September 30, 2015
Although New Delhi pleads innocent, most Nepalis are adamant that India is punishing them by deliberately blocking their supply of essential goods – a passive-aggressive reaction to Nepal’s new constitution. Nepalis are calling it an “unofficial economic blockade” and a “communal” war. The former attorney general in Kathmandu, Yubaraj Sangraula, called the cut-off of supplies as an “act of aggression.” Nepal is almost totally dependent on India for overland supplies.
India has been critical of Kathmandu for rushing through the constitution, supporting the Madhesi and Tharu communities’ claim that the new constitution does not afford them equal rights nor representation in government.
Whatever side one takes on the inclusiveness of the new charter, for many, the situation brings back the memory of India’s 1989 blockade, which lasted for 13 months and resulted in unprecedented political upheaval in Nepal.
According to Swarnim Wagle, a member of the Nepal National Planning Commission, the shortage of essential supplies will soon prove crippling. The landlocked Himalayan nation’s dependence on imports from India has increased after April’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which killed some 9,000 people and blocked alternative supply routes from China. “We understand the Indian view that because of security issue they cannot allow the trucks to pass,” says Wagle. “The [Nepal] government’s view is that once they come to the Nepal side, security forces will escort them inside.”
AIRLINES CANCEL FLIGHTS TO NEPAL
Yesterday, China Southern Airlines announced that is has cancelled its flights to Nepal until October 10, stating that it would not be able to fly without refueling at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport.
The airport authorities on Monday sent a notice to foreign airlines flying the Nepal sector that the cutbacks would come into effect by 12 noon on Tuesday. The decision was taken in response to requests made to them by the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC).
“We are sorry to inform passengers that due to jet fuel problem in Nepal, China Southern Airlines has cancelled its flight from Guangzhou-Kathmandu-Guangzhou effective from September 29 to October 10,” the airline said in its Facebook page.
More airlines are preparing to suspend flights to Nepal for a temporary period, according to airlines officials.
In regard to the October 10 resumption of flights date, Dhiraj Chandra Shrestha, deputy sales manager of China Southern, cautioned that the airline was in a “wait and see” mode.
The fuel shortage is likely to affect all airlines using narrow-body jets on long-haul routes and this comes at a particularly unfortunate time.
Owing to the upcoming festival season in Nepal, most airlines flying narrow-body aircraft are flying at full passenger and cargo-load capacities, and they will thus be hit hard. However, airlines flying wide-body aircraft, except for Turkish Airlines and Korean Air, will not be affected as much by the decision.
Industry insiders say that a few airlines have started to find alternative airports to refuel their tanks before arriving in Kathmandu. For example, Korean Air and Dragon Air have planned to touch down in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Turkish Airlines and Air Arabia plan to touch down in New Delhi and Lucknow, respectively.
For airlines flying the cross-border international sector or the short-haul sector--between Nepal and destinations like India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China--the government has requested the airlines to fill their fuel tanks to maximum capacity in their respective takeoff points of origin, so that they don’t need to refuel at TIA.
INDIAN TV BANNED IN NEPAL
Nepal’s cable federation said it would suspend Indian television channels on Monday, accusing the neighbouring country of imposing an economic blockade and meddling in internal politics.
The Federation of Nepal Cable Television planned to suspend broadcasting of Indian channels in Nepal from 10 am on Tuesday, Sunil Kumar Lama, the organization’s general secretary, said.
“This is to protest against the blockade,” Lama said. However, he declined to state how long the suspension would last.
Today, the Nepal government asked the cable operators to continue the broadast of Indian TV channels and sought explanation from them for blacking out the channels. The Ministry of Information and Communications sought clarification from various cable operators as to why action must not be taken against them as they have violated the National Broadcasting Act.
Sashi Kant Agrawal, vice president of the Nepal India Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NICCI), said that the ongoing tension between the two neighbors will have negative long-term results: “The concept of importing goods from China isn’t feasible. India is our largest trading partner with two-thirds of the country’s total trade volume taking place between the two countries.”
The Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) Vice President Shekhar Golchha said that the ongoing political unrest has troubled the consumers as well as business enterprises: “We are almost in a death bed. Firstly, the earthquake crippled our business, followed by this political unrest. This has left us in such a situation, from where it is very difficult for an entrepreneur to bounce back.”
Hari Bhakta Sharma, senior vice president of Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI), termed the current situation as the worst scenario that entrepreneurs have ever experienced in their careers: “We don’t have cash to pay workers. Even if petroleum products are made available to us, we don’t have money to purchase that.”