As Parliament session begins, Oli will try to prove his legitimacy while the Dahal-Nepal faction, though still confused, prepares to nix his plan.
With the Nepal Communist Party legitimacy row unresolved, the House session is headed for a confrontation, observers say. Post file Photo

When the meeting of the House of Representatives commences on Sunday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his faction of the Nepal Communist Party will try their best to make it look like business as usual.
The government’s priority, according to sources, will be presenting the ordinances in a semblance of providing business to the House and letting the House function as if everything is normal, unless the faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal takes a drastic step.
Though the Dahal-Nepal faction wants to unseat Oli, it has yet to decide whether to file a no-confidence motion against him.
As per the preliminary business schedule published by the Parliament Secretariat on Saturday, the government will present as many as eight ordinances, including the one related to the amendment to the Constitutional Council (Functions, Duties and Procedures) Act-2010 issued on December 15.
Bishal Bhattarai, who was appointed the chief whip of the Nepal Communist Party by Oli on February 26 in place of Dev Gurung, told the Post that the government’s priority will be getting the ordinances through Parliament.
“All the ordinances will be presented before the House on the very first day,” said Bhattarai. “Getting them endorsed is the government’s top priority.”
The House meeting is commencing on Sunday after the Supreme Court on February 23 overturned Oli’s December 20 decision to dissolve the House. Oli, however, has refused to resign on moral grounds and has decided to face the House. He has even challenged his opponents to remove him if they can.
The Dahal-Nepal faction had registered a no-confidence motion against Oli on December 20, hours after the government recommendation to dissolve the House of Representatives was endorsed by President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
The Dahal-Nepal faction is unlikely to revive the same no-confidence motion, in which it had proposed Dahal as the next prime minister.
Officials at the Parliament Secretariat said they have not heard anything about a no-confidence motion.
“There is no information regarding any no-confidence motion from any side,” Gopal Nath Yogi, a secretary for the House of Representatives, told the Post.
The Nepali Congress’ silence has put the Dahal-Nepal faction in a fix. It is hesitant to file a no-confidence motion against Oli because it lacks the numbers to get it through Parliament.
The faction has been claiming that it has around 87 to 90 lawmakers on its side. Even then, without the support of the Congress party, which has 63 members (two suspended) in the House, its no-confidence motion will fall flat. In such a case, Oli will get a lease of life until March next year, as constitutional provisions don’t allow another no-confidence motion for one year.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson for the Nepal Communist Party (Dahal-Nepal faction), told the Post that they have yet to decide on tabling a no-confidence motion against Oli, as they are still in discussions with the Nepali Congress and Janta Samajbadi Party.
The Janata Samajabadi Party has 34 members (two suspended) in Parliament.
“Our first and foremost demand is Oli should resign. He has plunged into the minority inside the party since as many as 115 lawmakers are against him. Oli cannot remain prime minister morally also because the Supreme Court overturned his decision to dissolve the House,” said Shrestha.
“Second, he has lost the majority in the party as well. A majority of parliamentarians are against him. If he does not resign, then in consultation with the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party, a no-confidence motion will be registered.”
If the Dahal-Nepal faction indeed has 115 lawmakers on its side, as claimed by Shrestha, the Janata Samajbadi Party’s support will be sufficient to remove Oli.
In the 275-member House of Representatives, the magic number is 138.
The Janata Samajbadi Party, however, has already made it clear that for it to support Dahal-Nepal faction, it first needs to say whether it is a “formal party”.
The Nepal Communist Party, although it has split politically, legally continues to remain one, as the Election Commission has not given a verdict on the party legitimacy dispute.
The Janata Samajbadi Party wants concrete assurances also, if it were to support Dahal and Nepal, regarding its concerns—ranging from constitutional amendments to the release of its lawmaker Resham Chaudhary from jail.
The Congress party, which has held a series of internal meetings as well as talks with leaders from across the political spectrum, including Oli, Dahal and Nepal, has said that it would make a decision only after the Nepal Communist Party sees a formal split.
And even if it were to support the Dahal-Nepal faction, will it be just to give a leg up to Dahal?
Multiple Congress leaders have told the Post over the past few days that the party would be interested in leading the government, rather than just backing one side—Oli or the Dahal-Nepal-led faction. In that case, if the Dahal-Nepal faction files a no-confidence motion against Oli with the Congress party’s support, it should name Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as the next prime minister.
Oli and Deuba too have been in touch for quite a while, but what understanding they have been discussing is not clear yet. One possibility is that Oli is seeking Congress party’s support in case he seeks a vote of confidence. But leaders have stopped short of saying what that deal entails. A likely scenario is that Oli survives with Congress support and in return, he lets Deuba lead the government—for at least a year until the elections in 2022.
Despite Deuba’s public statements that he is in no hurry to become prime minister, he has made it sufficiently clear that he is not averse to the idea.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is likely to pass a verdict soon on a case filed by Rishiram Kattel, who claims that Nepal Communist Party name belongs to him.
Kattel had registered the Nepal Communist Party with the Election Commission in 2013. When Oli and Dahal had approached the Election Commission in May 2018 after they announced the merger of their CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre), the poll body had initially refused to register it saying that a party with the same name had already been registered. Oli and Dahal had then registered their Nepal Communist Party by adding Nekapa, or NCP, within brackets.
If the Supreme Court passes a verdict in favour of Kattel, thereby making the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) illegitimate, politics is likely to take a completely different course, with most making a prediction that the situation would return to the pre-May 2018 stage. That will mean two different parties—the UML and the Maoist Centre.
With Oli now having quite some former Maoists and the Dahal-Nepal faction having a number of former UML members, including leaders like Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Yogesh Bhattarai and Ghanashyam Bhusal to name a few, more political complications are likely.
“The Nepal Communist Party has not split yet legally, so there is no question of supporting one or the other,” said Minendra Rijal, a Central Working Committee of the Nepali Congress. “First, we will see how Prime Minister Oli defends his unconstitutional move of dissolving the House when he appears before the reinstated House tomorrow. Oli faces a huge moral and political question.”
Asked if the Congress party would be interested in filing a no-confidence motion of its own against Oli, with the support of the Dahal-Nepal faction, Rijal said the party has not thought along these lines yet.
“Such decisions are not taken overnight,” Rijal told the Post.
While the Dahal-Nepal faction is claiming to have around 115 parliamentarians on its side, a similar claim is being made by the Oli faction—that it has even more parliamentarians with it.
The Dahal-Nepal faction held a meeting of its Parliamentary Party on Friday, where it claimed that around 115 parliamentarians—from the House of Representatives and the National Assembly—were present. The Oli faction held a meeting of its Parliamentary Party on Saturday. It also claimed that around 115 parliamentarians were present—from the House of Representatives and the National Assembly in total.
Neither faction has divulged the number of lawmakers from the lower house present in their meetings. When it comes to no-confidence motion and electing a new prime minister, lawmakers from the lower house matter, not those from the upper house.
Multiple leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction said that they do want to unseat Oli and that a no-confidence motion against him is the only way but they admitted that they have not taken any decision to that effect yet.
Bhusal, a lawmaker from the Dahal-Nepal faction, said there is a lot of confusion regarding the filing of a no-confidence motion due to the party’s legal status.
“The Nepali Congress also has a problem supporting us unless the party is legally divided,” said Bhusal. “I don’t think the no-confidence motion could be registered on Sunday.”
With both factions led by Oli as well as Dahal and Nepal in a bid to prove their majority—not by actions but just by words, Sunday’s House meeting could see confrontation, some observers say.
After being politically split, the party’s lawmakers are likely to be split physically also when the House meeting commences, as the Dahal-Nepal faction, which is acting like an “opposition”, is likely to choose to sit on the other side of the aisle. But technically, lawmakers from the Dahal-Nepal faction are also part of the ruling party as of now.
Some leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction have hinted that they would try to stop Oli from entering the House, as he was the one who had “killed” it, only to be saved by the Supreme Court.
“We are discussing this issue well,” said Bhim Rawal, a lawmaker from the Dahal-Nepal faction. “We will make a decision by Sunday morning.” But how moral that move would be is a question and that apart, there are several issues that would make it too difficult for the House Speaker, according to people with good knowledge of parliamentary affairs.
Som Bahadur Thapa, a former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, said had the Election Commission taken a decision on the Nepal Communist Party legitimacy row, things would have been much easier in the House. “Sunday is going to be a tough day for the Speaker to ensure the House functions smoothly and decently,” Thapa told the Post. Speaker Agni Sapkota already faces accusations that he has been siding with the Dahal-Nepal faction. Sapkota was elected House Speaker in January last year after a weeks-long tug-of-war between Oli and Dahal.
Sapkota had made his reservations public about Oli’s House dissolution, calling it an unconstitutional move. He had even held consultations with some parties regarding calling the House meeting even as the case was pending at the Supreme Court.
Taranath Ranabhat, a former Speaker of the House, said the Dahal-Nepal faction too has a moral question before it, as it has already sacked Oli as the leader of the Parliamentary Party and elected Dahal as the Parliamentary Party leader.
In a parliamentary system, the leader of the Parliamentary Party of the party that commands a majority is chosen for the prime minister’s post.
“Oli will go to the House to prove his legitimacy, while the Dahal-Nepal faction will try to oppose his move,” Ranabhat told the Post. “Confrontation is inevitable. The only question is whether it is limited to verbal or goes beyond.”

Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.


