The Covid-19 pandemic manifested that the US policy of importing goods from elsewhere, where the cost of production is cheaper, is not of benefit at the time of an emergency. Many areas of the country, at the start of the epidemic had to wait for simple essentials such as drinking straws and masks.
It has periodically been claimed by the ‘Big Wigs’ of the Nepali Congress that the concept of self sufficiency in simple essential goods e.g. matches, soap, biscuits, sugar, agricultural tools, paper, leather shoes etc as conceived during PM Joodha’s or King Mahendra’s or BP’s time was outmoded. It was BP’s brother GP, with his economic advisors, who initiated the dismantling and disposing off the machinery of national Nepal enterprises at rock bottom prices.
Shri Dilendra Prasad Badu, Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supply in the current government was reported by The Rising Nepal of 28th July 2022 to have stated that the Janakpur Cigarette Factory, Biratnagar Jute Mill, Hetauda Textile Factory, Butwal Thread Industry and the Gorakhkali Rubber Industry would be restarted. Minister Badu even announced on Twitter that the Janakpur Cigarette Factory will be restarted soon with the functional machines that are still there. Weren’t they sold off like the machines of the various other industries on the grounds of the government’s ‘Free Market’ Policy? Is this just a simple case of ‘One hand does not know what the other doeth?’ Is this just an election tactic to get the voters of Madesh to support the ‘Gathbandan’? Is this a re-enactment of the ‘Back to Village’ Panchayat policy to attract and fool prospective farmers of Madesh to the prospect of growing jute and tobacco? Is this a pre-election ploy to hoodwink the masses? One wonders at the truthfulness of such a statement by a politician in office, even though it is in line with the thought that our country should be self sustainable for ones needs.
A subsequent announcement a week later that the next decade would be an ‘Industrial’ one with stress on the advertising and using of goods ‘Made in Nepal. There had also been previously news of a ‘Sangralaya’ to a political leader being constructed in Biratnagar. Is part of the land where the Pradesh government now stands being given free for the purpose?
It was in the time of PM Girija that machineries of the Bansbari Jutta Karkhani, the Brikuti Kagaz Karkhana, like the Yeti plane of the then RNAC, were sold off - dirt cheap. Whilst non leather shoes are now more popular, the fact remains that essential text-books for children are in severe shortage because of lack of paper to print them on. What a situation with the future of so many Nepali children at stake! If Nepal is said to be a ‘Krishi Pradhan Desh’ then why the closure of the Agriculture Equipment Factory, built with the aid of then USSR? The shortage of fertilisers has been going on for ages and though plans have been announced yearly, the implementation of these schemes never takes place. Is it due, perhaps the commissions from the import of fertilisers from outside of Nepal? Was the Birgunj Sugar Factory shut down to increase the importation of sugar from elsewhere? As a result of this, even the manufacture of the import substitution local side-products – whiskey and brandy within the country has been hampered!
Another shortcoming of Minister Badu’s announcement is the news of re-starting the cigarette factory at Janakpur. Ironically the government has been telling people that ‘Smoking is injurious to health’ and not allowing it in various public places such as restaurants, cinema halls and even within planes. Chances of getting lung cancer are reduced by not smoking. Lip and mouth cancers are reduced by not chewing tobacco. Even the fumes of cigarette smoke is said to be harmful to pregnant mothers sitting nearby. This effect, termed ‘Passive smoking’, also affects non smoking family members too. The government has spent much in publicity about not smoking. Now it wants to restart the factory because there are a few machines which might function. Why were these not sold off with the bonanza sale of machines from Nepal in those hectic days? Was it because of lack of offers as the prospective buyers were aware of the hazards of smoking?
This sort of news appears periodically. It was flashed at one time that the Hetauda Textile Factory was going to be taken over and run by the Nepali army with the objective that the cloth produced would be utilised for the uniforms of the army and police forces. A market for the products would always be there. This brings to mind that the People’s Liberation Army (PLO) of China runs many factories for the day to day requirements of the armed services of the land. The setback of such a system is that it does away with the practice of ‘Commission Tantra’ for goods required by the armed forces!
The modalities of re-starting all these industries are said to be in the process of being worked out. Why at such a time when the ‘Gathbandan’ government is about to go for elections? Is this all a ‘Bhulbhullaya’ that they are creating for there is no guarantee that these same people will be back in power? Is the jyotishi who has chosen the auspicious date of 4th Mungsir, for holding elections a sure forecaster of good days to come? Can, the now ‘Caretaker’ government, make such decisions?
It would be very wise for the new the government formed, post elections to take up the offer made by Qatar through its representative in Nepal. There is a need in that country for food, water, vegetables, herbs and spices produced as per international standards. The representative advised that Nepal should develop a food value chain and ensure quality of the final products which can compete with similar items from surrounding countries. Such steps will also reduce the widespread use of spraying insecticides that is sadly prevalent in Nepal.
The author is a retired medical doctor and writes fiction under the pen name of Mani Dixit also. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd