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Karnali No-Fly Zone

Saturday, March 19th, 2011
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Deserted Surkhet airport on Saturday morning

Here at Surkhet airport, a dog is fast asleep in the departure lounge. Flies whine on the dirty window panes. The planes in the apron all have their cockpit windows covered with sun shields. No one is going anywhere today either.

The airline offices are padlocked, the APF security at the gate couldn’t be bothered who goes in and out of the terminal building. Local managers of domestic airlines are all in the canteen playing cards.It has been three weeks since Jumla was closed down by women agitating against domestic airlines raising their fares by 30%. But the other airfields in the Karnali, including Bajura, Simikot, Dolpa, and Mugu had remained open. However, local political parties have shown rare unity by closing down those airfields too for the past three days.

The sick and mothers with complicated pregnancies have been stranded all over the remote districts of western Nepal. We heard here that a woman waiting for a plane to take her to hospital died waiting at Bajura airport yesterday. The British State Minister for International Development, Alan Duncan, couldn’t fly to Jumla last week and was also stranded like us in Surkhet.

An agitation that was started by local women’s groups in Jumla with genuine grievances against domestic airlines over fares has now become a deeply political issue. As one local trader from Jumla who has been stuck in Surkhet for three weeks told me: “Rajniti ma politics ghusi sakyo, aba jhan gadbad hunchha.”

He is alluding to the new Maoist minister for tourism and civil aviation, Khadga Biswakarma, who appears to be putting pressure on private airlines to reduce fares so he can take credit for that from his constituents in the Karnali as his first accomplishment in the government in Kathmandu. It may or may not be true, but that is the local perception.The minister was deep in negotiations in Kathmandu on Friday with representatives of local airlines and Karnali politicians, and an agreement was reached to keep the current fares for the next 15 days and find a new formula. But the expected opening of the airport did not happen on Saturday morning apparently because politicians here in the west wanted to see the agreement in writing. Why it couldn’t be faxed over, no one could tell me. Maybe because of load-shedding?

I looked at the national press on Saturday morning and watched the TV channels from Kathmandu: no mention at all of the Karnali no-fly zone and the fact that the region has been largely paralysed for nearly a month now. The trans-Karnali has always been neglected by Kathmandu, and even an aerial bandh here doesn’t seem to make it to the news in the national press.

Local reporters told me they file their stories every day, including features of the sick being stranded, but the media gatekeepers in Kathmandu just don’t give the information any priority.

Domestic airlines have just heard the news that the government has increased the price of aviation fuel by 15%, and they will be in no mood to reduce fares. They had increased fares by 30% and also scrapped the lower price of outbound tickets. Instead of Rs 7,500 roundtrip Surkhet-Jumla, it is now going to cost nearly Rs 14,000.

Fuel prices have gone up because of the agitation in North Africa and the Gulf, and because the government needs to subsidise diesel. But for Karnali-basis it is just another example of how little the rest of Nepal cares for them.

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One Response to “Karnali No-Fly Zone”

  1. DanielGajaraj on Says:

    Nepali media -gatekeepers,with highest regards to the highest personages concerned ,I have to state that they suffer from inferiority complex. They ,includes Nepali gentry as a whole, suffer from long time of domination of the Rana-Shah dynasty and so have a slavish mentality. That is a fact; as importance is given in news reporting to Foreigners, Ministers , even their activities are not news worthy ,they are reported. Whereas the news originating from common Nepalese are ignored.
    Secondly, it is foolish on the part of the Nepal Oil Corporation to keep on every time subsidizing diesel by increasing the price of petrol.It is a simple mathematics ,that we import 5 times more diesel than petrol; so how good mathematics it is to keep on increasing petrol price?Diesel is used in trucks and buses ,so it is more for the masses consumption, that is understood.But this type of exercise is not valid all the time. Let government reduce taxes on fuel as it is a mass consumption item.


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