Short of doses, government decides to vaccinate only those above 65 from today

The Health Ministry has 1.5 million shots, WHO is delivering 348,000 on Sunday and the delivery of a million doses from Serum Institute of India is expected within a week.
- Arjun Poudel
The second phase of vaccination begins on Sunday with Covishield shots available. REUTERS

The plan was to inoculate 3.7 million Nepalis above the age of 55 from Sunday as part of the second phase of a nation-wide immunisation campaign against Covid-19.
But now with only 1.5 million doses of vaccine in hand, the government has decided to inoculate only those above 65, who number 1.6 million.
“Yes, neither the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility could deliver us the doses it had committed earlier, nor could we buy sufficient doses on our own,” said an official at the Health Ministry, asking not to be named.
Of the 1.5 million vaccine doses, about 500,000 are what remain from the one million doses that India provided in January in grant and another million is what the Serum Institute of India has delivered of the two million Nepal bought last month.
Authorities expect the remaining million doses, bought at $4 per dose, to arrive within a week.
Nepal on Sunday will also get 348,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine from the World Health Organization’s COVAX programme although in early February, it had forecasted to provide 2,256,000 vaccine doses by the end of the month.
The United Nations health agency has committed to providing as a grant enough vaccines to inoculate 20 percent of the country’s population but with a worldwide scramble for the Covid-19 vaccine it is unclear when the rest of the vaccines will be delivered to Nepal.
Earlier, apart from those above 55, teachers of both private and community schools and staff members of private and public transportation services—totalling an estimated 300,000—were in the Health Ministry’s target group. But it is unclear when they will get the jabs.
“We can inoculate other people after we receive additional doses,” said Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry.
Besides those coming from the WHO on Sunday and the Serum Institute of India within a week, China has committed to provide 800,000 doses of the  BBIBP-CorV vaccine developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products Co Ltd (BBIBP) in China under Sinopharm and officials hope to receive them within the next few days.
The government’s plan to buy an additional five million doses has hit a roadblock as the Serum Institute of India has not responded to its request to sell the doses to Nepal, according to officials.
It has also refused to sell the scarce vaccine for the earlier price and now wants $5.50 to $6 per dose, officials at the Health Ministry said.
The Public Procurement Act-2015 does not allow the same product or service to be bought at a higher price and to untangle this legal knot, the Cabinet has to make a decision.
With the World Health Organization on February 16 authorising emergency use of Covishield, the global roll-out of the vaccine supplied through COVAX began and its demand has gone up. Covishield, developed by the University of Oxford and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, is the preferred choice of Nepal as the country’s existing system supports storage and supply of the vaccine.
But for the moment, the Ministry of Health and Population plans to inoculate all those above 65 years with the Covishield vaccine.
The programme will be launched from more than 2,000 immunisation centres of the over 16,000 such centres set up throughout the country for regular immunisation programmes of children.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli will inaugurate the programme by taking the jab at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, according to Pokharel.
The ministry said that President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun and office bearers of various constitutional bodies will also be inoculated in the second phase of the campaign.
Experts say that success of the second phase of campaign depends on the participation of the targeted group.
“We’d like to request all people above 65 to take the vaccine, which is safe and effective,” said Pokhrel.
Officials are aware of vaccine hesitancy among the population and have directed concerned agencies to monitor the situation.
“A minor incident [adverse effects following immunisation] could affect the immunisation programme,” Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of the Covid-19 vaccine advisory committee, told the Post.
“But we have alerted the agencies concerned about it and have directed them to take all possible measures to address any untoward incidents at the earliest.”
Nepal rolled out its vaccination drive on January 27 with 1 million doses of vaccine provided by India under grant assistance. In the first phase, front line workers—health workers, female community health volunteers, security personnel deployed for the management of bodies of people who died due to complications arising from coronavirus infections—as well as prisoners, ambulance drivers, people residing in old-age homes, journalists, diplomatic staff, employees of financial institutions, representatives and staffers of local governments and lawmakers were inoculated.
As the elderly with comorbidities are more at risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19, authorities are eager that they get vaccinated in the second phase.
“It is also the responsibility of the family members to get their eligible parents and grandparents immunised to keep them safe from the infection, as elderly people are at a greater risk of dying,” said Pokharel.

Page 2

Badi people’s sit-in continues for two weeks

Around 400 people of the Badi community have come to Surkhet for the protest, demanding land plots.
The protesting Badi people have been staying in makeshift tents for the past two weeks. Post Photo: Kalendra Sejuwal

For the past two weeks, people from the Badi community have been staging a sit-in in front of the Office of Chief Minister and Council of Ministers in Birendranagar demanding land plots for housing and cultivation purposes. But the authorities concerned have paid no heed to their demands.
Around 400 people of the Badi community from Surkhet, Dailekh, Kalikot and Jajarkot districts have come to Surkhet to stage a sit-in and demand for land plots.
“The provincial government has already said that providing land is not under its jurisdiction. And our voice has not yet reached the federal government,” said Prem Badi, the chairman of Badi Rights Struggle Committee. “We have not slept well or eaten full meals since we arrived here. It is still uncertain how long we’ll be staying here.”
The Badi community is one of the most deprived and marginalised groups in Nepal. According to the National Census conducted in 2011, there are 38,603 Badis living across the country—less than one percent of Nepal’s total population.
As per a book published last year named Identity and Status of Badi Community, around 43 percent of Badi people do not possess land of their own while many of the remaining 57 percent live on public land. The book also says around 75 percent of Badi people can barely manage food for themselves.
The protesting Badi people submitted separate memorandums to the provincial government and federal government through the Chief District Office of Surkhet on February 24, demanding that the authorities provide 15 kathas of land for a five-member Badi family who does not have land.
“I have never owned land in my life. I came here to take part in the sit-in so that my children and grandchildren can have their own land,” said Moti Badi of Manma in Kalikot. “But the government never listens to our problem.”
The Badi community has been struggling for a long time in Nepal.
In 2005, the Supreme Court had ordered the government to provide birth registration and citizenship
certificates to Badi children. However, a delay in the implementation of the Court’s decision led to a series of protests in Kathmandu two years later.
In 2007, more than 500 members of the Badi community from 23 districts staged a demonstration in front of Singha Durbar in Kathmandu. The protests subsequently paved the way for the rehabilitation and
social integration of the Badi people. Bowing to pressure from the protesters, the government had signed a 26-point agreement with the agitating community.
On January 7, 2009, the Cabinet decided to rehabilitate the Badi community by giving them land and providing them with income-generating skills. The government’s objective was to end poverty in the community and help its women to be free from prostitution with other financially rewarding options.
“But until now, the promises made by the government have not been addressed. Even today, the Badi people have to live with the same hardships. This is why we started this protest,” said Hikmat Badi, coordinator of the Badi Struggle Committee.
This time, 82 school-going Badi children have also participated in the ongoing sit-in. The children along with their parents are taking shelter in flimsy huts.
Gauri Badi, whose children are part of the sit-in, said that she is worried about her children’s studies.
“My eight-year-old daughter has not gone to school due to the protest,” she said. “We can barely manage two square meals a day for our family now. On top of that, I have to worry about her studies.”
Life in the makeshift tents is not easy, says Prem Badi, chairman of Badi Rights Struggle Committee.
“Children, women and senior citizens are affected the most by the current living situation,” he said. “Even the tents are not sufficient for everybody. Many are sleeping under the open sky with empty stomachs.”
Meanwhile, Chief District Officer of Surkhet Chhabilal Rijal said a memorandum submitted by the representatives of the Badi community has been forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs for hearing.
“The local administration has informed the Badi people that their demands will be addressed by the Land Problems Resolution Commission,” Rijal said. “The commission is collecting data on landless people through the local units.
Badi people should also be included in the list.”


Karnali Corridor bringing prosperity in the region

Economic activities have increased in various districts of Karnali Province with the construction of the corridor.
- Tularam Pandey,RAJ BAHADUR SHAHI
The road project has made it easier for goods to be transported to rural villages in Karnali. Post Photo: Tularam Pandey

The daily life of 78-year-old Aja Pharsal of Shantighat in Kalikot Ward No. 6 has changed. Until five years ago, Pharsal had to walk around three hours to reach the nearest marketplace to sell his vegetables. Now, with the construction of the Karnali Corridor, his vegetables reach the market via vehicles.
The number of professional farmers in the remote areas of Karnali has also increased with easy road access. The corridor has not only increased professional farming in the rural areas but also opened doors for development and prosperity in the region.
“With the opening of road tracks, people don’t need to carry daily essentials like oil, salt, rice grains and clothes on their backs anymore,” said Pharsal. “I make more money from my vegetable farming now since I can easily access marketplaces.”
Parilal Neupane, a resident of Neupanebada in Ward No. 1 of Raskot, has been selling cardamoms worth Rs 300,000 annually.
“I make good money from selling cardamoms in the local market,” said Neupane.
A total of 27 people have started vegetable farming in Thirpu, Ward No. 9 of Palata after the road access. Raj Bahadur Bam, acting chief administrative officer of the rural municipality, said, “The road access has increased economic activities in the village. The prices of daily essentials have also become cheaper. After the road access, the commute has been shortened to two hours from one whole day.”
The Jitegada-Bajura road along the Kalikot stretch of Karnali Corridor came into operation last week. Simikot, the district headquarters of Humla, is 196 kilometres from Khulalu of Kalikot.  
Ratan Bahadur Shahi, chairman of Kalikot Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that markets had been extended and business activities increased with road connectivity.
“The goods are available in the local markets at the same price as in the district headquarters”, said Shahi.   
The construction of the Karnali Corridor is underway at the estimated cost of Rs2.84 billion. The NA said that it cost around Rs 7 million to construct a kilometre of the road stretch.
The road project has also created employment opportunities in various districts of Karnali Province. Anga Bahadur Shahi of Soru Rural Municipality-4 in Mugu district has not gone to India for the past three years, as he’s been working for the road construction project.
Birkha Bahadur Shahi of Photugaun in the same rural municipality said he could earn around Rs 500,000 a year by working in the corridor project. Not only Anga Bahadur and Birkha Bahadur but around 300 people of Sorukot have gotten employment opportunities in their village through the project. The road project has also made it easy for local farmers to get their products to the market and for daily essentials to be brought to the villages.
“The living standards of the people have improved due to increased economic activities. The prices of goods in the local markets have also decreased due to the road connectivity,” said Dhanbir Bogati of Kalikot.  
The price of land connected with the Karnali Corridor has skyrocketed. “Local residents started building houses and huts near the corridor and ran hotels and other shops,” said Kamal Shahi of Kalikot. According to him, the price of land abutting the corridor and rent of houses in the road area have increased by five folds within the past couple of years.
The barren land which was left unused until a few years ago has turned into a market place because of the corridor construction. Local markets have been set up in Dhulachaur of Bajura and Balu, Kuna and Tirthasain of Humla.
“People are now migrating to the roadside from the villages to start businesses,” said Surjit Malla of Dhainakot.
The recent opening of a 122km road track from Khulalu to Balukuna in Humla along the Karnali Corridor has eased vehicular movement in the region. Nepal Army had begun the construction of the road track in March 2015. The construction work has now reached its final stage
with only a kilometre of the road track to be opened. The total length of the road from Khulalu to Salisalla is 123 kilometres.
“The remaining one kilometre of the road track will be opened by mid-May. If everything works as expected, the road section will be handed over to the government within the current fiscal year,” said Major Milan Karki, who is also the chief at the Nepal Army Road Construction Task Force in Karnali.

