Nepal & Bhutan Brief (1/16)
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Political Developments:

Major Parties Trying for Accord by Jan 19:

1. Major Political parties intensified their efforts to forge a written agreement with the agitating United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) before the Parliament meeting slated for January 19. A meeting of top leaders from three major parties as well as taskforce members from the parties held at the prime minister’s residence, on January 14, decided to make all out effort for forging consensus at the earliest. However, the agitating parties continued to press their position for a convincing response to their 11-point for any consensus to emerge.

2. Parliament is likely to move forward discussion on the constitutional amendment bill as it was claimed that the taskforce team formed by the major parties and the agitating ones would iron out all differences at a meeting, fixed on January 15, to pave the way for written agreement. The major parties also decided to form a political mechanism to review the existing demarcation of federal units and the same could be given legitimacy either from the Parliament or through constitutional amendment.

Fuel Shortage Continues:

3. Although the number of vehicles entering Nepal from all Indian border points, except Birgunj, has gone up since mid-December, the country continues to witness acute shortage of fuel. This is because Raxaul Depot of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) — the nearest depot from Nepal—used to supply about 60 per cent of the fuel consumed in the country via Birgunj However, the supply from Raxaul has been nil since the start of border blockade in the fourth week of September. Moreover, even as the supply from other depots of IOC has gone up compared to the situation before mid-December, the quantity is not much higher than in the normal times.

4. The Commerce and Consumer Welfare Committee of the Parliament has directed the government to bring in gas bullets that are stuck at the Raxaul border check point, due to ongoing unrest in the Tarai and border blockade, by re-routing them. The committee at its meeting, on January 14, instructed the government to arrange for the surcharges needed for re-routing managed by Nepal Oil Corporation and also to make the necessary policy and practical arrangements for the same. The meeting also decided to direct the government to take necessary steps towards curbing black-marketing and fair distribution of the gas brought in from the border check points other than Raxaul.

Ex-King Says He Has Not Yet Abandoned His Responsibilities:

5. Nepal’s former King, in a statement issued on the occasion of National Unity Day Poush 27 (January 11, 2016)— birth anniversary of Great King Prithivi Naryan Shah, said that though sidelined, he was still aware of his responsibilities towards the country. “I have handed over the throne to the public for the benefit of the nation, for peace, prosperity and for their satisfaction”, he said and added, “I am still in the country, I have not abandoned my responsibilities towards the nation”. In response to Gyanendra’s remark Prime Minister KP Oli said that the former king was free to live in Nepal even though he has been side lined totally. According to a newspaper report, Gyanendra Shah is heading to Bangkok, Thailand. He will be accompanied by his close family friends, daughter-in-law Himani Shah and personal aide Sagar Timilsena. Shah. While in Bangkok, he is expected to meet some influential Indians. The report mentions Shah as saying that after brief stay in Bangkok, he will be travelling to New Delhi as well.

External Relations:

PM Modi and PM Oli Dicuss:

6. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli spoke to each other, on December 31, as the blockade of Nepal dragged into its fifth month, straining ties between the two countries. They exchanged New Year greetings and discussed ways to strengthen ties between the two countries. Oli thanked Modi for India’s recent statement welcoming Nepal’s decision to amend the new constitution and set up an all-party committee to revise federal boundaries. Modi invited Oli to visit India in 2016. This was accepted by Oli. This was the third time Modi and Oli spoke to each other since Oli became Nepal’s Prime Minister nearly three months ago.

PM Oli Likely To Visit India Next Month:

7. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Thapa, on January 6, said that preparations were under way for PM Oli’s India visit. While no dates have been finalized, the visit could take place as early as even the second and third week of February. The ongoing preparations come in the wake of significant improvement in ties between Nepal and India, with ease in restrictions on supplies along Nepal-India border except at Raxaul-Birgunj entry point. DPM Thapa said that PM Oli would also visit China as the Chinese side too was eager to welcome him.

Rajendra Mahato Meets Rahul Gandhi:

8. Sadbhawana Party Chairman Rajendra Mahato, who was in New Delhi for health check-up, met vice President of Indian National Congress Party Rahul Gandhi at latter’s residence, on January 14. Mahato was accompanied by his wife and parliamentarian Shail Mahato. During the meeting that lasted for nearly 45 minutes, Rajendra Mahato complained that Nepal government was not serious on fulfilling its prior commitments with the Madhes-based parties and had been over avoiding constitution amendment and demarcation issues under various pretexts. Madhesi Morcha was ready for consensus with utmost flexibility but the big parties were showing reluctance, Mahato said. “It would be appropriate to focus on easing Nepal-India relationship and stress on mutual dialogues to eliminate the crisis seen in Nepal,” Gandhi said during the meet. Mahato also met Congress leaders Dr. Karan Singh, Kapil Sibbal and Salman Khurshid and Bihar leaders Pappu Yadav and Ranjit Ranjan, on January 13.

India Asks Nepal for Proper Investigation Into Acts of Vandalism:

9. The Embassy of India in Kathmandu requested the government to conduct proper investigation into attacks against Indian entities in Nepal over the last few months since such incidents could severely dampen the confidence of the investors. In a letter addressed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and copies sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Industry (Foreign Investment Division) and Investment Board Nepal, the embassy requested the government to enhance security arrangements at the GMR office in Surkhet. There were attempts to vandalise the project office of GMR–developer of Upper Karnali Hydroelectric Project at Surkhet on December 21. Officials, working in the office narrowly escaped and the incident created a sense of panic amongst them, the letter said.

Prime Minister Oli Condemns Pathankot Attack:

10. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, on January 6, in a message to PM Narendra Modi, on the terrorist attack at Pathankot on January 2, unequivocally condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and held the view that terrorism must be firmly and resolutely dealt with wherever and whenever it took place. While wishing early recovery of those injured, Prime Minister Oli expressed belief that the perpetrators of the heinous act would be brought to justice at the earliest. At this hour of grief, PM Oli, on behalf of the government and people of Nepal, and on his own behalf, extended heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the prime minister of India and through him to the bereaved families, the message added.

(Based on Media Reports and compiled by R N P Singh, VIF)

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