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At six, constitution’s fragility has only grown, observers say

Those who promulgated the charter have remained non-committal on its implementation and those who once objected to it lack the heft to push for amendments.

Nepal’s political parties remember the constitution once a year—on the anniversary of its promulgation. They will do so on Sunday, as the constitution turns six. Concerns still remain over the wider acceptability of the charter adopted in 2015.
Observers say Nepal’s major political parties rushed the constitution despite knowledge that various sections of the society were opposed to it. Over the years, the political parties that pushed the constitution through the Constituent Assembly have shown minimal commitment to safeguarding it. Parties, many say, instead have used the constitution as a bargaining tool.
Tula Narayan Shah, a political commentator who follows Madhes and national politics closely, said Madhes-based parties were opposed to the constitution from the very beginning, but those parties who pushed for its adoption too seem to have lost faith in it.
Loktantrik Samajbadi Party led by Mahantha Thakur has already announced that it would continue to observe the constitution anniversary as a “black day”.
The Janata Samajbadi Party, yet another political force with its base in Madhes, has not announced any protest programme, but it has said it won’t participate in any celebrations to mark the Constitution Day. Leaders of these two political parties were the ones who objected to the constitution when it was promulgated in 2015. The Janata Samajbadi is organising an interaction on Sunday to discuss the need for constitutional amendments.
Tharu and other indigenous communities have been saying that the agreements forged with successive governments to incorporate their concerns in the constitution remain unaddressed.
Observers say the onus to ensure wider acceptability of the constitution lies on those who pushed for it—the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), as they had banded together to adopt the charter even as protests grew along the plains.
The adoption of the constitution on September 20, 2015 clearly left the country divided. While celebrations erupted in Kathmandu and other parts of the country, mostly hills, most of the Tarai mourned what they called further marginalisation of the already marginalised communities.
Shah, however, says the Madhes-based parties’ sincerity towards constitutional amendments has already come into question.
“The worry is that over the past six years, rather than becoming stronger, the fragility of the constitution has increased,” said Sah.
“When the principal actors responsible for implementing the constitution competed to flout it for their petty interests, this was bound to happen.”
The first elections under the constitution in 2017 installed UML’s KP Sharma Oli as prime minister. It was Oli who had played a key role in cobbling together a coalition to push for the constitution. His government was mandated to strengthen federalism and implement the charter. However, Oli left no stone unturned in trampling upon the constitution.
The Congress and the Maoist Centre which took umbrage at Oli’s actions against the constitution managed to return to power in July this year. The current government led by Congress’ Sher Bahadur Deuba, however, has little time to invest in the constitution’s implementation.
Experts on constitutional matters say the tendency among the parties to undermine constitutional provisions for power has led many to wonder who actually are the defenders of the country’s top law.
“It is unfortunate that we are in a situation where questions have arisen over the commitment of those to the constitution, who played a key role in its constitution,” said Bipin Adhikari, a former dean at the Kathmandu University School of Law.
Adhikari, the editor of the book “A Treatise on the Constitution of Nepal 2015”, says it is quite disappointing that the parties that rose to power criticising Oli’s moves as unconstitutional and undemocratic are now failing to stick to constitutionalism and democratic principles.
The Madhes-based parties that had vehemently opposed the constitution in 2015 were quick to join the Oli government in 2018. They argued that they agreed to support the Oli government hoping that their constitutional amendment demands would be addressed.
However, they quit the government after the Oli government showed no signs of amending the constitution.
In May this year, the Mahantha Thakur faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party decided to support Oli, saying the government “is ready to address their demands’’. But the Oli government fell in July after a court order. Thakur has now formed the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party.
The Upendra Yadav-led Janata Samajbadi Party is Deuba’s coalition partner. It is waiting to get hold of some ministerial berths rather than making a push for constitutional amendments.
Now after Deuba’s return to power, backed by the Maoist Centre, the House of Representatives has, by and large, remained dysfunctional—so much so that it could not even get the budget through Parliament, resulting in a government shutdown.
As many as 55 bills, many of them necessary for the implementation of federalism, are pending in the federal parliament. Some of the bills have been left unapproved since the first session of the federal parliament that commenced in March 2018.  The delay in passing the laws has hampered effective functioning of federalism, which is one of the core pillars of the constitution.
According to Adhikari, effective implementation of the constitution is not possible unless democratic institutions, including Parliament, function effectively.
“Parliament has a constitutional role to hold the government to account but it has been dysfunctional,” said Adhikari.
In the lead-up to Constitution Day this year, Nepal’s political parties, those currently in power, made themselves objects of ridicule. Amid controversy over the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, an American programme under which Nepal is to receive $500 million in grants, the government, as per an understanding among the ruling parties, asked the Millennium Challenge Corporation if the agreement is “above Nepal’s constitution”. Many were quick to criticise the parties for undermining the constitution they promulgated six years ago.
Last week, Nepali Congress Vice President Bimalendra, Nidhi in an interview with Naya Patrika, said there is still displeasure that India hasn’t welcomed Nepal’s constitution and that Delhi should do so as the sixth anniversary was approaching.
Nidhi’s statement may be personal but among a large section of Nepal’s political leadership, there seems to be this feeling that India has not welcomed the constitution yet. New Delhi’s displeasure was apparent in 2015 when it said it had “noted” the promulgation of the constitution in Nepal. Subsequently, India imposed a border blockade.
Experts say an immediate neighbour welcoming the constitution is always good but statements by some leaders like the one by Nidhi are indicative of inferiority complex and their lack of faith in the constitution they themselves promulgated.
“Such things clearly reflect the immaturity of the government and its lack of understanding of its own constitution,” said Adhikari.
That the Constituent Assembly failed to give enough time to people to present their feedback is an established fact. The earthquakes in April and May, 2015 had created an urgency among the Nepali leaders to push the constitution, as it was in the making for seven years.
Observers say since the constitution was promulgated amid protests by some sections of the society, it was incumbent on major political forces to listen to the concerns of the aggrieved parties and make gradual attempts to address their demands. This was the only way to ensure wider acceptability of the constitution, according to them.
“The constitution was disputed from the very first day. Against their responsibility to work to strengthen and increase its acceptability, the major parties are busy weakening it,” Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker and civil society member, told the Post. “The constitution has become more fragile over the last few years. The only way to strengthen it is its revision through consensus.”
Those involved in the constitution drafting process, however, say the constitution has become stronger and that its acceptability has increased.
Subas Nembang, who chaired the Constitution Assembly for both of its terms, said the unanimity seen while passing a constitution amendment bill to incorporate Nepal’s new political map showed every party has taken ownership of the constitution.
According to him, the parties that were objecting to the constitution had hit the streets in the name of protecting it, which also shows how they have embraced it.
“I firmly believe the acceptability of the constitution has increased,” Nembang told the Post. “However, if it needs revision to further broaden its acceptance, it can be done based on the need.”


A new train last year was welcomed with much fanfare. It never ran

Political, legal and technical issues have prevented the brand new locomotives that Nepal bought from India from coming into operation—on a new track.
Two trains that Nepal bought from India last year lie unused at Inarwa platform in Dhanusha.  Post photo: Ajit Tiwari

Exactly a year ago, on September 18, when two brand new train sets arrived at Janakpur station, Kedar Thakur of Bhanu Chowk, near the station, was thrilled.
Thakur, along with hundreds of other people, could not resist the temptation of going to see the new machines of which they had been hearing for quite a while.
These were the country’s first broad-gauge trains, a new avatar of the historic Janakpur-Jaynagar railway between Nepal and India which was once a major means of border crossing for citizens from both sides. First built as a cargo line to carry timber from Nepal to India in 1937, the 35km railway from Janakpur in Nepal to Jaynagar in Bihar, India was a lifeline for people in Janakpur.
“Everyone was excited. We didn’t even care about the coronavirus lockdown. We just wanted to see the train,” Thakur, 51, told the Post.
“It was Friday [September 18],” Thakur remembers. “I, along with some of my friends, had gone to the station. There was a huge crowd, all people eagerly waiting for the train to arrive.”
People who had seen the colonial-era train chugging along the Nepal-India narrow gauge track were excited to see Nepal’s first modern train. The train came.
“And since its arrival, it’s been there… stationary,” said Thakur. “It was covered with yellow plastic sheets. Now the plastic sheets have been tattered.”
Saturday marks the first anniversary of the arrival of the gleaming new train. And had it started rolling on the new broad-gauge tracks, it would have marked a new era in Nepal’s railway history.
Dubbed Janaki Rail, it has five coaches and can carry 1,000 passengers, sitting and standing, at a time. The train, with a maximum speed of 110 km per hour, was procured at Rs850 million.
Supendra Kumar Kushwaha, another local, said he too was very excited that resumption of the service would bring back the lost glory of Janakpur.  
Many had hoped that the railway service would create employment for locals, boost business activities and give a fillip to tourism in Janakpur, the birthplace of goddess Sita, where the Ram Janaki temple is a major religious and tourism attraction.
Kushwaha is one of the applicants for a job at the railway. He is still waiting for the railway authority to conduct the exams.
“Vacancies were announced but the Department of Railways is yet to schedule the exams despite taking fees from the applicants,” Kushwaha told the Post.
A vacancy notice was issued for 129 employees and more than 32,000 people had applied. The Department of Railways had collected up to Rs1,000 per person as exam fees.
“I applied for a job months ago. There is no update on exams,” said Kushwaha. He does not know why the train service has not come into operation even one year after it arrived in Nepal.
In Nepal, railway is one of those many things promised by governments that stir up emotions among people and inspire hope.