Page 3

Water from Melamchi finally arrives in Kathmandu

After decades of bungling, project will first clean the tunnel and then distribute water to households in the city, officials say.
Water from Melamchi River, which is being diverted to quench the thirst of Capital residents, on Saturday afternoon reached Sundarijal, marking amilestone for the elusive project marred by years of delays and mismanagement. Photo Courtesy: Rajan Kafle/ Prime Minister’s secretariat 

Melamchi water has finally entered Kathmandu Valley.
After a decades-long wait and missing countless deadlines, water from the Melamchi river in Sindhupalchok district has finally made it to Kathmandu.
Water from Melamchi River, which is being diverted to quench the thirst of Capital residents, on Saturday afternoon reached Sundarijal, marking a milestone for the elusive project, which has been marred by years of delays, corruption, and mismanagement.
“Melamchi water reaching Sundrijal is a new beginning,” said Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, speaking at an event organised to mark the arrival of water at Sundarijal. “A long dream of bringing water from Melamchi to Kathmandu Valley has come true today. This is a happy day as we have succeeded in bringing drinking water for a large number of the population.”
The water from Melamchi reached Sundarijal as part of the tunnel testing process. The Melamchi Water Supply Project had started testing its 26.3 km tunnel by releasing water into it on February 22. The water was released into the main tunnel in the intake area at Helambu Rural Municipality-1, Sindhupalchok.
After 12 days of its journey from Sindhupalchok through the long tunnel, the Melamchi water reached Sundarijal, in Gokarneshwar Municipality, northeast of Kathmandu.
According to Madhav Belbase, secretary at the Ministry of Water Supply, 260 litres of water was released into the tunnel per second for the test.
“Although the project was affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have made remarkable progress,” said Belbase. “After a tiring wait and immense efforts, we have reached a crucial state of supplying water to Kathmandu Valley.”
The water from Melamchi will not reach the homes of Valley residents immediately. The water was supplied for cleaning the tunnel. The wastewater will be slowly flushed into the Bagmati river.
“The water that came at Sundarijal was for flushing the tunnel and is a significant development,” said Tiresh Prasad Khatri, executive director of the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, the government body that oversees the water supply project. “It shows there are no major defects inside the tunnel.”
According to Khatri, only five percent of the tunnel’s water carrying capacity was used for the test in the initial phase. “The tunnel testing is likely to go for nearly two months before the water can be put into the water treatment plant at Sundarijal.”
Two water treatment plants—each with a capacity of 85 million litres—have been built for storing and treating the water before it is distributed to the Valley residents. Most works for supplying water to the households like laying pipes, constructing nine reservoir tanks for storing water before distribution has been
Government officials estimate it will take at least two more months before the Valley residents will get Melamchi water at their households.
The project had conducted a similar test in July last year. But the test resulted in a disaster when the high-velocity water burst-open a control gate, killing two employees. This time, a group of four experts had studied the tunnel, intake structure, and water control gate and submitted a report to the ministry and the board.
The national pride project is expected to divert 170 million litres of water daily to the Valley from Melamchi River in Sindhupalchok district in the first phase. In the second phase, the project is estimated to fetch 170 million litres of water each from Yangri and Larke rivers, supplying 510 million litres of water daily to Kathmandu Valley.
The project has long been embroiled in controversy and plagued by several delays over the years. After the Italy-based Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna (CMC) abandoned the project in December 2018 over a financial dispute with the government, a Chinese contractor was hired in September 2019 for completing the remaining works.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic further hit the progress when the much-awaited project was on course to meet a fresh deadline of mid-July, 2020 for supplying water to Katmandu.
Then Water Supply Minister Bina Magar, in February last year, had vowed that Melamchi water would reach Valley by the end of the fiscal year 2019-2020.
For now, the Melamchi water will be slowly released into the Bagmati river. The water coming from Melamchi will be then held for a few more days and once the tunnel is full, it will be completely flushed into Bagmati on March 10.
“More water will be dropped into the Bagmati from March 10, meaning Shivaratri festival devotees can bathe in relatively clean water. This will also help in cleaning the Bagmati river,” said Oli.
“For now, the Melamchi water has been released into the river. The arrival of water at Sundarijal guarantees that Melamchi water has reached Kathmandu and will be reaching the doorsteps of Kathmandu residents soon.”


As chief ministers go troubleshooting for Oli, provincial governance takes hit

Every time prime minister faces trouble in the Nepal Communist Party, Pokharel and Gurung rush to Kathmandu. They are now at the forefront of efforts to save the party.

 Prithvi Subba Gurung, chief minister of Gandaki Province, had a pre-scheduled plan to inaugurate a drinking water project in Syangja on Saturday. The plan, however, was postponed as he had to rush to Kathmandu to make a last ditch effort to keep the Nepal Communist Party intact.
He left Pokhara on Friday evening, a few hours after the Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal led-faction of the Nepal Communist Party elected Dahal as the party’s parliamentary party leader.
Gurung, who is close to Oli, had been in Kathmandu two weeks back too when he held meetings with the second rung leaders of the Dahal-Nepal faction of the party as an attempt to find ways to avoid a party split. He had returned to his duty station after a series of meetings.
Before Gurung landed in the federal Capital, Shankar Pokharel, chief minister of Lumbini Province, was in Kathmandu holding talks with the second rung leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction.
Though he returned back to Butwal on Thursday evening after a couple of days, Pokharel might come again in a couple days, according  to his personal aide.
Pokharel, who is a close confidant of Oli, rushes to Kathmandu, whenever the party or Oli is in trouble. On several occasions, in the past, Pokharel together with other leaders from the party including Gurung, have stopped the Nepal Communist Party from splitting.
As the party, which has split politically, is still intact legally, Pokharel and Gurung, Standing Committee members from Oli the camp, have been making last minute efforts to save party unity. It’s been over a year since the Nepal Communist Party started facing trouble and been on the verge of a split. Each time a split was averted as the leaders from both the Oli and Dahal-Nepal sides found a temporary way out to save the party. Pokharel and Gurung have played instrumental roles on every such occasion.
In the last one year both the leaders have come to Kathmandu at least over a dozen of times mainly to back up Oli in the party meetings and to work towards bridging differences within the party.  
Pokharel was elected as the secretary of the CPN-UML in the eighth general convention in 2010. He, however, was defeated by Ghanshyam Bhusal as the party’s deputy general secretary from the ninth general convention held in 2014. Gurung was elected secretary of the UML from the ninth general convention.
Political experts say in a parliamentary democracy the party leaders are the one who are elected in the executive, therefore, it is natural for them to be involved in the party activities.
However, there are limitations, they say.
According to Lok Raj Baral, professor of Political Science at Tribhuvan University, when Pokharel and Gurung took the office of chief ministers, their primary responsibility became performing their assigned jobs.
“However, they are equally busy in managing party activities in Kathmandu,” he told the Post.
Both Gurung and Pokharel are ambitious leaders aspiring for leadership positions in the party in future. They are also considered studious and the administratively able leaders.
According to an aide to Gurung, given his position in the party it is natural for him to divide his time between Pokhara and Kathmandu.
“He had to move to Kathmandu despite a busy schedule because he also has an important responsibility to save the party,” Bikram Neupane, communication advisor to Gurung, told the Post. “Trouble in the party doesn’t only affect the centre but also the provinces.”
Experts say three years passed the provincial governments came into being but they are still struggling to operate as full-fledged federal units. While it is partially because of the centralised mindset of the federal government, the provincial governments are partially responsible for it, according to them.
Khim Lal Devkota, an expert on federalism and former vice-chair of the provincial planning commission in Bagmati province, said while it was good for the federalism that the leaders of the stature of Pokharel and Gurung are leading the provincial governments, the dual responsibility has affected their performance in the provinces.
“The provinces would definitely have fared better had they focussed themselves as in their job of chief ministers,” said Devkota.  
Experts feel that they  should dedicate themselves to the party or to governing the provinces.
“They always have an option to give up the chief ministerial position and focus on the party activities,” said Baral. “They should be clear on what they want.”
But on the other hand, they are just following the footsteps of their leader Prime Minister Oli, he said.
“You cannot expect the chief minister to stick in their duty stations when the prime minister of the country doesn’t go to Singhadurbar for months,” Baral said.  
Oli entered his office in Singhadurbar after 10 months on February 15 to inaugurate the rebuilt main administrative building of the country which had  been destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.


