Blaming the govt is poll stunt of left alliance: Dev
Jitendra Narayan Dev entered Nepali politics during the Panchayat era as a member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Manandhar) when he was studying in Rajbiraj College. Following the restoration of democracy, Dev, along with a chunk of the party members, joined the CPN-UML and worked in various posts of the party for 17 years. He turned his political career towards Madhes-based politics after the elections to the first Constituent Assembly. He was a vice-chairman of Nepal Loktantrik Forum, led by Bijay Kumar Gachchhadar, which recently unified with the Nepali Congress.
Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Dev, known as an intellectual leader, talked to Amarendra Yadav of The Rising Nepal on various issues related to his ministry, his attempt to remove the Director General of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal and the government intention and gesture towards the timely elections to the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies to be held in two phases on November 26 and December 7. Excerpts:
How do you assess the works that you have carried out as minister in the past three/four months?
As soon as I assumed office, I came up with a 32-point work plan for the development of the culture, tourism and civil aviation sector. The Ministry and its line agencies are working as per the spirit of the work plan and its timeline. I am very happy that five of the national pride projects fall under the jurisdiction of my ministry. The five projects are the Pashupati Area Development Trust, Lumbini Development Trust, Pokhara Regional Airport, Nijgadh International Airport and Bhairahawa Airport. I have initiated qualitative and quantitative works at the Nijgadh Airport that had not been accomplished during the past 22 years. That was obstruction and padlocking at the Bhairahawa Airport regarding its reconstruction, and the performance rate was below 30 per cent. I have cleared all the obstacles, and the reconstruction works are now moving on satisfactorily. I have also intensified the works of the Pokhara Regional Airport. The works of the Pushupati and Lumbini Development Trusts have also been put on track by holding rounds of board meetings.
Nepal is infamous for its poor quality airports and airlines service. What are you doing to improve the civil aviation sector in Nepal?
It is true that air connectivity is weak but not pathetic. Many airports have been constructed in course of time. Several airports have been blacktopped over the years. For example, the Rajbiraj Airport was a victim of discrimination and its upgrading works had been pending for long. But its blacktopping is going on, and flights from the airport will resume by mid-December. Many airports have been gravelled and blacktopped after I came to office. Besides, I have recently resolved the managerial and technical problems which many airports are facing.
I have also taken the reforms at the only international airport, Tribhuvan Airport, very seriously. The ministry recently held three meetings on capacity enhancement of the TIA, and we are going to launch programmes for the immediate development of the TIA by spending the budget of the Airport Development Fund. The upgrading works of other airports across the country are also going on.
Nepal luckily passed the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) air safety audit only this year. What kind of initiative is the Ministry taking to boost the standard of Nepal’s air safety?
A few months ago, Nepal passed the air safety audit of ICAO. It is a big achievement for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) and the Ministry. ICAO has its own kind of international standard and norm of air safety. It is related to the overall facilities of airlines and airports. Managerial and technical standards of the airports and airlines of a particular country are also measured to qualify for the air safety audit. Besides, the European Commission (EC) had blacklisted all Nepali airlines in December 2013 for the worst record of air safety oversight. I am confident that the EC will lift Nepali carriers from its safety blacklist in the upcoming safety committee meeting to be held in November this year. There is an unfortunate trend in the sector of Nepali airlines interfering and exerting political influences on CAAN. I am fighting against all these evils.
Nepal’s tourism sector, which is a great source of the country’s economy, is also facing several problems. What are the steps being taken by the Ministry to develop the country’s tourism sector?
The tourism sector is the second after hydropower in contributing to the economy of the country. Among the many prospects, I have emphasised on three kinds of tourism – cultural, religious and adventurous. And the three kinds of tourism have tremendous possibilities. The mountain and high hill regions are famous for peace, beauty and adventure. We should promote our religious tourism by developing sites like Pushupatinath in Kathmandu, Janaki Temple in Janakpur and Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. The third most prominent kind is cultural tourism. Nepal has a vast diversity of ethnic groups and cultures. If we work in a planned way, we can attract tens of thousands of foreign tourists to enjoy the rich variety of our cultures, festivals and local food.
The Nepal Tourism Board has been instructed to primarily promote these three kinds of tourism. The Ministry is ready to extend policy and logistic support to the Nepal Tourism Board any time in the mission. At the initiation of the ministry, walking streets have recently been fixed for foreign tourists as per their demand, and we are planning to set up some specific fixed price shops for the foreign visitors. The ministry and its line agencies have set an ambitious goal to invite up to one million tourists to Nepal this fiscal year, and I hope, we will meet the target.
Some media outlets recently reported that you tried to illegally sack the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, Sanjiv Gautam, from his post for your personal monetary benefits.
Journalism is a sacred and pious occupation. The job of journalists is to dig out the truths and facts regarding any issue. But some journalists in Nepal are not doing so. They are indulging in yellow journalism. Some news reports against me are also a part of such yellow journalism. The allegations leveled against me are baseless. The journalists who wrote against me are cadres of a particular party. They wrote against me under the influence of their party and also brought up the issue of caste.
Then why did you want to replace Gautam? What are the bases for it?
I wanted to sack Director General Gautam from his post on the basis of his job performance. His work performance is below 33 per cent. He had signed a contract paper with the secretary at the Ministry while assuming his office as the Director General. But he could not demonstrate his competence as per his commitment. Since he could not perform well in his office, I tried to replace him by inducting one from among his competent colleagues. I repeatedly assert that I did sack him not on the basis of his caste, creed and colour but on the basis of his overall job performance. But these points were not taken into account while writing news about the issue.
The opposition parties and the left-alliance are accusing the government of not being sincere about holding the upcoming federal and provincial elections on the scheduled dates because most of the ruling parties fear the left alliance will clinch seats in the elections.
Blaming the government and the ruling parties regarding the fate of the upcoming elections is an election stunt of the left alliance. This allegation is not true. It has no base. The government is fully and firmly committed to holding the elections on the scheduled dates. The government wants the Election Commission to conduct the elections on the stipulated dates. The Election Commission is efficiently carrying out the election preparations according to its calendar. The candidates have even filed their nominations for the first phase of the elections scheduled for November 26. If anyone doubts the timely elections at this point, it means he/she is very biased towards the government and the ruling parties. Our government and the Prime Minister have never said publicly or in private that the election dates are not suitable for the democratic alliance.
The Supreme Court recently ordered the Election Commission to ensure two separate ballot papers for the federal and provincial under the first-past-the-post category at a time when the Election Commission was about to start the printing of the two ballot papers on a single page. What is your take about the court ruling?
The Supreme Court has its own rights, jurisdiction and business. I don’t think that the court gives any unconstitutional verdict. If the court has ordered the Commission to provision two separate ballot papers for the two different types of the elections, the election body must follow the court’s order. Because the apex court is the sole constitutional body that has the right to elucidate any law and the constitution. Why did the EC not make preparations for printing two separate ballot papers if there was a provision in the concerned election laws to do so? Whatever the decision the court takes regarding the upcoming elections, the Election Commission must follow it. The government has nothing to do with the court and its decision.