After KP Sharma Oli came to power in 2018, connecting Nepal with both its immediate neighbours—India and China—by trains was his common refrain. When the train arrived last year, the Oli government boasted it as one of its biggest achievements.
But locals say what is the use of a machine that sits immobile.
Like every other development project that often falls victim to political games,  Nepal’s railway dreams were also shattered by political wranglings.
To operate the trains, Nepal needed laws. And there were none.
Three months after the train arrived, Oli on December 20 last year dissolved the House, after protracted internal disputes in the then ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), and declared polls. Amid political uncertainty, railway service was not the government’s priority. On February 23, the Supreme Court restored the House of Representatives, but political bickering continued.
Oli continued to threaten to dissolve the House again as he went for a floor test, lost it, got appointed again and created more confusion by asking the President to invoke Article 76 (5), a move that constitutional experts were quick to call unconstitutional.   
On May 5, the government introduced an ordinance on railway operations. But on May 21, Oli dissolved the House for a second time, throwing the country into uncertainty again. About two months later, on July 12, the Supreme Court not only restored the House but also threw Oli out of office and ordered the appointment of Sher Bahadur Deuba as new prime minister.
The Deuba government on July 18 presented the ordinance on railway operations before Parliament. The ordinance has now become invalid because it failed to get Parliament’s nod within 60 days since it was tabled. The deadline ended on September 16.
“Laws are a must. Without laws, we cannot operate the trains,” said Niranjan Jha, general manager at Nepal Railway Company Limited. “There is uncertainty now.”
Jha was appointed on August 19 this year.

Photos courtesy: @konkanrailway/twitter

Even more than two months after his appointment, Deuba has not been able to expand his Cabinet. There is no dedicated minister at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, which oversees the Department of Railways.
“Once we get the minister, we have plans to complete all formalities within a day. We are ready from our side,” said Keshav Kumar Sharma, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport. “As railway is of paramount importance, we have accorded high priority to this project.”
According to him, the Cabinets of both Nepal and India have approved the standard operating procedures for the cross-border railway service. “Our Cabinet has authorised the director general of the Department of Railways to sign the document while India may also assign an official,” he said.
According to him, Nepal’s plan is to sign the standard operating procedure, take over the Kurtha-Jaynagar railway infrastructure from India and operate the railway service at the same time.
“Instead of organising separate events for these tasks, we plan to do them by organising a single event,” said Sharma.
After the railway infrastructure was prepared from Kurtha to Jaynagar last year, two rail coaches were brought. There are two other sectors—Bhangaha in Mahottari and Bangaha to Bardibas, 17 kilometres each.
The plan to bring trains had started soon after Oli was appointed prime minister in 2018.
On May 10, 2019, the Department of Railways signed an agreement with India’s Konkan Railways Corporation Ltd to supply two diesel-electric multiple unit train sets for passenger services from Kurtha in Janakpur to Jaynagar in India.
The two sets of trains arrived in the country on September 18 last year, as per the agreement signed between the two sides.
“The one-year warranty of the rail sets has also expired, and there are concerns about their maintenance,” said Jha.
The Indian company had trained some Nepalis in April for 10 days before the second wave of pandemic hit the country. As per the agreement, Konkan Railway would assign 26 staff members for operating Nepal’s railway.
“They are supposed to work in Nepal for one year after the railway service starts,” said Sharma.
But there is a lack of local staff, both technical and administrative, to operate the trains.
“Nepal doesn’t have staff to operate the train. Everyone knew that,” said Ananta Acharya, former director general at the Department of Railways. “But no one paid attention to this simple fact. Don’t we need to prepare a workforce to operate the trains before their arrival?”
According to him, right after the agreement was signed with the Indian side to purchase the rail sets, staff should have been recruited.

The Janakpur-Jaynagar train service was hugely popular in the region. Post file Photo