Pashupati Area Development Trust’s new building for shops remains unused


As pilgrims visiting the Pashupatinath temple early morning pass through the Bankali area, shopkeepers selling flowers, souvenirs and offerings for the temple descend on them. They forcefully try to sell their wares to pilgrims, especially if they have come to the holy site empty-handed. While some pilgrims buy from the shopkeepers, others who see them as nuisance, shoo them away.
To address this very problem, Pashupati Area Development Trust in 2016 constructed a complex in Bankali to house over five dozen shops. But instead of selling their products from the shops, the shopkeepers, who operate from shacks rented out by
the trust, continue to create hassles for pilgrims.
“The trust has already built a building for shops. But these sellers continue to pester pilgrims,” said Dipti Adhikari, a resident from Purano Baneshwor, one of the pilgrims heading to the temple on a recent morning.
“Every time I come to Pashupati through Bankali, I see visitors face so much nagging,” Adhikari told the Post. “The sellers force their goods on to the visitors,” added the 37-year-old.
Pashupatinath, considered one of the holies of Hindu temples, reopened in December after remaining closed for nine months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 20,000 visitors visit the temple every day according to the trust.
Construction of the complex for shops was completed during the tenure of former member-secretary Govinda Tandon in 2016. A year later, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation appointed Pradeep Dhakal as member-secretary of the trust. It’s been over three years since he took charge, but Dhakal has been unable to relocate the shops.
“We tried to relocate them, but there are only 64 shops available for over 200 sellers,” said Dhakal. He said the trust is trying to convince the shop owners and find another alternative for them to resolve the problem.
When the Post visited the shop complex, all the shops were closed, and beggars and sadhus were sleeping in front of it.
“We are ready to go if the trust gives us alternatives,” said Nanu Basnet, 42, who has been selling flowers in the area for three generations. “I also don’t want to create hassles for customers,” she added, admitting that pilgrims are sometimes forced to buy offerings.
“I have been to the police station four times, because I was attacked by another shop owner. Here only those that can fight can sell their souvenirs or flowers,” said Basnet. She said she needs to pay Rs 8,000 to the trust every month for a small shack that she uses as a shop.
Sahadev Basnet, 64, another flower shop owner, however, said he is not willing to shift to the new place. “This is our family business for generations and the only source of income. If we relocate, our business will suffer,” said Basnet.
He said that only authentic shopkeepers who have been in the business for a long time should be allowed to run shops in the area. “We are the real traders of flowers, the government demolished our house because it was on the premises of Pashupatinath, and it gave us this place to run a shop,” said Basnet. “But now new people have shown up,” said Basnet.
Tandon, former member-secretary at the trust, said it was a misfortune that the new building hadn’t been used. “If the shops were relocated, the place would have looked better and visitors would not have to bear with the problem,” said Tandon.
 He said over 250 million was spent to construct the new building, but in vain.


Speed breakers to be removed


BARDIYA: An all party meeting on Friday decided to remove breakers from Khata biological corridor along the Postal Highway in Bardiya. The breakers were constructed along the 1.5km-long highway eight months ago to minimise hit and run cases. Chief District Officer of Bardiya Santa Bahadur Sunar said, “The decision to remove the breakers was made in light of the increasing cases of attacks by wild animals.”


Salt solution technology to preserve dead bodies


SUNSARI: The BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences in Dharan has prepared a saturated salt solution technology to preserve dead bodies. According to Dr Prabhakar Yadav, an associate professor at the Department of Anatomy, the hospital has started using the technology from Friday. “The hospital had been testing the technology since mid-November 2020. We can now preserve dead bodies for at least a year.”


Man held on murder charge


PALPA: Gulmi police made public a 47-year-old man on the charge of killing a 21-year-old woman of Resunga Municipality Ward No. 3 on Thursday. According to police, the body of the woman who went missing on February 11 was found near her house on March 1.

Page 4

Three years of provincial governments

Despite the challenges, all seven provinces of Nepal have made many achievements.
Women visit the office of the Province 2 Chief Minister to insure their newly born daughters as part of the ‘Beti Bachau-Beti Padhau’ campaign. Post file photo

Nepal has made great strides within a short time of implementing federalism. A culture of coordination and cooperation has been promoted between the federal, provincial and local levels. All seven provinces except Province 2 have named their permanent capitals. And all except Provinces 1 and 2 have finalised their names. Despite the challenges, the provinces have embarked on important work in a span of three years.
During this period, necessary institutional structures have been established. As per the 57th report of the Office of the Auditor General released last July, 1,080 offices have been formed in the provinces including the directorate. Almost all the provinces have conducted organisation and management surveys based on need and justification. In terms of government employees, 13,821 staffers have been integrated into the provinces. The main problem seen now is staff management. Due to a lack of personnel, the provincial governments have not been able to work as planned.
The provinces have also prepared roadmaps for provincial development. Except for Sudhurpaschim Province, all the provinces have made public their first periodic plan. Province 1 has also prepared a 10-year master plan for its road network. Development and monitoring related structures such as the Provincial Development Council and Provincial Development Action Committee have also been formed. The Provincial Public Service Commission has been formed for the management of staff at the provincial and local levels. At present, the commissions are working on the appointment of staff.

Coordination and cooperation
Due to the repeated efforts of the chief ministers, the Inter-Province Council has become active to some extent. Some work has been done as per the federalism implementation facilitation action plan, including transferring some institutional structures to the provinces. Apart from this, the Inter-Governmental Fiscal Council and the National Development Action Committee have become a tool to solve the problems of the provinces. The Provincial Coordinating Council under the coordination of the chief minister for resolving issues between the province and local levels is also active to some extent.
Various thematic committees have also been established to coordinate and cooperate in social, economic, infrastructure and other fields between the province and local levels. The provinces have also provided assistance and coordination in the areas of local-level law-making and capacity building. The practice of fiscal transfer to the local level by the provinces has also been initiated. Out of the total provincial budget of Rs264 billion for the current fiscal year 2020-21, the provinces have transferred around 11 percent to the local levels. In all provinces, a Provincial Centre for Good Governance has been established. The centres are providing training on various areas to provincial and local level officials. This institution has also given the message of the importance of devolution.
In order to address the suggestions and grievances of the people, some provinces have conducted Chief Minister, Hello Chief Minister programmes. Bagmati Province has held an investment conference to attract capital. The event held in Chitwan has created a lot of excitement among investors. Other provinces are also planning to hold similar events, but they have been held up due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The provinces are also coordinating with foreign donors with the permission of the federal government. For example, the Government of Switzerland has agreed to provide a grant of Rs1 billion to the Province 1 government for their Provincial Support Programme. A bilateral agreement was signed with the Swiss government in January 2020.

Trust in federalism
Various programmes have been implemented to improve the social, economic and infrastructural sectors. Province 1 has made arrangements for issuing easy educational loans without collateral for the children of the poor to study Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS). Province 2 has initiated the Mukhyamantri Beti Padau, Beti Bachao Abhiyan (Educate Daughter, Save Daughter) and Chhori Sikchhya Muddati Yojana (Daughter Education Deposit Scheme) programmes. Bagmati Province has implemented a One School One Nurse programme. Gandaki Province has started the construction of five model schools in Manang, Mustang and Myagdi districts for enhancing education to poor and deprived communities.
Lumbini Province has arranged to provide monthly scholarships of Rs1,000 to girls from freed Kamaiya, Kamalari, Muslim and Dalit communities who are attending community schools. Karnali Province has started a technical and vocational higher education programme for daughters-in-law, Dalits and disabled persons. Sudhurpaschim Province has conducted programmes including Sanai chhu badhna deu, Balbibaha hoina padhna deu (I am small, let me grow up; give me an education, not child marriage) programme.
In terms of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, the provincial governments have done a commendable job. Some of the tasks include forming sectoral committees at various levels, establishing quarantine and isolation centres in coordination and cooperation with the local level, managing health equipment and infrastructure, conducting public awareness programmes, distributing relief and establishing hospitals. Some provinces have also conducted relief and rehabilitation programmes to help affected farmers and industrial and commercial sectors. Lumbini Province has implemented a relief programme in the agricultural sector, and Gandaki Province has launched an Rs1 billion business relief package.
The last three years were very difficult and uncomfortable for the provinces. They have not been able to get the expected support from the centre in the areas of resource transfer, organisation building, staff management, law and policymaking, and capacity building. The delay in formulating criteria for the Provincial Public Service Commission also held up its establishment.
The federal Civil Service Act has not been passed, and the commissions still have problems to function properly.
The provinces that started from scratch have done a lot despite the challenges. The most important task is strengthening the foundation of federalism. After the local level, they have been able to give the impression that the provincial government is also the closest to the people. In short, over a period of three years, the provinces have worked to instil hope and confidence in federalism at all levels. In order to implement federalism with sincerity, it is necessary to create a working environment for the provinces. It also needs the attention of the federal government and the related stakeholders. The success of the provincial governments is essential for the success of the federal system in Nepal.

Devkota holds a PhD and is a fiscal federalism and local government analyst.


Asian demonstrators and the American Dream

The US was always a selective supporter of democracy, and now it is a diminished one.

