Uneasy calm grips Sarlahi district

Shops along Nepal-India border shut • CDO asks people to get rid of fear factor

Malangwa, April 7:

Sarlahi, the flashpoint of last year’s Mashes agitation, is calmer than its neighbouring districts Mahottari in the east and Rauthat in the west with almost no incidents of violence by armed outfits during the last two months.

The armed outfits of Tarai that have been threatening to disrupt the April 10 Constituent Assembly election have less infested this district but their threat has taken a toll on the business community and the commuters in the final week of the polls.

Busses on Malangwa to Nawalpur section of the east-west highway have stopped plying since last week due to the threats of the armed groups. Almost 75 per cent of shops around this border town have closed since April 2. Only a few eateries, pharmacies and groceries are open. The threat is not substantial but people do not want to take risk.

“People say that JTMM-J men have threatened to close the businesses, though we have not heard any thing of that sort through official media,” said Rameswor Mahato, a local bus operator and resident of Malangwa -10. “How can we open the business if the police themselves are not secure in the wake of increased threats by the armed outfits,” said a businessman who declined to be named.

According to Ranga Lal Agrawal, president of the Sarlahi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the district headquarters Sarlahi has been incurring a loss of Rs 10 to 15 million a day due to the closure of businesses. But the villages and areas close to the east-west highway have remained open as in any other normal day.

“The business community is most vulnerable and the main reason for closure is lack of security. As police have been deputed to poll related works, business community is concerned about its security and safety,” Agrawal said adding he would call a meeting of the business community soon and request to open the shops.

A local shopkeeper Bikram Yadav says he would be more than happy if the business community decides to stand together. “Business people should not panic or else they should permanently close their shops. Everyday different groups threaten to close the business. If we bow to them, we would go hungry,” said Yadav, a watch repairer.

CDO Shambhu Koirala admitted that the security agencies were focused more on conducting the CA polls than giving priority to open the local businesses. “We are very much busy with the poll-related works,” said Koirala.

In the first incident of violence in the run-up to polls, a bomb was blasted in Constituency-6 of Sarlahi on Saturday but no groups took responsibility for it. Neither the bomb caused any damage.

The district administration has categorised 100 areas as sensitive and most sensitive in terms of security and most of those areas fall in Constituency 4, 5 and 6. All these constituencies are close to the Indian border.

According to Koirala, overall security in Sarlahi was better than in neighbouring districts and if somebody was sceptical about security it was because of the fear factor. “Terror in other districts has some impact here, as it happens everywhere, but we have arranged enough security to foil any bid of violence,” Koirala said.