Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Travails in eastern Nepal


A visit to the closed mills in the mills area of Biratnagar has made this Beed write about impressions of the current economic scenario in the eastern parts of the country. Once a city that bred industrialists and leaders at equal pace, Biratnagar is now mainly a city with a good highway. It seems like the incessant construction at sites of new industries is over, and, like elsewhere in the country, very little seems to be really happening. The city is fairly politically active, as a round of the colleges showed during the student elections. There are more people now who survive only because they know politicians and have taken on the part of power-brokers. This is seen as preferable to other economic activities, and although the risks are high, the returns are pretty good. There are new buildings on the city's horizon that are visible proof of this new profession. The city now devotes itself to churning out professional politicians and power-brokers at the cost of the other development. Unemployment and under-employment also remain a big issue here as there are more young people who now see success in political careers rather than careers that would be a more sustainable in the future. The trade exhibition held in Biratnagar last week was a dismal reminder of these developments.

Labour problems are another serious issue here, and once again, it is the influence that political parties exert on unions that is seen as the root of the matter. Because of this, most industries are now seriously considering alternatives to setting up new manufacturing units here. Labour issues aside, there's this sense of fear pervading many parts of eastern Nepal, including Biratnagar. At all places discussions centre around on extortionist groups that have made kidnapping an everyday matter. In the guise of insurgents, they seize any opportunity to strike. Some of these operations are carried out from across the porous border. There are many business groups that are thinking of relocating their operations, some outside their respective towns or cities, and some even outside the country. The long-term impact of such moves is extremely worrying.

The much-hyped Hrithik episode, centered around Kathmandu, seems to have had little impact, and the much-touted pahadi-madhesi divide is perceived here more as the agenda of political parties. Certainly, business is not feeling it in the least, being much more worried about extortion, kidnapping and threats. But, the emergence here, too, of associations based on ethnicity does make one wonder what the future of ethnic affiliations is in this part of the country. Perhaps we should start thinking now and try and anticipate the impact of disruptions in economic activities in the future due to issues of ethnicity. We've seen communal issues affect business the world over, and there are pro-active preemptive measure we can take now.

The town of Dharan, in comparison with most places in eastern Nepal, seems almost like an oasis in terms of economic activity. The consumption and spending in this township has been historically very high, and it continues to be so. The slowing of development here after the closing down of the Gurkha Recruitment Camp is history, and BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences has catalysed a resurgence of the local economy. Shops are getting facelifts and there are positively cutting-edge efforts like There are a lot of public partnership programs for road building, and the town is kept spic and span. Personally, this was the only town that had a positive vibe and anything resembling a positive future.

This trip has been a tremendous learning experience for this Beed-we all need to keep reminding ourselves how different the issues we get caught up in in Kathmandu are from the cares and concerns in this part of Nepal.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)