Nepal | June 02, 2020

‘The crisis at this time can lead us to seek alternatives for the long term’

The Himalayan Times
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The country has been passing through a turbulent time at the moment. Due to the fuel crisis, life has become difficult with operation of lifeline services like public transportation and hospitals, among others, badly affected. Long queues of vehicles in front of fuel stations and people queuing for cooking gas have become normal in Kathmandu Valley. Along with the unofficial blockade imposed by India after promulgation of new constitution, economic activities across the country have been hit hard. The government has not done much so far to cope with this crisis. Pushpa Raj Acharya of The Himalayan Times caught up with Ganesh Man Pun newly appointed Commerce Minister to seek answers on what the government is doing to cope with the current crisis.

Interview with Commerce Minister Ganesh Man Pun at the Ministry of Commerce in Singhadurbar, Kathmandu on Sunday. PHOTO/SKANDA GAUTAM

Interview with Commerce Minister Ganesh Man Pun at the Ministry of Commerce in Singhadurbar, Kathmandu on Sunday. PHOTO/SKANDA GAUTAM

You’ve accepted the responsibility of the commerce and supplies ministry in the new government despite knowing of all the difficulties and challenges in easing the supplies across the country caused by India’s unofficial blockade. How are you planning to manage the supply of essentials at the earliest?

First of all, I’m very much thankful to all Nepalis who have shown patience and supported us despite the difficulties they have faced since the last two months. The crisis has been deepening across the country since the last month due to the continuous obstruction in movement of vehicles laden with essential commodities, fuel and industrial raw materials from India to Nepal. Now we are working on a war-footing to resolve this crisis and some initiatives have been taken and the results will be visible after a few days. I think it is both a challenge and opportunity for me and my team in the commerce ministry because the crisis at this time can lead us to seek alternatives for the long term.

What are the alternatives that you have in mind?

We have to plan for the short term, mid term and long term. We have to immediately cope with the current crisis and we have negotiated with our northern neighbour China to bring petroleum products from there. Initially, two agreements have been signed with China. The first one is to bring 1,000 tonnes of gasoline that the government of China has announced to provide to fuel strapped Nepal as a grant assistance. And we have already dispatched fuel tankers to China for the purpose.

Another agreement signed between two oil giants — Nepal Oil Corporation and China National United Oil Corporation (PetroChina) — has paved the way to import petroleum products from China. As consumption of petroleum products has been increasing in the country we have to bring petroleum products from both India and China to meet our demand for the mid-term. And for the long term, we have to reduce consumption of imported fuel by developing hydro electricity on our own. We have to promote electric vehicles instead of diesel and petrol engine vehicles in the long term and it would be possible if we can harness hydroelectricity.

The government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese government to import petroleum products from China. Do you believe that China will provide enough fuel to cater to the demand of the country?

It is a new beginning with China. We are trying to diversify the import of petroleum products. We have never thought of China as an alternative to India or vice-versa. It is not about the game of playing ‘China card’ or ‘India card’. As both the neighbours of Nepal are rapidly moving ahead in the path of economic prosperity, we also want to be benefit from both countries by increasing the volume of trade and the agreement with China to import petroleum products is one of the initiatives taken to increase the volume of trade with both countries.

The decision to bring petroleum products from China has been taken by some people as a geopolitical issue but you said it is not a ‘China card’. How would you like to assure people that it is not what some think it is?

I have stressed earlier that we have never thought of China and India as alternatives to one another. We have very good and friendly relations with both countries. As the continuous obstruction in movement of vehicles from India to Nepal caused by the Tarai-protest has hit the supply of essential goods across the country, we have realised that we must need a ventilation to operate lifeline services in the country and thus approached the government of China. We will bring petroleum products from both India and China.

How much fuel are you planning to import from China?

Consumption of petroleum products is increasing and it is definite that the country will consume more petroleum products in the days to come. This is one reason why we are planning to import at least one-third amount of the
current consumption from China. Till now, we are entirely dependent on India for petroleum products and we believe that we have now diversified the source of petroleum import in the coming days.

Would it be possible to import fuel from China with existing infrastructure that we have?

We have to improve connectivity and road networks with our northern neighbour to expand trade. We also need well-facilitated customs offices. Currently, we are bringing China-granted gasoline from Kyirong (26 km from Nepali border) but in the long term we have to bring petroleum products from both Lhasa (Tatopani) and Kyirong (Rasuwagadhi). We hope China will establish a depot or pipeline in the mid term because we have proposed to import one-third of the country’s total consumption from China. We also have to acknowledge our fault that we did not develop better road networks in the northern side. We need better infrastructure to increase trade volume. On the other hand, we also have to increase fuel storage capacity in the country. The storage facility built three decades back is not sufficient now.

Trucks and containers laden with Nepal-bound cargo, and fuel tankers have long been stranded at the Indian side. It is a similar case at the Kolkata port. What has the government been doing to resolve the issue?

Our foreign minister visited India in the third week of October and spoke to higher level political people but there has not been any improvement. Nepal and India have had a unique relation from the very beginning. We have historical, social, cultural and economic relations. Far from that, India and Nepal are both members of the regional forum SAARC. But India has imposed an unofficial blockade on Nepal citing that the protest in the Tarai region of Nepal has created numerous hassles in Nepal. Life has became difficult with operation of lifeline services being affected, and economic activities have come to a standstill. India, as a good neighbour, should not be involved in the internal affairs of Nepal. The government has formed a committee to talk with the agitating Tarai-based parties to try and resolve the disputes. The Indian side has not been sending goods to Nepal citing security reasons but it is the responsibility of the government of Nepal to provide security to the trucks, containers and fuel tankers when they enter Nepal and we have already pledged our commitment regarding that.

Lapses have been found in the distribution of fuel. Essential service providers have been complaining that they have not been treated equally. What is your take on this?

We have assigned the government owned fuel stations to distribute fuel keeping the essential service providers in top priority. There have been complaints on the misuse of fuel and we will take action against those that have been found to be involved in discrepancies in fuel distribution. We have also instructed the Department of Commerce and Supply Management for effective market monitoring to stop the anomalies and penalise those who are found to be taking advantage of the dire situation.

A version of this article appears in print on November 02, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.

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