Luke Stackpoole/Unsplash
One month ago, in Myanmar, protesters against the military coup gathered around the United States embassy in Yangon. They called on President Joe Biden to make the generals go back to their barracks and free Aung San Suu Kyi from detention. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won a big victory in the 2020 general election, which is why the generals, afraid of losing their privileges, seized power.
But is the US embassy the best place to protest? Can the US president do anything substantial apart from expressing disapproval of the coup? The protesters’ hope for a US intervention shows that America’s image as the champion of global freedom is not yet dead, even after four years of Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ isolationism.
Demonstrators in Hong Kong last year, protesting against China’s harsh crackdown on the territory’s autonomy, even regarded Trump as an ally. He was erratically hostile to China, so the protesters waved the stars and stripes, hoping that America would help to keep them free from Chinese communist authoritarianism.
America’s self-appointed mission to spread freedom around the world has a long history. Many foolish wars were fought as a result. But US democratic idealism has been an inspiration to many as well. America long saw itself, in John F Kennedy’s words, as a country ‘engaged in a world-wide struggle in which we bear a heavy burden to preserve and promote the ideals that we share with all mankind.’
As Hungarians found out when they rose up against the Soviet Union in 1956, words often prove to be empty. The Hungarian Revolution, encouraged by the US, was crushed after 17 days; the US did nothing to help those it had egged on.
Sometimes, however, freedom has been gained with American help, and not just against Hitler’s tyranny in Western Europe. During the 1980s, people in the Philippines and South Korea rebelled against dictatorships in huge demonstrations, not unlike those in Hong Kong, Thailand, and Myanmar in the last two years. So, of course, did people in the People’s Republic of China, where a ten-meter tall ‘Goddess of Democracy,’ modelled on the Statue of Liberty, was erected on Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The Chinese demonstrations ended in a bloody disaster, but pro-democracy forces toppled Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship in the Philippines and South Korea’s military regime. Support from the US was an important factor. In Taiwan, too, authoritarianism was replaced by democracy, again with some US assistance.
But what worked in the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan is unlikely to work in Thailand, Hong Kong, or Myanmar. The main reason is that the former three countries were what leftists called ‘client states’ during the Cold War. Their dictators were ‘our dictators,’ protected by the US as anti-communist allies.
Propped up by American money and military largesse, they could continue to oppress their people, so long as the US saw communism as a global threat. Once China opened for business and Soviet power waned, they suddenly became vulnerable. Marcos was pressed on American TV to promise to hold a free and fair election. When he tried to steal the result, a US senator told him to ‘cut and cut cleanly.’ Marcos duly ran for his helicopter and ended up in exile in Hawaii.
Similarly, when South Korean students, supported by much of the middle-class, poured into the streets, angry not only with their military government, but with its US backer, America finally came down on the side of democracy. Dependent on American military protection, the generals had to listen when the US urged them to step aside.
The generals in Thailand and Myanmar have no reason to do likewise. Biden can threaten sanctions and voice his outrage. But with China willing to step in as Myanmar’s patron, the junta has no reason to worry very much (though the military has been wary of China up to now).
Thailand’s rulers, too, benefit from Chinese influence, and the country has a long history of playing one great power against another. And because Hong Kong is officially part of China, there is little any outside power can do to protect its freedoms, no matter how many American flags people wave in the streets.
Dependence on the US in Europe and Asia, and the clout that Americans held as a result, was sustained by the Cold War. Now, a new cold war is looming, this time with China. But US power has been greatly diminished since its zenith in the 20th century. Trust in American democracy has been eroded by the election of an ignorant narcissist who bullied traditional allies, and China is a more formidable power than the Soviet Union ever was. It is also vastly richer.
Countries in East and Southeast Asia still need US support for their security. As long as Japan is hindered from playing a leading military role, because of a tainted past and a pacifist constitution, the US will continue to be the main counterweight to China’s increasing dominance. But as Thailand’s deft balancing of powers demonstrates, US allies are unlikely to become ‘client states’ in the way some were before. Even the South Koreans are careful not to upset their relations with China. The US is far; China is near.
This pattern is to be expected. US dominance can’t last forever, and Asian countries, as well as Europeans, should wean themselves from total dependence on a not-always-dependable power to protect them. Being a ‘client state’ can be humiliating. Yet, the day may come when some people, somewhere, might miss Pax Americana, when the US was powerful enough to push out the unwanted rascals.

Buruma is the author, most recently, of The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, From Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit.

Page 5

Scheme to motivate tax arrears payment sees poor response

Just over 8,000 people have taken advantage of the scheme so far against the targeted participation of more than 40,000.
Tax officials and experts say that an increase in the number of non-filers is due to the rise in non-compliance to the tax laws. SHUTTERSTOCK

When the government introduced a waiver scheme targeting people who had failed to submit their tax details and applicable taxes, it had expected participation from over 40,000 taxpayers. But with the scheme’s deadline nearing, only 20 percent of the targeted taxpayers have so far approached the tax offices so far. The scheme introduced in June last year offers waiver on fine, interest and service fee to taxpayers who submit their tax details and pay the back taxes of past years by mid-March this year.
But the number of taxpayers willing to take advantage of the scheme has been disappointing, according to the Department of Inland Revenue.
“Only around 5,000 taxpayers out of the targeted 29,447 who had VAT dues, have approached the tax offices so far. Likewise, only 3,000 taxpayers out of 11,303 who owed back income taxes have come forward to clear their dues,” said Mukti Pandey, deputy director general of the department. “Many taxpayers have the tendency
of paying their taxes in the last few days before the deadline, so we hope that more taxpayers will participate in the scheme.”
Pandey is not expecting all the taxpayers to participate in the scheme.
“Some of the people are out of contact and many have folded their businesses and moved abroad,” he added.
On October 9 last year, the department had made public a list of taxpayers with VAT dues. On November 24, the tax authority released another list of taxpayers who had not submitted tax details and were avoided paying their tax.
The waiver scheme was introduced in a bid to recover unpaid taxes.
As per  Section 21 (3) of the Financial Act 2020, the tax authority asked the taxpayers to submit VAT details and pay the VAT until mid-July 2018 and 50 percent of applicable interest by mid-March this year. In return, the concerned taxpayers can enjoy exemption of fine, additional fee and remaining interest.
The tax authority also asked the taxpayers to submit income tax details and applicable tax for the fiscal years 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 along with 50 percent of applicable interest as per Section 21 (1) and (2) of  the Financial Act 2020.
For doing so, the concerned taxpayers will not have to submit tax details of earlier fiscal years while applicable taxes, fee and remaining interest will also be exempted.
If any taxpayer having an annual transaction of over Rs5 million had failed to submit tax details and applicable tax until fiscal year 2016-17, they can submit tax details of those years, pay applicable tax along with 25 percent of applicable interest by mid-March this year. The complying taxpayers will get a waiver of fee and remaining interest.
As per the scheme, taxpayers with VAT dues until fiscal year 2016-17 who do not participate in the scheme will be de-registered by the tax authority. But their VAT dues will be recovered nevertheless.
Pandey said that the tax authority has made several efforts to increase the participation of taxpayers through the scheme.
“We have created awareness campaigns at the local level, asked local governments to help us identify the taxpayers, sent messages to the taxpayers through mobile and issued the notice through business associations and chambers,” he said.
A former official at the department told the Post that the participation in such a waiver scheme used to be fairly good in the past.“I don’t know why the participation remained low this time. Perhaps, it may be due to the impact suffered by businesses due to the Covid-19 pandemic, or perhaps the publicity was not as widespread,” the officials said.
Another former department official said  there are three types of taxpayers who don’t submit tax details and pay the applicable tax.
“Some taxpayers ignore submitting tax details and paying tax for not doing any transactions despite registering at the tax office, others default on tax willfully and some don’t want to pay the back tax due to legal battle with the tax authorities,” he said. “The tax dues from willful defaulters should be recovered through administrative measures.”
A significant number of taxpayers registered with the tax office don’t submit the tax details and are known as non-filers and they also don’t pay the applicable taxes, according to the Department of Inland Revenue.
In the fiscal year 2018-19, the percentage of non-filers  related to income tax was 48 percent, as per the department’s Annual Report 2019-20. Non-filers of income tax of the last fiscal year 2019-20 will be determined this fiscal year as they are supposed to pay the income  tax of last fiscal year in the current fiscal year.
The proportion of taxpayers failing to pay VAT in the fiscal year 2019-20 was 38.46 percent, a sharp increase from 25.1 percent in the fiscal year 2018-19. One of the reasons for the surge in the proportion of non-filers is the extension of the deadline for submitting VAT details and making payment because of the lockdown, according to the officials.
The government had extended the deadline several times. The latest extension was till August 26 last year since the lockdown was imposed on March 24. Tax officials and experts say that an increase in the number of non-filers is due to the rise in non-compliance to the tax laws.
“The government should focus on increasing compliance to boost revenue amid shrinking revenue,” said former finance Secretary Shanta Raj Subedi.


Indian gold buyers pile in as prices dip to one-year low


Retail consumers in India continued to buy up physical gold this week as prices retreated to a near one-year low, while lower rates also injected fresh activity in other hubs, especially Singapore.
Dealers charged up to $5 an ounce over official domestic prices, inclusive of 12.5 percent import and 3 percent sales levies, compared with last week’s premium of $4.
“Demand has significantly improved in the past few days. Retail buyers are making purchases, especially for weddings,” said Mangesh Devi, a jeweller based in Satara in the western state of Maharashtra.
On Friday, local gold futures fell to 44,217 rupees per 10 grams, a trough since April 7.
Jewellers were also making healthy purchases in the first half of the week, but now a few of them have paused expecting further fall in prices, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a bullion importing bank.
In Singapore, premiums of $1.60-$2 an ounce were charged, with strong demand arising from low local prices.
“We’ve seen an increase in demand, in particular from retail clients, for both gold and silver, as prices have come down a bit,” said Brian Lan, managing director at dealer GoldSilver Central, adding that wholesalers are also covering their short positions.
Chinese customers were charged premiums of about $6-$7 an ounce over benchmark spot gold prices, unchanged from last week as demand was stable, but not high, dealers said.
In Hong Kong, dealers sold bullion at anywhere between a discount of $3 and a premium of $2 relative to the benchmark. Japanese dealers charged a premium of $0.50.