“When we met then Indian ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri in early 2018, he had assured us that the Indian side was ready to provide training for the Nepali staff,” he said.
The Nepal Railway Company had announced vacancies only on September 14 last year, even as authorities knew that the trains would arrive on September 18.
In November last year, the railway company tried to hire staff on a contract basis. But there were no bylaws to do that.
The Public Service Commission, the agency tasked with hiring staff in government bodies, held it back, asking the company to hire staff only by introducing the recruitment bylaws. The bylaws consist of procedures that require the company to form a recruitment committee, which shall have a Public Service Commission representative as member.
“The government can recruit staffers by itself on contract, but a commission representative needs to be involved in the recruitment process. In the case of permanent staffers, the commission does the recruitment,” an official of the commission told the Post last year.
Several months after the trains arrived, the railway company did recruit a little over 150 staff members on a daily-wage basis. This was bound to become a political issue. As soon as the new government came, all the staffers were removed, saying they were “politically appointed”.
They were trained by the Indians.  
“How is the new government planning to operate the rail service after removing staff who had at least received some training to help operate the railway service?” said Acharya.
The staff recruited on a daily-wage basis were supposed to work in track stations as signal staff.
Jha, however, claimed that the daily-wage workers were dismissed as the company had to spend Rs6 million a month on them without any work.
“I have been discussing with the Public Service Commission for the recruitment of permanent staff,” Jha told the Post.
For the incumbent government, which appears to be completely disoriented, railway does not seem to be a priority though.
The former and incumbent general managers of the Nepal Railway Company gave conflicting statements regarding preparations for operating the trains.  
While Jha, the general manager, said that preparation for railway operation is “still at an early stage”, Guru Prasad Bhattarai, former general manager of the company, said that he had invited the then prime minister Oli to inaugurate the railway service on July 9.
“I had to leave the company after the change in government,” he said.
Bhattarai was removed by the Deuba government.
“Now there is uncertainty. There is no law as the ordinance on railway operations has lapsed. And there is this risk of our contract with Konkan getting terminated due to prolonged delay,” said Bhattarai.
Bhattarai said that Konkan may demand cost adjustment if railway service continues to face delays. The two sides had signed an agreement worth IRs 220 million (Rs350 million) for the procurement of equipment, human resources supply, rail and track maintenance and other operating systems.
The government was supposed to pay an advance to the Indian company for the work, but the government is yet to release the budget.
Deepak Kumar Bhattarai, director general at the Department of Railways, said that the government has already decided to release the budget. “This budget is for paying for equipment and manpower,” he said.
Jha, however, said the Nepal Railway Company has started a new process for making payment to Konkan after the cheque issued by Nepal Rastra Bank expired.
“With the replacement bill on budget failing to get through, there is uncertainty about whether we can make payment immediately,” he said.
With no law, no staff, no handover of railway infrastructure and no signing of standard operating procedure, the fate of Nepal’s railway service continues to hang in the balance.
“Railway service is unlikely to begin anytime soon,” said Jha.
The Janakpur-Jaynagar Railway was originally built in the 1930s to move timber from the Tarai, just above Janakpur, needed for the Indian Railway. After there was no timber left to move, the railway line was gifted to Nepal for continued operation, according to a World Bank’s report on the National Transport System for Nepal published in 1965.
The report said that the line has never been well maintained, but it has not fallen into complete disrepair.
Two new locomotives were purchased in 1962.
Three railways were built in Nepal, all narrow-gauge (2 ft 6 inches) lines. They were: the Nepal Government Railway (NGR) from Raxaul in India to Birgunj and Amlekhganj (46 kilometres); the Nepal-Janakpur-Jaynagar Railway (NJJR) from Janakpur to Jaynagar (29 kilometres); and the Koshi Railway, a construction railway running from Bathnaha and Birpur in India along the Koshi river to Chatara and Dharan Bazaar (74 kilometres).
The first two railways were owned and operated by the government. The report at that time said that the efficiency of both railways was low, primarily due to the lack of competent management.
The Koshi Railway was built in 1957 to move gravel and stone from the quarries near Dharan and Chatara to the site of the new Koshi barrage and to carry construction materials and machinery from Bathnaha, where it connects with the metre-gauge Jogbani line of the Indian Railways, to Birpur and Bhimnagar (site of the Koshi Barrage).
“Further, the management has not learned how to reduce and simplify the paperwork involved in shipping by rail, thereby making the service difficult and unattractive to the shipper,” said the report.
Following the opening of Tribhuvan Highway linking Tarai with Kathmandu in 1956 and the construction of the road from Birgunj to Amlekhgunj in 1962, rail traffic and revenues fell sharply.
However, for people from Janakpur, the slow-moving passenger train, worn out and in desperate need of repair, continued to provide services.  
And in January 2014, the decrepit train made its last trip, marking the end of an era. Nearly 150 people lost their jobs. The closure hit Janakpur hard and moved the trade elsewhere.
Thakur recalls a trip to Jaynagar by train some seven years ago, just before the service was halted.
“Even though the trains at that time didn’t have much facilities, it was still faster and cheaper than travelling by bus,” said Thakur. “In the old train, it would take an hour to reach India. Travelling by bus, it’s almost a six-hour long journey. The roads are also not that good.”
Despite all political, legal and technical hiccups, Thakur, who once worked outside the railway station managing local buses before the previous railway service was closed, is still optimistic.
Thakur hopes the operation of the railway services would increase business activities, eventually making the sleepy town vibrant.
“Railway service means a lot for Janakpur. It will not only make the journey easy, convenient and cheap, it will also boost economic activities,” he said. “We hope the trains will start chugging soon… we hope our city will come alive with the whistles, and the hissing of the engine.”

Page 2

Five years on, Ramghat bridge construction remains incomplete

Local residents face difficulties transporting daily essentials in the absence of a bridge.
There is a suspension bridge linking Dasharathpur to Ramghat but it is in a dilapidated state. Post Photo: CHANDANI KATHAYAT

