(Translated from Mulyankan)
fter Girija Prasad Koirala became prime minister for the first time in 1991, he formed a one-member committee to provide financial assistance to all political sufferers under the Panchayat regime. Two-time prime minister, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, was the sole member of this committee called the Committee to Provide Financial Help to Political Sufferers. By declaring himself a political sufferer, Bhattarai withdrew Rs 75,000 from this committee's fund. When Bhattarai was prime minister last year, Prime Minister Koirala also received Rs 75,000. Other leaders of the Congress, the late Mahendra Narayan Nidhi, Ram Chandra Poudel and others also received Rs 75,000 each. Congress leaders who received lesser amounts number in the hundreds.
It is not only Congress leaders who benefited from this fund. Leaders from all major parties have at some time or the other received cash from this fund. The late Man Mohan Adhikari (CPN-UML), KP Oli (UML), Modnath Prasit (UML), Pradip Nepal (UML) and Radha Krishna Mainali (ML), all received Rs 75,000 each, while Jhala Nath Khanal (UML), Amrit Bohara (UML), Madhav Kumar Nepal (UML), Ishwor Pokharel (UML), Keshab Badaal (UML), Bharat Mohan Adhikary (UML), CP Mainali (ML), Hiranya Lal Shrestha (ML), Lok Krishna Bhattarai, Narayan Dhakal (UML) and Devendra Lal Shrestha received Rs 50,000. Lila Mani Pokhrel (United People's Front) received Rs 30,000 from this fund.
When the committee was formed by cabinet decision in 1991, it did not lay out any parameters but that it was to disburse financial assistance to everyone who had suffered under the Panchayat regime. This meant that the sole member of this committee, Bhattarai, could provide financial help to anyone at his own discretion. Anyone close to the committee member could benefit financially. In the very first year the committee distributed Rs 15 million.
In the middle of 1992, the cabinet drew up guidelines for the committee, and expanded it to include two others: Omkar Prasad Shrestha of the Nepali Congress and CP Mainali of the then-UML. The same year it was decided that the tenure of committee members would be three years. In 1994, the cabinet decided to extend the committee's life by another year. After the mid-term elections that year, the UML formed the government, and the members of the committee were replaced. Nar Bahadur Khand became the chief, Mitharam Sharma, the ex-officio member secretary, with Sushil Pyakurel and Rajesh Gautam as the members.
The UML-led government was toppled after nine months and a new committee announced. The Congress-Rastriya Prajatantra Party government once again went for a one-man committee with Bhattarai heading it. The committee was to wind up its work by 2 May, 2000, but it seems the committee is still functioning, and still in the process of emptying the national treasury and helping out all its near and dear financially.
Who can benefit?
The committee decided that help would be provided in two forms-primary financial help, and a lumpsum amount. A primary amount of Rs 3,000 is given to anyone who had been jailed for three years, or in exile or underground for a total of seven years, while Rs 5,000 is provided to those sentenced for life, or jailed continuously for 10 years. Close relatives of people murdered for political reasons would also receive a primary sum of Rs 5,000. However, this was stopped after 1995, by which time 2,244 people had received assistance totalling Rs 7.5 million.
According to the new guidelines, it was decided that the families of political sufferers who were murdered would get a lumpsum of Rs 100,000, people jailed for over 7 years continuously would get a lump sum of Rs 75,000, people jailed for 5 to 7 years continuously would get Rs 50,000, people jailed for 3 to 5 years continuously would get Rs 30,000. If the jail sentence was not continuous, people jailed for over 7 years would get a lumpsum of Rs 50,000, while those jailed for between 5 and 7 would get Rs 30,000 and between 3 and 5 years would get Rs 20,000. People in exile or underground for a minimum of seven years would get a lumpsum of Rs 50,000. As of mid-July, 2000, a total of Rs 150 million had been distributed to 3,268 people.
After the 1950-51 revolution, a similar committee had been formed in 1956 to provide help to people who had been persecuted for their political beliefs. The five categories of sufferers were:
1) families of people murdered by the Rana regime and who were financially devastated;
2) people disabled while fighting against the Rana regime;
3) people killed fighting the Rana regime;
4) people who fell ill while fighting the Rana regime and who were in a bad financial situation; and
5) people who had to give up their education, their business or jobs because of the fight against the Rana regime and were still affiliated or active in politics.
The main point that has to be noted is that all people who fell in the above categories had to be from a very weak financial background, meaning that they had to be very, very poor. The Bhattarai committee provides help to all people who suffered under the Panchayat regime irrespective of their financial situation. This means that even rich people qualify for money from the fund. This is where the trouble lies.