US labour market roars back; full recovery still years away

A file photo shows construction workers waiting in line to do a temperature test to return to the job site after lunch in New York.  REUTERS

The US economy created more jobs than expected in February as   falling new Covid-19 infections and additional pandemic relief money from the government boosted hiring at restaurants and other services businesses, firmly putting the labour market recovery back on track.
Though job growth momentum is expected to build in the months ahead amid an acceleration in the pace of vaccinations and more fiscal stimulus, it will probably take several years for the labour market to heal from
the deep scars inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, which is now in its second year.
The Labour Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday showed at least 4.1 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, accounting for 41.5 percent of the unemployed population in February. Another 3.5 million have permanently lost their jobs.
“There remains easy fuel for strong payroll gains in coming months as the reopening gains momentum,” said Robert Rosener, an economist at Morgan Stanley in New York. “But there is much further to go before conditions are consistent with maximum employment.”
Nonfarm payrolls surged by 379,000 jobs last month after rising 166,000 in January. Payrolls fell in December for the first time in eight months. The economy has recouped 12.7 million of the 22.2 million jobs lost in the pandemic recession.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast February payrolls increasing by 182,000 jobs. Restaurants and
bars hired 286,000 workers, accounting for 75 percent of the payrolls gain. There were also increases in employment at hotels and motels and at amusements, gambling and recreation establishments.
Altogether, leisure and hospitality employment jumped by 355,000 jobs, making up 94 percent of all jobs created last month.
Temporary help, a harbinger for future hiring, increased further. Healthcare and social assistance also added jobs, and retailers hired 41,000 workers. Manufacturing payrolls increased by 21,000 jobs. About half of the factory job gains were in transportation equipment, despite a global semiconductor chip shortage, which has forced some automakers to cut production.
But construction employment decreased by 61,000 jobs because of bitter cold across the country. Government payrolls dropped by 86,000 jobs, with losses concentrated at state and local governments. The diffusion index, or measure of private industries expanding, jumped to 57.0 from 48.4 in January.
Unseasonably cold weather shortened the average workweek to 34.6 hours from 34.9 hours.
The surge in hiring follows on the heels of a strong rebound in consumer spending in January, which prompted economists to sharply upgrade their growth estimates for the first quarter.
A decrease in daily coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, and nearly $900 billion in stimulus provided by the government at the end of December are driving the revival in activity. That has raised concerns that President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion recovery plan under consideration by Congress, combined with the Federal Reserve’s near zero interest rates and bond purchases, could cause the economy to overheat. US Treasury yields have spiked as investors anticipate higher inflation. Biden is not backing down.
“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” Biden said at a White House economic briefing. “We can’t afford one step forward, two steps backward. People need the help now.”
Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Thursday again brushed aside the inflation concerns, saying he expected the US central bank “will be patient” until the economy is “very far along the road to recovery.”
Even as the labour market recovery is regaining steam, ample slack remains. Though the unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent last month from 6.3 percent in January, it continued to be understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Without this problem, the unemployment rate would have been 6.7 percent. It is about 9.5 percent, including people who have given up the search for work.

Page 6

Coronavirus variants power surges in cases across European countries

Europe records 1 million new Covid-19 cases in a week, an increase of 9 percent from the previous week, WHO says.
Carabinieri officers patrol one of the main access roads to Bollate, Italy. AP/rss

The virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school in the Milan suburb of Bollate with amazing speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members had tested positive.
Genetic analysis confirmed what officials already suspected: The highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in England was racing through the community, a densely packed city of nearly 40,000 with a chemical plant and Pirelli bicycle tire factory a 15-minute drive from the heart of Milan.
“This is the demonstration that the virus has a sort of intelligence, even if it is a single-cell organism. We can put up all the barriers in the world and imagine that they work, but in the end, it adapts and penetrates them,’’ lamented Bollate Mayor Francesco Vassallo.
Bollate was the first city in Lombardy, the northern region that has been the epicentre in each of Italy’s three surges, to be sealed off from neighbours because of mutant versions that the World Health Organization says are now powering another uptick in infections across Europe. The variants also include versions first identified in South Africa and Brazil.
Europe recorded 1 million new Covid-19 cases last week, an increase of 9 percent from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline, WHO said.
“The spread of the variants is driving the increase, but not only,’’ said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, citing “also the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”
The so-called UK variant is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 by the agency’s count: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.
It is up to 50 percent more transmissible than the virus that surged last spring and again in the fall, making it more adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective, WHO experts warned.
“That is why health systems are struggling more now,” Kluge said. “It really is at a tipping point. We have to hold the fort and be very vigilant.”
In Lombardy, which bore the brunt of Italy’s spring surge, intensive care wards are again filling up as more than two-thirds of new positive tests are of the UK variant, health officials said this week.
After putting two provinces and some 50 towns on a modified lockdown, Lombardy’s regional governor announced tightened restrictions on Friday and closed classrooms for all age groups. Cases in Milan schools alone surged 33 percent in a week, the head of the provincial health system said.
The situation is dire in the Czech Republic, which registered a record-breaking total of nearly 8,500 patients in the hospital with Covidd-19 this week. Poland is opening temporary hospitals and imposing a partial lockdown as the variant has grown from 10 percent of all infections in February to 25 percent now.
Kluge cited Britain’s experience as cause for optimism, noting that well-considered restrictions and the introduction of the vaccine have helped tamp down the variants there and in Israel. The vaccine roll-out in the European Union, by comparison, is lagging, mostly because of supply problems.
In Britain, the emergence of the more transmissible strain sent cases soaring in December and triggered a national lockdown in January. Cases have since plummeted, from about 60,000 a day at the peak in early January to about 7,000 a day.
Still, a study shows the rate of decline slowing, and the government says it will tread cautiously with plans to ease the lockdown. That process begins Monday with the reopening of schools. Infection rates are highest in people ages 13 to 17, and officials will watch closely to see whether the return to class brings a spike in infections.
While the UK variant is dominant in France, forcing lockdowns in the French Riviera city of Nice and the northern port of Dunkirk, the variant first detected in South Africa has emerged as the most prevalent in the Moselle region, which borders German and Luxembourg. It represents 55 percent of the virus circulating there.
The South Africa variant also is predominant in a district of Austria that extends from Italy to Germany, with Austrian officials announcing plans to vaccinate most of the 84,000 residents to curb its spread. Austria is also requiring motorists along the Brenner highway, a major north-south trucking route, to produce negative test results.
The South Africa variant, present in 26 European countries, is a source of concern because of doubts over whether the current vaccines are fully effective against it. The Brazilian variant also appears capable of reinfecting people who have already had a bout of the infection.


WHO warns against relaxing pandemic fight

GENEVA: The arrival of Covid-19 vaccines should not tempt countries to relax efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, top World Health Organization officials said, citing concern that Brazil’s epidemic could spread to other countries.
“We think we’re through this. We’re not,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, told an online briefing. “Countries are going to lurch back into third and fourth surges if we’re not careful.” Record Covid-19 deaths have been reported in Brazil this week and its hospital system is on the brink of collapse, driven partly by a more contagious variant first identified there. On a global level, Covid-19 case numbers reversed a six-week downwards trend last week despite the delivery of millions of doses of vaccines in recent weeks, WHO data showed.
“Now is not the time for Brazil or anywhere else for that matter to be relaxing,” Ryan added.
“The arrival of vaccines is a moment of great hope but it is also potentially a moment where we lose concentration.” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the epidemic in Brazil as “very, very concerning” and warned of a possible regional spillover. (Reuters)


Indian farmers block highway outside Delhi to mark 100th day of protest


New Delhi,
Indian farmers began gathering on Saturday to block a six-lane expressway outside New Delhi to mark the 100th day of protests against deregulation of agriculture markets, to add pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Farmers young and old headed in cars, trucks and tractors to the highway for a five-hour roadblock to oppose three farm laws enacted in September 2020 they say hurt them by opening up the agriculture sector to private players. Modi has called the laws much-needed reforms for the country’s vast and antiquated agriculture sector, and painted the protests as politically motivated.
“The Modi government has turned this protest movement into an ego issue. They are unable to see the pain of the farmers,” said Amarjeet Singh, a 68-year-old farmer from Punjab state. “They have left us no option but to protest.”
Tens of thousands of farmers from several north Indian states have been camped out on the outskirts of the capital in bitter cold since December demanding that the laws be repealed.
Their movement has gained international attention and support, including from celebrities such as climate activist Greta Thunberg and US singer Rihanna, but several rounds of negotiations between farmer leaders and the government have failed.
Modi’s government has lashed out at supporters of the protests and stands accused by rights activists of using heavy-handed tactics to curb the protests.
While the protests have been mostly peaceful, a brief spate of violence on January 26 led to the death of a protester, and the police have filed criminal charges against eight journalists over alleged misreporting on the events of the day.
As the capital braces for harsh summers and the harvesting season begins, farmers gathering on Saturday said they had no plans to turn back until their demands were met.
“Bitter cold didn’t affect our movement, and neither will deathly heat,” said Raja Singh, a 58-year-old farmer from Punjab state.