The construction work of a bridge in Ramghat, Bheriganga Municipality of Surkhet has been left incomplete for the last five years.
The bridge, when completed, will connect Dasarathpur of Lekbeshi Municipality to Ramghat in Bheriganga Municipality.
According to the Division Road Office in Surkhet, the proposed site of the bridge construction is not suitable for construction works, as the area does not have a rocky surface to stabilise the pillars.
Ramesh Lekhak, the then Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, had laid the foundation stone of the bridge on December 17, 2016. Ashish JV, the contractor company, had received the contract to construct the bridge at a total cost of Rs 200 million. According to the contract agreement, the deadline of the 157 metres bridge project was mid-February 2020.
The contractor company had asked the Division Road Office to review the design of the bridge after finding that the site was not suitable for bridge construction. However, the bridge division of the Department of Roads took three years to review the design.
“The pillars of the bridge cannot be constructed in the absence of a rocky surface. The agreement with the contractor company has already been scrapped,” said Bijaya Kumar Thapa, chief at the Division Road Office in Surkhet.
The construction company then went to the High Court in Surkhet, challenging the government’s decision to
cancel the contract. The company had demanded that it be provided Rs 30 million as compensation for the contract cancellation.
According to the Division Road Office, the case is pending at the High Court. The office said the project contract was scrapped, as the construction company did not carry out the project work even after receiving Rs 20.9 million in advance.
“The division office has issued a letter to the construction company to pay Rs 50 million, including interest, to the government, as the company did not work even after the design review. Now with the case pending in court, there is uncertainty about the project,” said Thapa. “Whether to continue the bridge construction work or not will be decided only after the court’s verdict.”
The delay in the bridge’s construction has affected the locals, making it difficult for them to transport daily essentials.
There is a suspension bridge linking Dasharathpur to Ramghat but it is in a dilapidated condition, according to locals.
“The existing suspension bridge is in a poor condition,” said Hari Gurung, a local man. “And the construction of the concrete bridge is far from complete.
We just want the bridge to be completed soon.”
Local farmers have also been facing hardships in supplying their agricultural produce in the absence of a concrete bridge.
“We have to risk our lives and carry our agricultural produce across the decrepit suspension bridge,” said Lalmati Oli, a local farmer. According to her, around 1,000 people cross the suspension bridge on a daily basis.
The alternate route for local farmers and traders to transport goods is a motorable bridge in Mehalkuna, a few kilometres from Dasarathpur.

Page 3

Pfizer shots likely to be administered to immunocompromised people

With Pfizer and Moderna, eight vaccines have got emergency use approval in Nepal.
- Arjun Poudel
Nepal so far has received a total of 17,755,590 doses of Covid-19 vaccines. Post file Photo

With Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine all set to arrive in Nepal, authorities are mulling over giving the jabs to people with their immunity compromised.
These include patients of cancer, renal failure and heart disease, among others, officials at the Ministry of Health and Population said.
“Due to limited doses of the vaccine offered to us by the COVAX facility, we are thinking of administering them to those taking immunosuppressants or those who are immunocompromised,” an official at the Health Ministry told the Post, asking not to be named. “We think that the vaccine will be sufficient only for the said group.”
After confirmation that COVAX would deliver the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine to Nepal, authorities have started the preparations for storing and rolling out the vaccine by preparing guidelines for immunisation workers.
“A kind of understanding has been forged in an expert panel discussion to provide the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine to the immunocompromised,” Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of the Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee, told the Post. “But the Health Ministry will take the final decision regarding the priority group.”
COVAX, a UN-backed vaccine-sharing scheme, has confirmed that it is delivering over 100,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNtech to Nepal, officials at the Health Ministry said.
The facility has committed around 13 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, which will be sufficient for 20 percent of the Nepali population.
So far, the facility has supplied 3,497,490 doses of vaccine (1,534,850 doses of single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, 1,614,740 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, and 348,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in the brand name Covishield).
Pfizer-BioNtech will be the first mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine to be used in Nepal. The vaccine developed jointly by the US-based Pfizer and the German firm Biontech uses a copy of a molecule called messenger RNA(mRNA) to produce an immune response.
It is said that the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was 95 percent effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed infection with the coronavirus.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was also highly effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 infection in adolescents between 12-15 years old, and the immune response in these adolescents was at least as strong as the immune response in people 16-25 years old in clinical trials.
“Evidence shows mRNA Covid-19 vaccines offer similar protection in real-world conditions as they have in clinical trial settings—reducing the risk of Covid-19, including severe illness by 90 percent or more, among people who are fully vaccinated,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website.
The vaccine needs to be stored in minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is not supported by Nepal’s existing vaccine storage facilities.
The Covax facility has provided us with four ultra cold freezers to store the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine. The four freezers can store over 100,000 doses, according to Upendra Dhungana, chief of the Logistic Management Section under the Department of Health Services.
Officials at the Health Ministry said they are working to clinch a deal with the vaccine manufacturing company (Pfizer-BioNTech) to purchase 6 million doses of the vaccine.
After a request by the Department of Health Services, the Department of Drug Administration, which is the national regulatory body of the drugs market, has given emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine. Normally, the vaccine manufacturer makes such a request.
Meanwhile, the department has also provided emergency use authorisation to the Moderna vaccine.
“Yes, we have provided emergency use approval to the Moderna vaccine at the request of the Department of Health Services,” said Narayan Dhakal, director general at the department.
Eight Covid-19 vaccines have got emergency use approval in Nepal in total. Earlier, the department had given emergency use authorisation to Covishield, developed by the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufactured in Japan and Europe, COVAXIN, developed by an Indian firm, Sputnik V developed by a Russian company, Vero Cell of China’s Sinopharm, Sinovac, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
“Two other Chinese vaccines have applied for emergency use authorisation,” said Dhakal. “We have been reviewing their documents.”
The Department has also given import approval for clinical trials to two vaccines.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said it has already started the supply of Vero Cell vaccine across the country upon delivery from China on Friday.
“The vaccine will be rolled out from Monday,” Dahal, chief of the National Immunisation Programme, told the Post. “Vaccines have already reached some provinces and are on the way to others.”
He said second doses will be administered to those who have already taken the first, and the first to those who have not taken a jab yet.
China’s Sinopharm delivered 4.4 million vaccine doses on Friday. It is part of the 6 million doses the government purchased of late. So far the government has bought 10 million doses of Vero Cell vaccine from China, under a non-disclosure agreement.
China has also provided 1.8 million Vero Cell doses in grants and has pledged to provide an additional 1.6 million doses but the delivery has yet to be scheduled.
Nepal so far has received a total of 17,755,590 doses of Covid-19 vaccines. Of them, 4,422,740 doses were AstraZeneca type, 11,800,000 doses were Vero Cell, and 1,534,850 doses were the Janssen vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson.
Of the 4,422,740 doses of the AstraZeneca type vaccine, 2,448,000 were Covishield, manufactured in India. India had provided 1.1 million doses to Nepal under grant assistance. Of the 2 million doses of the Covishield vaccine Nepal purchased from the Serum Institute of India in February, only 1 million doses have been delivered. Besides this, Covax had supplied 348,000 doses of the Covishield vaccine.
Bhutan supplied 230,000 doses, Japan provided 1,614,740 doses and the United Kingdom 130,000 doses of the AstraZeneca type vaccine to Nepal.
China has so far supplied 11,800,000 doses of the Vero Cell vaccine.
Apart from this, the United States had supplied 1,534,850 doses of the single-shot Janssen vaccine.
The government has already paid for 4 million doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine through the World Bank to the US manufacturer, and delivery is expected by mid-February.


