Time To Think About Economic Autarky : Uttam Maharjan
After the promulgation of the republican constitution, an unprecedented wave of euphoria propagated across the country. But it just turned out to be short-lived as India imposed an unofficial blockade on the country. India is disgruntled at the newly-promulgated constitution simply because the country did not heed its last-hour call to postpone its promulgation due to the ongoing Madhesi protests across the country. (India wanted the country to fulfill the Madhesis' demands before promulgating the constitution, but the country could not afford it because doing so might put the promulgation of the constitution on the backburner sine die.)
he Madhesi protests have been going on in the Terai for the last two months. They have concentrated their protests along the Nepal-India border and highways so that the supplies from India to Kathmandu and other parts of the country can be halted, and the government can be forced to accept their unwarranted demands. Taking advantage of this situation, India has prevented the essential supplies from passing through various border checkpoints.
India has, however, permitted the free passage of not so essential commodities such as fruit and vegetables through the border points. However, in order to show that there is no embargo, it has permitted a few tankers carrying petroleum products and a handful of bullets of LPG to pass through to the country.
Due to such an uneasy situation created by the agitating Madhesis and India, an acute shortage of commodities has surfaced in the country. There are long queues of vehicles waiting for their turn to fill up their tanks not only for one or two hours but for days and nights. The people are wasting their time in purchasing fuel. As the Dashain festival has begun, the people are finding it difficult to go to their home districts as the transportation arrangements have been out of gear due to a shortage of fuel.
On the other hand, housewives have been hit hard by the shortage of cooking gas. And many restaurants and hotels have closed down. The markets are now free from hustle and bustle even in the festive season for lack of new commodities as hundreds of containers carrying commodities are lying stranded across the borders.
The ongoing blockade shows that successive governments in the country have been nonchalant about the development of the country as well as the welfare of the people. Not giving serious thoughts about opening the checkpoints along the Nepal-China border obstructed by the April earthquake and landslips has proved to be a grave mistake on the part of the government. Although the Tatopani border point has been opened, no commodities have passed through this border point, whereas the Rasuwagadhi-Kerung border point will be opened in a few days.
It seems India has taken a policy of allowing perishables and negligent quantities of petroleum products and LPG into the country so that it will give the impression that even essential commodities are coming to the country and the stock of such commodities will not run out completely. In such a situation, the common people will go on suffering like anything.
The country has been dependent on India for the supply of a maximum of goods and commodities. As far as the supply of petroleum products is concerned, India has a monopoly over the supply to the country. This is the reason the country is reeling under an acute shortage of petroleum products and other commodities.
Successive governments in the country have never thought of alternative supply arrangements. The current situation has shown how risky depending on a single country is. If the country had had arrangements for the supply of essential commodities from other countries, India would not have the guts to impose such an embargo.
However, Nepal Oil Corporation has invited a global tender for the supply of petroleum products and LPG as there are no signs of India supplying the country with such products in adequate quantities. The fate of the tender has, however, not come out into the open.
China has clearly said that it is willing to supply petroleum products to the country. But the government is still afraid of making an agreement with China lest India should be angry with it. But the government should not forget that the present predicament is the upshot of too much dependence on India. Therefore, the time has come to cut across this dependence syndrome and make agreements with other countries like China, Singapore, Iraq and Russia.
However, it is feared that once the supply of petroleum products and LPG comes back to normal, the country may revert to its status quo ante. That is, the country may not deem it necessary to make alternative arrangements for the supply of such essential products.
The country should make endeavours to attain self-sufficiency by utilising the natural resources available in the country and giving a boost to indigenous industries. It is also imperative to review our import and export business and cut back on the import of unnecessary commodities. In this age of interdependence, it is difficult, nay, impossible, to attain complete autarky, but it is possible to attain autarky in a maximum of commodities. The government hould, therefore, think about attaining economic autarky from now on.