Anti-coup protests continue in Myanmar as UN urged to hear ‘pleas’


Anti-coup demonstrators returned to the streets of Myanmar Saturday, a day after a United Nations envoy urged the Security Council to hear the nation’s “desperate pleas” and take swift action to restore democracy.
The country has been in turmoil since a February 1 putsch ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power, triggering a massive uprising from hundreds of thousands angered to be returned to military rule.
Security forces have escalated an increasingly brutal crackdown on demonstrators—killing more than 50 people since the coup—but protesters rallied again on Saturday.
From the dusty roads of northern Lashio—where young protesters stared down police behind homemade shields—to central Loikaw city in view of Myanmar’s eastern mountains, demonstrators continued to march for democracy.
“Our revolution must win,” chanted protesters in Loikaw, who included civil servants such as teachers in their green and white uniforms.
The country’s vital sectors have been crippled by an ongoing “Civil Disobedience Movement”—a campaign urging civil servants to boycott working under a military regime.
The impact has been felt at every level of the national infrastructure, with shuttered hospitals, empty ministry offices, and banks unable to operate.
On Saturday, state-run media announced that if civil servants continued to boycott work, “they will be fired” with immediate effect from March 8.
But protesters in Myanmar’s commercial hub of Yangon continued to defy authorities, gathering especially in San Chaung—a once-buzzing township with cafes, restaurants and bars that has emerged as a hotspot for unrest.
Security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades in the morning, scattering protesters, and removed their makeshift barricades with bulldozers.
Activist Maung Saungkha said the movement would persist—even as security forces continued to step up their enforcement tactics—as many remember the repression under the previous junta.
“In our past revolutions, we never won... this time we must fight to win,” he told AFP. “We must fight together with the younger generation to get victory.” The generals have shown no sign of heeding calls for restraint despite international pressure.


India asked to return police who fled across border

NEW DELHI: Authorities in Myanmar have asked India to return several police officers who sought refuge to avoid taking orders from a military junta, an official in northeast India said on Saturday.
Around 30 Myanmar police and their family members came across the border seeking refuge in recent
days, as the junta’s suppression of protesters has turned increasingly violent, with dozens killed since the February 1 coup.
The senior-most official in Champhai, a district in the Indian state of Mizoram, told Reuters that she had received a letter from her counterpart in Myanmar’s Falam district requesting the return of eight police to uphold mutual relations between the two countries.
Deputy Commissioner Maria CT Zuali said on Saturday that she was “waiting for the direction” from the India’s Ministry for Home Affairs in New Delhi.
This is the first reported case of police fleeing Myanmar.  (Reuters)


Pope, top Shiite cleric plead for ‘peace’ in historic Iraq encounter

Pope Francis (right) meets with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, on Saturday. AP/rss

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual leader of most of the world’s Shiite Muslims, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in Iraq on Saturday that the country’s Christians should live in “peace.”
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history and a milestone in Francis’s efforts to deepen dialogue with other religions.
He later addressed the rich spectrum of Iraq’s religious communities at Ur, traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, a central figure in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, where he made an impassioned plea for “unity” after conflict.
The 84-year-old pontiff’s trip to Iraq is an effort to both comfort the country’s ancient but dwindling Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other faiths.
His meeting with the grand ayatollah lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s office putting out a statement shortly afterwards thanking Francis for visiting the holy city of Najaf. Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,” it said.
His office published an image of the two, neither wearing masks: Sistani in a black turban with his wispy grey beard reaching down to his black robe and Francis all in white, looking directly at the grand ayatollah.
Sistani is extremely reclusive and rarely grants meetings but made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of interreligious dialogue.
The Pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, where posters had been set up featuring a famous saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Mohammed’s relative, who is buried in the holy city.
“People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity,” read the banners.
Francis then headed straight to the desert site of the ancient city of Ur, where Abraham is believed to have been born in the second millenium BC.
“It all started from here,” Pope Francis said, after hearing from representatives of Iraq’s diverse religious communities.
There were Yazidis, whose ancestral heartland of Sinjar was ravaged by the Islamic State group in 2014, as well as Mandeans, Kakais, Bahais and Zoroastrians.
Shiite and Sunni sheikhs, as well as Christian clerics, were in attendance.
Each were wearing their traditional religious garb, with a dozen different types of robe and headdress on display in the red-carpeted pavilion set up for the visit. Iraq is a Muslim-majority country of 40 million whose Christian population has shrunk in the last two decades to just one percent, with minorities still complaining of ostracism and persecution.
During his address, Pope Francis said freedom of conscience and of religion were “fundamental rights” that should be respected everywhere.
“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” Francis said, in a message of solidarity with the minorities persecuted under IS rule. He also made an impassioned plea for “unity” after conflict.
“Let us ask for this in praying for the whole Middle East. Here I think especially of neighbouring war-torn Syria,” he said.


Khan survives confidence vote


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan survived a vote of confidence by the country’s parliament on Saturday, days after his party lost a key Senate seat to an opposition candidate. Ruling party and opposition activists clashed briefly outside the parliament ahead of the vote, with local TV channels showing a shoe being thrown at former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal. Khan secured 178 votes in the 340-seat National Assembly through an open ballot, boycotted by the main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan Peoples Party. The vote followed the contentious results of Wednesday’s election to Pakistan’s Senate, whose members are chosen by provincial parliaments and lawmakers from the lower house. 


US held 100,000 migrants at Mexico border in February


WASHINGTON: US border agents detained nearly 100,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border in February, according to two people familiar with preliminary figures, the highest monthly total since a major border surge in mid-2019. The figures, which have not been previously reported, show the scope of a growing migrant influx at the southwest border as US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, seeks to roll back some of the restrictive policies of former President Donald Trump, a Republican. February was Biden’s first full month in office. Last month’s total would represent the highest tally for the month of February since 2006.


Afghan president ready to discuss polls with Taliban


KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Saturday, in a bid to push forward peace talks with the Taliban, that his government was ready to discuss holding fresh elections, insisting that any new government should emerge through the democratic process. “Transfer of power through elections is a non-negotiable principle for us,” Ghani told lawmakers at the opening of parliament session in Kabul. “We stand ready to discuss holding free, fair and inclusive elections under the auspices of international community. We can also talk about the date of the elections and reach a conclusion,” said Ghani.

Page 7

Satdobato secure promotion to ‘A’ Division League

Second-placed Khumaltar’s shock 2-1 defeat against strugglers Shree Bhagawati assures the B-Divison leaders a promotion to country’s top league with two matches in hand.
- Sports Bureau
Action from the match between Boys Union Club and Tushal Youth Club. Boys Union won 1-0.  Photo Courtesy: ANFA 

Satdobato Youth Club secured promotion to ‘A’ Division on Saturday after their closest rivals Khumaltar Youth Club succumbed to a shock 2-1 defeat against strugglers Shree Bhagawati Club in the Martyrs Memorial ‘B’ Division League at the ANFA complex, Satdobato, on Saturday.
Second place Khumaltar could have kept their faint hope for promotion alive had they beaten Shree Bhagawati in the penultimate match and won the next fixture while leaders Satdobato lose both of their remaining matches. Only the champions in the 12-team contest secure promotion while the team finishing at the bottom of
table will be relegated to the third division.
Shree Bhagawati, meanwhile, pulled the third win of the campaign and climbed one spot up to seventh with 12 points in their kitty.
Khumaltar, who tasted their second defeat, have only lost to Satdobato in their previous match of the league campaign. They have 22 points after playing the 10th match and are three points behind Satdobato, who have a match advantage over their rivals. Even if Khumaltar win their next match and Satdobato lost both remaining matches, the two sides will be tied at 25 points each. Satdobato would secure promotion in such a situation due to head-to-head superior record over Khumaltar.
Khumaltar seemed to be heading to another win early in the match when they went ahead in the 26th minute. Sabin KC opened the scoring for Khumaltar from the spot after Ayush Ghalan was fouled by Aron Thapa in the area, prompting match referee Nabindra Maharjan to award the penalty.
Dona Thapa restored the parity for Shree Bhagawati in the 40th minute. Thapa beat goalie Anjal Shrestha inside the area and shot at the open post. Aashish Shrestha ensured that they walked away with victory six minutes from time after he headed a free kick from the crowded area.
In another match, Milan Limbu scored the lone goal of the match as Boys Union Club edged Tusal Youth Club 1-0. Limbu headed the decisive goal in the 72nd minute after he headed skipper Abinash Ghising’s right flank cross from the six-yard box.
With fifth win Boys Union remain unchanged in fourth place with 17 points while Tushal are in tenth place with nine points. Both teams have played two matches each.


