A year after blockade, people feel free for festivities

By Modnath Dhakal

Kathmandu, Sept. 22: Today last year, two days after the promulgation of the constitution, the Indian blockade started.

The southern neighbour clamped an unofficial embargo against Nepal showing its reservation about the new constitution.

The blockade continued for almost five months.

It brought untold miseries to Nepali people, who faced a severe shortage of petroleum oil, cooking gas and essential commodities during the major festivals.

The supply obstruction created a huge shortage of petroleum and essential items in the domestic markets and people queued up at the petrol pumps, gas dealers and grocery stores to get essential fuel and items through controlled distribution mechanism.

Shortage of goods gave rise to black marketing.

A comparative study of the price of goods before and during the blockade by the Society of Economic Journalists of Nepal (SEJON) found that people were compelled to pay more than 500 per cent of the actual cost to buy a liter of petroleum oil and cooking gas.

The country celebrated three largest festivals- Dashain, Tihar and Chhath- amidst the shortage and frustration.

As the country is heavily dependent on India for the supply of goods, including food and petroleum, the blockade affected every aspect of life in Nepal.

According to the Trade and Export Promotion Centre (TEPC), Nepal imported goods of Rs. 500 billion in 2014/15.

The state-owned Indian Oil Corporation, the sole supplier of petroleum products to Nepal, did not fill the oil tankers and gas bullets even though the Indian government kept on denying that it had imposed the blockade at Nepal-India border points.

During the five months of blockade, India sent petroleum that would barely meet about 15 to 25 per cent of the total domestic demand in Nepal.

The Indian and Nepali media reported that India was unhappy about the multiple provinces in Madhesh and citizenship provisions in the constitution while some believed that Bihar elections were also the reasons behind the blockade as Modi wanted to use it as a strategy to win the polls in the state.   

India kept on reiterating that the blockade was created due to the sit-in protests of the Terai based political parties at the ‘no-man’s land’.

However, the protests were centred in Birgunj and Bhairahawa customs. But, India did not listen to Nepal’s request to route the goods and petroleum from other border points like Biratnagar, Pashupatinagar and Mahendranagar. 

As the blockade followed the devastating earthquakes in the April and May last year that killed about 9,000 people and injured approximately 22,000 people, it had severe repercussions on the reconstruction and rehabilitation works.

As the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction works were badly affected as the goods couldn’t be transported to the quake-hit areas due to the shortage of petroleum products, international community had time and again requested all three sides – the government, India and agitating forces in the Terai – for their cooperation in transportation of relief materials.

 

Nepal’s foreign trade was another sector affected by the obstruction on the border.

Nepal’s export trade plummeted by approximately 17.54 per cent last year.

Foreign Trade Statistics published by the Department of Customs shows that Nepal’s export to India stood at Rs. 39 billion in the last fiscal from Rs. 55 billion in the fiscal year 2014/15.

However, the blockade forced Nepal to find ways for trade diversification.

KP Oli-led government expedited the construction of Galchhi-Rasuwagadhi road. Nepal Army is constructing the road, signed pact with China for petroleum trade and railway line development up to Nepal-China border.

People are relieved this year that the supplies are smooth and the government has promised to monitor the market.

 

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