Talks on to clear Parliament impasse, but no deal in sight

There is a rumour in the political circle that Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli are aiming for early elections.

Nepal’s state of affairs is in disarray. The country is currently facing a government shutdown situation, which means the Sher Bahadur Deuba administration has limited spending power to run the state entities.
The shutdown situation was created as the primary opposition,
CPN-UML, has been obstructing the sessions of the lower house of Parliament in protest of Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota. The UML is furious at Sapkota for not stripping the parliamentarian status of 14 of its lawmakers, including Madhav Kumar Nepal, who were expelled before they went on to form their own party.
The opposition protest continued even when Finance Minister Janardan Sharma presented the replacement budget in the House on September 11.
The next House session is set to convene on Monday. But there is still confusion whether the government will be able to pass the funding legislation amid a political impasse.
To avoid the situation, sources say the ruling Nepali Congress is engaging with the UML both at formal and informal levels.
However, the two parties have not reached any understanding yet on letting the House function smoothly.
There is a rumour in the political circles that both UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and Prime Minister Deuba want to take the country to early elections because the former still believes that his party’s popularity among voters has not waned and the latter sees the Nepali Congress emerging as the largest party with the communist forces weakened by splits.    
“Oli still wants the House dissolved just to see himself vindicated for dissolving the House twice when he was the prime minister,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma, the Nepali Congress spokesperson.  
He confirmed that the Nepali Congress is in talks with the UML to find a way out of the current impasse and there had been no concrete progress as of yet. Anand Pokhrel, a UML leader close to Oli, also said the Nepali Congress is seeking an early deal for resolving the House deadlock but Oli is not ready.  
“If the House obstruction is to continue, the country will go for early elections. And this is something Chairman Oli and Congress President and Prime Minister Deuba want,” Pokhrel said.
He said that Deuba might declare early elections before or after the 14th general convention of the Nepali Congress, slated for November-end, as per his comfort.
With his struggle to keep the ruling coalition together, failing to give his government a full shape even after two months of assuming office, and the looming Nepali Congress general convention with so many rivals challenging his leadership, Pokhrel’s claim that Deuba is after early elections makes sense.     
However, a leader in the ruling coalition rubbished the notion of early elections.
“The fundamental understanding of this alliance is to run the government and Parliament for another 16 months. Deuba will not make the mistake of announcing early elections,” said the leader, who represents CPN (Maoist Centre), a key partner in the ruling coalition.
Nepal conducted its last general elections on November 26 and December 7 2017. So as per the schedule, the next general elections will have to be conducted by the end of 2022.
For early elections, the current coalition should break, the governing party should plunge into a minority and there should be no possibility of new government formation.
It’s a long shot, but not entirely impossible, say some leaders.  
They said if Deuba tries to approve Washington’s $500 million Millennium Challenge Corporation grant, through Parliament—a sore issue among his coalition partners including CPN (Maoist Centre), the coalition could break.
There is sharp division among the ruling alliance over whether to ratify the MCC from the House.
While the Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi Party have more or less agreed to ratify the MCC compact from the House, the Maoist Centre, Janamorcha Nepal and CPN (Unified Socialist), the newly formed party led by Madhav Kumar Nepal, are opposed to the idea.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a senior Maoist Centre leader, did not discount the possibility of the coalition breaking up over the issue of MCC ratification.  
“If Prime Minister Deuba tries to ratify the MCC through Parliament, the present alliance would break up and the country could go to early elections,” Shrestha said.
Another coalition leader Upendra Yadav of the Janata Samajbadi Party also sees the possibility of early elections—but not because of the MCC dispute.
It will be because of the UML, he said.
“If the UML continues to obstruct Parliament, the relevance of Parliament will end, which Oli has been working to prove all along.
Oli wants to fail this system by paralysing the House of Representatives” said Yadav.
Bishal Bhattarai, the UML chief whip, however, said that the UML does not want to be a source of instability and that their only disagreement is with Speaker Sapkota.  
“Yes, we do stand against the MCC’s ratification through Parliament in its current form, but our primary concern right now is the Speaker Sapkota,” Bhattarai said. “We believe that he is not fit for the role of a Speaker.” 