It is all right if the government and the committee provide financial help to political sufferers who lost everything in their fight for democracy. People who have no money, are downtrodden, and have no means of surviving should be provided financial help. In fact it is the duty of the government to help these people, but not people who suffered but are rich enough to fend for themselves. If money is given to these financially well-off people, this becomes some sort of a business. Did these rich political sufferers fight for democracy to gain financially in the long run? Were they really serious in their fight or did they fight because they could make money later on? Did they fight for their own selfish greed and not for the sake of democracy?
The 1956 committee defined "sufferers", much more clearly in that all people who suffered under the Rana regime and were financially weak, could qualify for money. The committee of 1991 does not differentiate on the basis of the financial status of sufferers, and states that anyone who has suffered will get financial help. This means that rich people who suffered in some way, even if they do not require it, can get financial assistance from this committee. The financial help such people take is in fact pocket money for them.
Again the 1991 committee is silent on people disabled in the fight for democracy in 1990. Take the case of Tara Khadka of Rukum. On 6 April, 1990, the police fired upon a crowd demonstrating for democracy at Darbar Marg and he was injured in the left leg. As he did not have enough money, he did not get proper treatment. He now lives in a social centre run by St Xavier's and has no relatives to look after him. He is now leading a hard life. His left leg has been amputated. He did not go to jail but sacrificed a lot for the country. But under the present committee's categorisation, Khadka does not qualify for compensation in any way.
Khadka says that he has already applied many times to the committee, in fact he has appealed to them so many times that the people working in that office always tell him that he does not qualify in any way and therefore will not be eligible to receive any money. Instead they are rude to him and tell him to go and beg in Ratna Park, maybe he will get some money there. According to him, he has so far received only Rs 3,000 from the committee, that too when the UML was in government.
There are many people like Khadka who have not received any help from the committee. All because they are not affiliated to a given political party or because they do not fall into any of the categories as made by the committee. It seems most of the people who have received any amount of money have got it on the basis of political affiliation to a particular party, the party in power or through personal relations with the authorities or with members and officers of the committee.
People who are affiliated to the major political parties and who are rich enough have abused the system more than anyone else. The ruling parties have abused the system to a great extent. People have presented false statements to the committee and received money. A classic example is that of Bipin Koirala (NC) of Sindhuli. When the Panchayat system was instituted, Bipin Koirala was against it. Because of this he spent a total of one year, three months and six days in Nakkhu Jail. Later, he joined the Panchayat regime and during the 1990 movement he did all he could to work against the movement. After the restoration of democracy he presented false statements to the committee, got himself certified as having spent more than seven years in prison and collected Rs 50,000 as compensation.
Another person who presented false statements seems to be Prime Minister Koirala. The official papers published by the committee mention the period spent by the present PM in jail but these do not add up to seven years. Yet he took Rs 75,000. Everyone knows that he is a rich man and does not need the money as badly as other people.
This is a tragedy, in the sense that here we have the leader of the ruling party who has ruled for the longest period after the restoration of democracy presenting false statements just to receive a sum of money which he is not entitled to. If this is not corruption then what is it?
Another leader, Bimalendra Nidhi (NC), as stated in the official records of the committee, spent only 10 months and 16 days in prison. In the same book it is stated that he received the primary amount and Rs 50,000.
Dev Prakash Tripati was once in the Communist Party of Nepal, but later joined the Nepali Congress. No one knows for sure whether he was in prison in 1986. The officials papers show that he was in prison for four years and seven months but he received
Of the Rs 150 million distributed so far, more than Rs 110 million was distributed to 2,376 Congressmen (73 percent of the total), Rs 30 million to 588 of the UML (19 percent), Rs 5.7 million to 155 people of the Sanyukta Jan Morcha (3.5 percent), and Rs 2.8 million to 63 people of the ML (2 percent).
Jhala Nath Khanal (UML) received Rs 50,000 rupees although he stayed only four years, six months and 22 days in prison. He is a rich man and does not need this money. Chandra Bhandari (ML) is supposed to have spend more than seven years in prison. According to the official papers of the committee, he actually spent only two years, one month and 11 days in jail. He received the primary amount plus Rs 75,000.
In the same way, the official book states that Lok Krishna Bhattarai (ML) spent only seven months and 27 days in jail but received Rs 50,000. Hari Rokka (formerly ML) received Rs 75,000 rupees but it is not stated how long he stayed in jail.
Prakash Koirala of the Nepali Congress from Morang received Rs 50,000. Prakash Koirala of the NC from Sunsari then received some amount of money. Again Prakash Koirala from Sindhuli received the primary amount, and it has been stated that he spent two years, nine months and three days in jail. Is it the same Prakash Koirala who is mentioned in three different places or are they different people?
Most amazing is the fact that five ministers from the Panchayat regime too received Rs 50,000 each: Prayag Raj Singh Suwal, Megh Bahadur Shrestha, Singhadhoj Khadka, Bakhan Singh Gurung and Parsu Narayan Chowdhary. This just shows that the committee is not doing its work properly.