An area of doubt

In the past, businessmen were sometimes known to announce a hartal, pulling down their shutters on a particular day, in protest against something perceived to have unfairly hit their vital interests. Yesterday’s general strike called for the first time by the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), may not have been a big success, as the day passed off, at least in the capital, like any other normal day. But the main issue is not only whether the FNCCI demands were reasonable but whether the strike was the sole option left, or would it indeed help resolve the problems?

FNCCI defied the Patan Appellate Court’s stay order, the first court order against a general strike. Secondly, in the past, FNCCI used to appeal to others, such as political parties and student associations, to call off their strikes, on the grounds that strikes, besides being a nuisance to the general public, would result in a loss of hundreds of millions in economic terms. Now it has joined the league. That said, however, its demands should not go unaddressed to the extent they are reasonable. After the stay order, FNCCI representatives held talks with the Prime Minister, but they, finally, decided to take the plunge on the grounds that the assurances did not come in writing.

The businessmen’s umbrella organisation has five demands — industrial security, an end to all extortions, settlement of industrial disputes, abolition of the syndicate system in transport, and loan rescheduling. Its demand as regards extortions is perfectly reasonable, but this is not the only group which has been subjected to extortions. One source of extortion is the Maoists, who say ‘donations’ are their compulsion. The other source is criminals who for the most part are at large. There can be no two opinions on the need for industrial security and freedom from extortion, but these issues are closely linked to the success of the ongoing peace process, as business and industry cannot remain insulated when the whole country is suffering from these problems. As regards extortions by the criminals, the government could have done much better even without a political settlement. Efforts could also be immediately started towards resolving industrial disputes, with the business community, the political parties, the labour unions and the government sitting together and evolving norms and sorting out issues, combined with a sensitive understanding of one another’s rights and compulsions, and of their own duties. The government can immediately resolve FNCCI’s fully justified demand for ending the syndicate system, a task which should have been performed long ago, as the system strikes at the cardinal principal of competition in business. An area of doubt, however, hangs over the demand for the rescheduling of loans, which are long overdue. However, the government could give this demand a hearing without prejudice to the interests of millions of Nepalis who have deposited their hard-earned money in the lending banks.