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The workplace after Covid-19

Remote working has emerged as a strong option in managing offices, even in the public sector.
- Hiramani Ghimire

Covid-19’s most profound impact is being observed in how we manage our work. The increasing tendency to decouple the workforce from the workplace is creating both challenges and opportunities for managers. Amidst fears of a decline in productivity, the experience of this past year shows that employees working from flexible locations, including their own homes, are becoming more productive than previously thought. As a result, remote working has emerged as a strong option in managing offices, even in the public sector.
The world of work is undergoing four major shifts in this context. First, the concept of a fixed location for an office is giving way to the idea of hybrid working. Second, the managerial focus has moved from efficiency to resilience, involving provisions for organisational resources to maintain supply chains. Third, control as a management principle is losing ground to trust, leading to disintermediation and de-layering of decision-making. Finally, organisational leaders are increasingly emphasising the need to complement technical skills with social skills such as emotional intelligence. It is very important that Nepali managers, in both public and private domains, adapt their organisational strategies to these emerging trends.

Flexible working
The workplace—or the office—evolved in the 19th century as a result of the industrial revolution. In today’s service-oriented economy, people can work differently. Much of office work can be carried out remotely and from home. The influential writer Fareed Zakaria notes in his recent book Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World that work is coming back to home, which it was like for much of history. In other words, the world of work is moving “back to the future”.
Experience of the past year or so shows that employees working from home can be as productive as those working from the office, if not more. The myth of productivity decline has been dispelled. In a McKinsey research (2020), for example, 41 percent of respondents said they were more productive working at home than they had been before, with 28 percent saying that they were as productive. The UK Chartered Institute of Personnel Development finds that 30 percent of British employees felt they worked more hours at home. A US Federal Work-Life Survey shows that teleworkers are 16 percent more engaged, 19 percent more satisfied, and 11 percent less likely to leave than onsite workers. Closer to home in Nepal, managers have indicated that their fear of 50 percent efficiency loss was unfounded, and whatever loss was there could be attributed to logistics and connectivity problems.
Working from home is a good response to the pandemic, but it cannot be an alternative to the office forever. Going back to the 19th-century idea of the office as a fixed location is neither efficient nor desirable. The time has come for a hybrid model. It involves some combination of working remotely and from an office. The hybrid model is a plan that incorporates a mix of office-based and remote work in an employee’s time plan. It enables employees to work from different locations—home, on the go or the office.  
Many people tend to associate hybridity with organisations in the private sector. This may be attributed to the fact that
private enterprises were the first to resort to remote work arrangements when the pandemic struck. Meanwhile, public sector organisations are catching up. International experience of the past one and a half years shows that governments in several countries are formalising hybrid office arrangements.
The United Kingdom, known as the mother of parliaments, was the first country to introduce the concept of a “hybrid parliament” in April 2020. For this, Members of Parliament adopted a set of “hybrid proceeding measures” which enabled them to take part in oral questions and statements. They were also able to participate virtually or in-person in substantive proceedings under these arrangements. Brazil, Mongolia, Maldives, Canada and Poland have also adopted a hybrid parliament with different stages of development.
Other government businesses are also being conducted from hybrid offices. In April this year, the UK government decided to open “drop-in” offices in 10 cities outside of London to enable Whitehall staff to work from any of these offices. Civil servants can work efficiently and flexibly from home without the costly overheads of office spaces and time-consuming commuting for employees. This also eases traffic congestion, thereby reducing the impact of climate change, even if in a limited way. In India, the Department of Personnel and Training has issued a protocol for work from home for civil servants with flexi-time schedules. These examples show that the model is not only applicable but also desirable in government organisations.

Experience in Nepal  
Covid-19 has affected the business of government in Nepal equally badly. During the past 18 months or so, Nepalis have had to face complete or partial lockdowns several times. This impacted the delivery of public services, including critically important ones. But there was a silent reluctance to introduce the hybrid model. For example, when several countries were finalising their working procedures for a hybrid parliament, Nepal decided to prorogue the House in the wake of some Covid-19 cases in April 2020.
This is not to suggest that government agencies are not aware of the benefits of remote working. The pandemic has augmented their “intention” to offer services online. And several government departments have introduced IT-based measures to enable people to access their services.
This is in line with the Digital Nepal Framework, which the government has adopted to “leverage the potential of digital technologies to drive accelerated growth”. This shows that there is significant technical capacity within the government system.  
It is said that opportunities are usually disguised as problems. The pandemic has given public sector agencies an opportunity to use available technologies for improving business processes through flexible working arrangements, including the hybrid model. For this, two things need to happen simultaneously: The development of digital infrastructure and management capacity to use it. While these will take time, one step could be taken immediately, which is to formalise and build on what is already happening—hybrid work.

