Nepali Times
Nation
Sticking it out


WONG SHU YUN in BHAIRAWA



WONG SHU YUN

In this bustling border town where grain traders, cement industrialists and gravel exporters dominate, the people can't wait to get the elections over with. Not so much because Nepal will have a new constitution, but because they hope it will end extortion.

Last month, Maoists torched industralist Rajeev Kumar Beriwal's Rs 40 million plywood factory. The 33-year-old had received a call on his cellphone demanding Rs 1 million in campaign funding.

"When I said I couldn't pay, by 7.30 PM they had burnt down my factory," says Beriwal (pictured, above) who doesn't pick up his cellphone anymore.

Other Bhairawa businessmen keep private cellphone numbers just for family members and close friends. "I don't disclose the number to anyone else," says industrialist Rajesh Kumar Agrawal whose factory was also bombed by Maoists six years ago.

Agarwal says the extortion hasn't stopped, and he admits he's still paying up just so they'll leave him alone. "I pay to avoid trouble, that's life," he told Nepali Times with a shrug.

Agarwal and others are all excited about the elections because they hope it will close this chapter of Nepal's unstable transition and allow economic growth. "India is seeing 10 percent growth and we could benefit. For us the next two years will be a test," Agarwal says hopefully.

The conflict destroyed Rajendra Prasad Baniya's ambitious business plans. "Now I want the elections because that is the last chance for my business to expand," he says. The 47-year-old distributes Nestle products and says he will support the NC because it believes in economic liberalisation.

Because their economic policies are so similar, Bhairawa will see a keen race between the NC and UML. But not everyone is hopeful that the elections will improve the business climate. "All the parties have approached me for donations for their campaigns, but they rarely explain what they will do if they win," says Krishna Prasad Sharma, 42. "It shows that they are not sincere about developing the country economically."

Sharma is into export of Nepal's boulders and gravel to India where growth has spurred demand for construction material. There are now 35 stone and gravel exporters in the Lumbini area alone and they can't keep up with demand from India. Sharma's biggest gripe is that while he pays the government Rs 60 million a year in taxes, he also has to pay a parallel Maoist tax.

Then, there are others like Rishikesh Agrawal, 41, who has given up on elections and on Nepal. Agarwal moved himself and his family to India for good after the JTMM demanded money. When he refused to pay up, they bombed his home and factories.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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