APF, Police off to flying starts in Mayor’s Cup

- Sports Bureau

Departmental teams Nepal Armed Police Force (APF) Club and Nepal Police Club made winning starts in the Kathmandu Mayor’s Cup one-day cricket tournament that kicked off on Saturday.
Nepal Police Club (NPC) registered a dramatic two-run win over the national team skipper Gyanendra Malla-led Bagmati Province while APF edged arch-rival Tribhuvan Army Club by one wicket in a last over thriller.
In the low scoring affair at Mulpani grounds, electing to bat first Police were bowled out for 72 runs in 25.2 overs. In reply, Dipendra Singh claimed four wickets as they bundled out Bagmati Province for 70 runs in 27.2 overs at the match reduced to 38 overs per side due to a wet outfield.
Police made a shaky start to their innings and lost wickets at regular intervals. Opener Sunil Dhamala and middle order duo Anil Sah and Dilip Nath scored 10 runs each while captain Manjeet Shrestha, who contributed 15 runs, was the only player to collect runs in double digits.
Ariyo Paudel was the most successful bowler for Bagmati claiming four wickets in his four-over spell. He conceded seven runs and kept a maiden over. Nandan Yadav pocketed three wickets in his 6.2 overs.
In the run chase, Bagmati openers Gyanendra Malla contributed 22 runs and Adil Khan 10 runs as no other batsman managed to touch double digits. Bagmati seemed to be heading for an easy victory as they were 3-43 in 15.3 overs. But after the fall of skipper Malla, Bagmati batting order saw dramatic collapse, losing the remaining seven wickets for just 27 runs.
Police’s Dipendra Singh Airee was the pick of bowlers claiming four wickets. The man-of-the-match gave away 24 runs in his eight over bowling with two maiden overs. Lalit Rajbashi grabbed three and Sagar Dhakal two wickets respectively.
In another match at the TU grounds in Kirtipur, put into bat first Army were bowled out for 235 in the allotted 50 overs. In the run chase, APF made 236-9 with two balls to spare.
Army’s Rohit Paudel contributed the highest 56 runs while skipper Binod Bhandari made 42 runs. Openers Sompal Kami scored 28 runs  and Lokesh Bam 30 runs as they shared a 61-run partnership for the first wicket before the former was dismissed. Bhim Sharki (18), Kushal Malla (11) and Rajesh Pulami (17 not out) were the other major contributors.
APF bowler Abinash Bohara claimed three wickets while Amar Routela and Bhuvan Karki pocketed two wickets each.
In the run chase, APF made a shaky start to their innings losing four wickets for 16 runs. But middle and lower middle order batsmen consolidated the innings. Shankar Rana came at number four and scored 33 runs while sixth number Sumit Maharjan contributed the highest 60 runs. Basanta Regmi played a crucial knock of 49 runs and Amar Toutela contributed 38 runs.
Army bowler Bikram Sob grabbed three wickets while Karan KC picked two wickets.
The tournament featuring five teams is being played in the round robin format. The top two finishers after the league round will vie for the title.


India crush England to clinch Test series 3-1


Spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel took five wickets each on Saturday as India crushed England inside three days of the fourth Test to seal their series 3-1.
Ashwin bowled Dan Lawrence for 50 as England were bowled out for 135 to complete an emphatic innings and 25 run victory in Ahmedabad.
Virat Kohli’s India bounced back from an opening defeat to win three in a row and book their meeting with New Zealand in the World Test Championship at Lord’s in June.
It was another failure for Joe Root’s England, who suffered a drubbing after their two-day loss in the third Test of a series dominated by the spinning wickets.
Ashwin led the series bowling chart with 32 wickets followed by Patel, who played one game fewer, on 27. England spinner Jack Leach was third with 18 scalps.
This win was set up by wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who made 101 on day two, and Washington Sundar, who hit an unbeaten 96 as India made a commanding 365.
Pant scored his third Test ton in a 113-run stand with Sundar to lift India from a precarious 146-6 in response to England’s first innings total of 205.
Sundar kept up the attack as the final three wickets fell on Saturday morning but ran out of partners and remained four shy of his century.
England lost early and regular wickets to go down tamely in 54.5 overs.
Ashwin struck twice on successive balls to send back Zak Crawley for five and Jonny Bairstow for nought.
It was Bairstow’s third duck in four innings.
Patel got opener Dom Sibley for three and then Ben Stokes for two after the left-hand batsman miscued a sweep and was caught at leg gully by Kohli.
Ashwin took the prized scalp of skipper Joe Root for 30 to virtually end England’s hopes. The visitors have scored more than 200 just once in their last six innings.
England fast bowler James Anderson made an impression with his three wickets and 14 maidens in 25 overs.
Root stood tall for England as he topped the batting chart with 368 runs including 218 in the opening Test—his 100th—that England won convincingly.
The two teams now head into five Twenty20 internationals starting March 12 at the same Ahmedabad venue—the world’s biggest cricket stadium.


Army’s Basnet wins marathon

- Sports Bureau

Tribhuvan Army Club’s Krishna Basnet clinched his third title of the Chief of Army Staff Open (CAoS)Marathon in Kathmandu on Saturday.
Basnet, also the winner of the second and fourth editions of the full-marathon, completed the distance of 42.195 kilometres in 2 hours 22 minutes and 59 seconds. Nepal Police Club’s Bhumiraj Rai, Armed Police Force (APF) Club’s Gopichandra Parki and Army’s Homlal Shrestha were the winners of the first, second and fifth editions of the annual event respectively.
Second-placed Tirtha Tamang was only 28 seconds behind Basnet but Parki clocked 2 hours 23 minutes and 32 seconds to finish third.
Army’s Gajendra Rai came at the top of men’s half-marathon timing 1 hour 6 minutes and 30 seconds to complete the 21km distance. Rajan Rokka and Narendra Rawal finished second and third respectively completing the distance in 1:7.11 and 1:8.84.
APF’s Pushpa Bhandari clinched the women’s half-marathon title timing 1 hour 17 minutes and 33 seconds.
The silver medalist of the 13th South Asian Games and the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Dhaka Marathon gold medalist Bhandari had also won the Nepalgunj half-marathon in November last year.
She was also the winner of the previous edition of the CoAS half-marathon.
Army’s Bishworupa Budha and APF’s Binda Shrestha finished second and third respectively.


Joshi makes hole-in-one


KATHMANDU: Suman Joshi made a hole-in-one in the Ang Tshiring Sherpa Memorial Golf Tournament at the Gokarna Forest Resort on Saturday. Joshi achieved the rare feat on the 10th hole to create a history in the country becoming the first person to win a car for the feat. He was rewarded with a Kia Sonet car, after his ball found the cup at 165 yards. Meanwhile, Sunil Karki secured top finish in the event. The 18 handicap Karki scored 41 points to clinch the trophy. Tahir Shah secured second place with 40 points. Hridesh Kumar Singh was the winner of the gross category on count back. He scored 34 gross points. Vijay Shrestha Einhaus finished gross runner-up. Kashmira Shah clinched the women’s title with 38 points in her kitty. She finished ahead of Gita Gurung who collected 32 points. Pradeep Kumar Shrestha claimed senior award aged 60 and above. (SB)


Arsenal held 1-1 at Burnley


BURNLEY: Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka compromised his side’s faint hopes of a top four finish in the Premier League as the Swiss midfielder’s embarrassing mistake gifted Burnley a 1-1 draw on Saturday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put Arsenal ahead early on at Turf Moor, but Xhaka’s farcical howler allowed Chris Wood to equalise before half-time. Xhaka foolishly tried to pass the ball out of his own six-yard box instead of clearing it and his miscued effort bounced off Wood into the Arsenal net. Mikel Arteta’s team couldn’t make amends for Xhaka’s blunder and 10th placed Arsenal are now nine points behind fourth placed Chelsea. With their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League via a top four finish in tatters, Arsenal will have to prioritise their match against Olympiakos in the Europa League last 16 first leg on Thursday. (AFP)



ARIES (March 21-April 19) ****
You’re happiest when you’re in motion and getting a project underway. Sunday’s skies see to it that you hop into “action mode,” as the moon glides through capable Capricorn.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20) ***
You’re craving a change of scenery under Sunday’s skies, Taurus. After yesterday’s lazy, action-absent landscape, you’re ready to experience some excitement and a change of pace. Sunday’s skies provide just that.

GEMINI (May 21-June 21) ****
Sunday’s skies deliver a busy day on an internal level, Gemini. The moon marches into responsible Capricorn, focusing your attention on any unspoken feelings concerning intimate relationships.

CANCER (June 22-July 22) ***
For Cancer, Luna’s link with electric Uranus colors the day with exciting social interactions or changes of plan, while her nightly meet-up with sweet Venus offers a deeply romantic, cozy space to embrace.

LEO (July 23-August 22) ***
Sunday’s skies offer you the chance to bring fresh insights and ideas to your workflow, as the responsible Capricorn moon aligns with Uranus. Come evening, the atmosphere softens putting your focus on intimacy.

VIRGO (August 23-September 22) ****
Sunday’s skies urge you towards creative action, as the moon marches through capable Capricorn. Luna’s supportive link with electric-insight Uranus helps you pull new ideas down and apply them towards creative passion projects.

LIBRA (September 23-October 22) ***
It takes a lot of energy to be a conscientious person, but you show a knack for it today. You know how to make everyone else feel comfortable. If you are meeting somebody for the first time, you’ll be able to make a great impression.

SCORPIO (October 23-November 21) ***
The moon roams through dream-inspired Sagittarius all day, and this lack of action makes for a low-energy, low-impact day all around—so, despite your desire to be productive. Instead, focus your attention on up-keep.

SAGITTARIUS (November 22-December 21) ***
Are you obsessed with time? Always checking your watch or scheduling your day down to quarter-hour increments? If you’re feeling rushed in your life right now, it’s probably because you give the clock so much power.

CAPRICORN (December 22-January 19) ****
Take a break from frivolous things. Relying on the tried and true isn’t boring. It’s comforting. Visit a museum or an online vintage clothing site to gain an appreciation for an era when things were made to last.

AQUARIUS (January 20-February 18) ***
As an Aquarius, you require equal parts alone time and social interaction. Today’s skies work to focus your attention on the current state of your friendships and involvement in your community.

PISCES (February 19-March 20) ***
You are focused on putting your bigger goals in motion but you are finding it difficult to get anything off the ground. It’s best to devote your energy to the upkeep of projects already underway, rather than start something new