Nepal | September 24, 2020

Minister Bhattarai kicks up another row

Arpana Ale Magar
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Kathmandu, September 15

Yogesh Bhattarai has landed in yet another controversy in less than two months of assuming the top post at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.

The social media went into a frenzy today after the apology tendered by the tourism minister on Facebook for delaying a flight bound for Kathmandu from Nepalgunj did not sound like an apology.

Minister Bhattarai acknowledged that he had arrived 15 minutes late at the airport in Nepalgunj yesterday to catch the last Buddha Air flight to Kathmandu, as he was caught up in the Dolphin Festival at Tikapur.

He also acknowledged that he had asked the airline to put the flight on hold for some time, as it was necessary for him to return to Kathmandu that day because he was scheduled to address the Parliament the next day.

Prem Nath Thakur, chief of Civil Aviation Office in Nepalgunj, confirmed that the minister had requested the airline to delay the flight, which was scheduled to take off at 6:41pm.

The instruction given by the minister to delay the flight did not go down well with other passengers. So, as soon the minister boarded the aircraft, furious passengers surrounded him, severely rebuked him and sought clarification for causing inconvenience to them. They said the flight, which finally took off at 7:06pm, was delayed because of his inappropriate behaviour. The entire episode has been captured on video, which has gone viral on social media.

The minister appears to have dealt with infuriated passengers very well by remaining calm, which has been appreciated by many. But what dragged him into controversy was a comment that he posted on Facebook after arriving in Kathmandu.

The minister wrote that one of the persons who had misbehaved with him even went to the extent of telling him that the pain that he had inflicted by “submitting 700,000 signatures against [former prince] Paras Shah to the palace” could never be forgotten. “I then immediately knew where [people who had ganged up against me] were coming from,” Bhattarai added. He then apologised for causing inconvenience to passengers.

The apology tendered by the minister has sounded hollow to many on social media as they said he had only tried to politicise the issue rather than admit his mistake without prejudice. This group considers even a minute’s delay in flight because of the minister’s instruction as abuse of authority. This group says that the minister should have either arrived at the airport on time or waited till the next day to catch a flight.

This group blames Buddha Air for not shunning the minister’s request and treating its passengers unfairly. Buddha Air has not formally commented on the issue.

But Airline Operators Association of Nepal has called the incident “unfortunate”. “It is really necessary to maintain peace inside the aircraft to ensure flight safety. Hence, we request all our passengers to remain patient inside the aircraft,” reads an AOAN statement, which adds, “It is against the law to shout and misbehave inside an aircraft.”

The Civil Aviation Act states that the pilot in command may hold in custody anyone who mistreats any crew member or passenger on board to jeopardise law and order inside the flight, including flight safety. Such people could be fined up to Rs 100,000 and sent to prison for a year, according to the law.

One of the persons who misbehaved with Minister Bhattarai has been identified as Gyanendra Shahi. Police rounded him up from the venue of a press conference he had organised to disclose why passengers had misbehaved with the minister.

This is not the first time Bhattarai has landed in controversy since becoming minister on July 31. He was previously criticised for directing Pushupati Area Development Trust to direct performers of aarati, a Hindu ritual in which deities are hailed, to play national anthem before starting their ritual.

A version of this article appears in print on September 16, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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