Ghimire is a governance specialist and holds a PhD in Public Administration from the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer.


India’s green growth imperative

The country should promote both decarbonisation and economic development through green investment.

India’s commitments under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels, include three quantifiable objectives. By 2030, the country aims to reduce the
emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35 percent, ensure that renewable energy sources account for about 40 percent of its installed power capacity, and, through afforestation, create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.
International observers like Climate Action Tracker and Climate Transparency regard India as one of the few G20 countries to be “2 degrees Celsius compatible” and on track to fulfil its so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris accord. But even if India achieves its NDC targets and adopts measures to help keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, on current trends its CO2 emissions in 2030 could be about 90 percent higher than in 2015.
India must therefore decarbonise more, and fast. But India also needs to invest in manufacturing and infrastructure to improve its competitiveness, create enough jobs to lift one-third of its 1.3 billion people out of poverty, and increase its chances of meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving these objectives without drastically increasing CO2 emissions will require India to pursue a radically different green growth strategy.
This will not be easy. True, with renewable energy sources currently accounting for 140 gigawatts, or 37 percent, of India’s 380 GW of installed power capacity, the country looks set to achieve its 40 percent target by 2030. But only 15.5 percent of the electricity consumed in India is clean, while the remainder is sourced through fossil fuels. That is primarily because large additions of renewable-energy capacity do not translate into lower CO2 emissions in linear fashion. The effect instead depends on the capacity utilisation of renewable sources, the grid’s capability to absorb variable power, and the flexibility of power systems to ramp up during peak loads.
Moreover, while India is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), its per capita electricity consumption is among the world’s lowest, at about one-third of the global average. But it is imperative that the country’s electricity consumption increases as the economy continues to develop.
The energy sector alone accounts for 78 percent of India’s GHG emissions, while industry is responsible for 7 percent, and agriculture and land use 10 percent. Within the energy sector, industry is the biggest consumer of electricity, using 42 percent of India’s output. As the country’s low per capita resource consumption rises toward the global average, and with demand for carbon-intensive commodities such as steel, cement, and chemicals expected to grow, electricity consumption is likely to increase at least threefold between 2014 and 2030.
Structurally transforming the Indian economy will entail a shift in the share of GDP from agriculture to industry and services, accompanied by a reduction in energy poverty and improved access to reliable electricity. This would be the required development trajectory for achieving the SDGs, but it would result in India increasing its CO2 emissions.
So, how, and to what extent, can India decarbonise? The solution lies in deploying clean technology on a large scale, reducing the cost of finance, and pricing and paying for CO2 emissions mitigation.
To promote both decarbonisation and economic development through a green investment and growth strategy, policymakers should consider adopting a sequenced approach. They could start by investing in large-scale renewable-energy projects, before electrifying transportation, and then expanding and integrating distributed green energy for cleaner electricity access.
The next step would be to create additional rural non-farm livelihoods in agro-processing (such as milling, grinding, crushing, and packaging), storage, and warehousing. After that, policymakers should aim to increase energy efficiency in heating, cooling, lighting, and electric motors. India also will need to adopt clean technologies such as carbon capture and storage, hydrogen as a fuel and reducing agent for steel, and green cement manufacturing. And, it must expand its forestry-based carbon sinks on a massive scale.  
Speeding up decarbonisation in line with India’s NDC calls for massive investments totalling some $2.5 trillion by 2030. Moreover, most emission-mitigation technologies require large upfront capital investments relative to subsequent operating costs, which is why India’s relatively high cost of finance is an important factor. And increased risk perceptions of the country—including climate-related financial risks—make it difficult to reduce borrowing costs for climate investments. Large-scale green investments in India therefore may not provide adequate risk-adjusted returns.
That means India requires interventions from government and intergovernmental institutions to enable finance to flow toward decarbonisation investments. These measures could include creating pooled or specific risk-mitigation mechanisms to “de-risk” finance; shifting investments from banks to financial markets; reducing reliance on credit ratings for lending and investment; measuring, registering, and pricing carbon mitigated incrementally beyond NDC targets; and compensation for additional perceived risks borne by banks and institutional investors.
The risks are indeed high. A long coastline, widely varying seasonal monsoons, and significant dependence on agriculture make India highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This is evident from increasingly frequent cyclones, droughts, and erratic temperatures across the country.
India therefore requires climate-adaptation investments that would preserve ecosystems and reduce coastal erosion while protecting livelihoods. Because the private sector usually perceives core adaptation investments as economically unviable, the public sector must lead by making suitable investments and developing public-private partnership business models to attract private investors.
Indian policymakers should thus regard meeting national climate targets under the Paris agreement as only a first step. The far bigger challenge is to foster sustainable green growth that provides a better future for India’s people while also helping to protect the planet.

Purkayastha is India Director at the Climate Policy Initiative and Director of US-India Clean Energy Finance.
— Project Syndicate

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