By Bal Khartry, Director of ANSWER Nepal
On September 20, 2015 India imposed an economic blockade on Nepal, demanding specific changes to Nepal’s new Constitution. India claimed that Nepal’s own Madeshi People were the ones blocking the border, but that was not true. Even border crossings in areas without unrest were not blocking supplies.
Nepal is a landlocked country. All of its petroleum is imported from India. Birgunj (bordertown) is the largest custom office in Nepal, handling more than two thirds of Nepal’s trade with India. Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) is a state owned monopoly which imports and distributes petroleum in Nepal. Yet, it doesn’t have enough storage capacity for even a week’s supply, so the impact of the blockade was immediate and devastating. Usually more than 300 fuel trucks come to Nepal from India in a normal day but during the blockade only 8-10 trucks were allowed to pass. The blockade has affected Nepal in many ways. The shortage of cooking gas, fuel and other supplies made most Nepalis’ lives very difficult. Post-earthquake reconstruction became next to impossible. People started chopping the trees for firewood and using induction cookers (despite the several hours of power outage) in city areas. Many urban schools closed due to shortage of diesel to run school buses. Most of the schools in the South (Terai) were closed due to unrest in those areas. ANSWER could not distribute letters from sponsors to one third of its students as a result. Hospitals were running short of life-saving drugs. The price of the supplies for reconstruction skyrocketed. Black Market fuel was the only option to run most of the vehicles on the streets. Violence in the South continued to grow.
Finally in February the new Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, accompanied by a delegation of 100 officials, met with the Prime Minister of India and his delegation in Delhi, India (Feb 19-Feb 24). With the agreement to amend the new constitution, India’s “informal blockade” began to resolve. Immediately after Oli’s return, the Nepal Government passed two amendments re: better representation of minorities in the South which seemed to satisfy India but did little to appease the Madeshi and Tharu parties of the South who vow to continue to oppose the constitution through other forms of protest. So, a long term solution is still needed.
Prime Minister Oli just returned from his first official visit to China (March 20-March 27) and both countries inked 10 different agreements, including transit and transport of goods to Nepal from China. This visit is aimed at diversifying Nepal’s relation with China and becoming less dependent on India’s trade routes. The immediate impact of this agreement has led to a return of long queues in most of the fuel stations in Kathmandu Valley as India once again begins to limit the number of trucks carrying fuel to Nepal. More results yet to be seen…..