There has been an agreement on railway from China to Nepal, but there is lack of clarity on its execution
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli returned home yesterday concluding his six-day official visit to China at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang. He had embarked on the visit to the northern neighbour on June 19 along with Nepali delegates. During his second visit to China in two years, a 14-point joint statement was issued on June 21. Some agreements, memoranda of understanding (MoUs), letter of exchange and a protocol were signed at the delegation level. PM Oli also called on Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both the sides agreed to intensify the implementation of the MoU on Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to enhance connectivity through ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications within the overarching framework of trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network. One of the major understandings reached between the two sides is building a railway from Keyrong to Kathmandu to enhance better connectivity between the two countries. Apart from the bilateral agreements in 10 important areas, including communications, highland agriculture (herb), north-south transmission lines and building economic corridors in Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali river basins, the private sectors from both sides also reached three separate understandings to jointly generate up to 1,000MW of energy under the cascade projects in the Marshayngdi and Trishuli rivers.
The Chinese side has also agreed on a protocol for the utilisation of highways in Tibet by Nepal for cargo transport. This is a positive development. One of the major achievements, as claimed by PM Oli upon his arrival, is the signing of the MoU on cooperation for railway connectivity. Both sides have described it “as the most significant initiative in the history of bilateral cooperation” and that “it would herald a new era of cross-border connectivity between the two countries”. China has also agreed to provide support in technology and personnel training on the operation of the railway. However, the joint statement has said financing modality of the railway connectivity will be negotiated later “as proposed by Nepal”. After issuing the joint statement, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said in Beijing that financial modality of the railway will be discussed at a bilateral level only after its DPR is finalised in one-and-a-half years to come.
Regarding the financial modality of the railway, the government ministers and negotiators are divided into two schools of thought: The railway should be built fully under a Chinese grant or Nepal also should make some investment on its own. But PM Oli wants it to be built fully under the Chinese grant if Oli’s statement that “whoever has got the money would invest on it” is to be believed. Did he personally discuss this issue with his Chinese counterpart or President Xi? Given the difficult and gradient topography, it is technically challenging to build the railway across the Himalayas. Will China be ready to build it under grant even if its cost is too high and cost of its recovery is too long? It demands national debates. As the joint statement has not cleared the air on building the railway connectivity, the PM must address Parliament and clarify as to how the cross Himalayan railway project will benefit both sides in the long run.
Reforms programmes introduced in Nepal’s school education system are not working, it seems. The Secondary Education Exam (SEE) results published yesterday stand as an example. As part of the government bid to improve school education, letter grading system was introduced three years ago by scrapping the old system of evaluation and School Leaving Certificate examinations. Introduction of the letter grading system was largely touted as a measure to “evaluate the overall learning capabilities of students”. But SEE results have failed to make us witness any improvement as such. That 43 per cent of students under the regular category have failed to cross the Gross Point Average (GPA) 2 is not very encouraging.
Nepal’s school education largely focuses on exams rather than learning. Though the letter grading system was introduced with an aim to improve students’ learning, the results speak otherwise, in an indication that we have failed to understand the reforms initiatives in the true sense. Just changing the evaluation system cannot affect concrete change in students’ learning process. Schools need to be equipped with curriculum, teaching staff and infrastructure accordingly. Policymakers seem to be groping in the dark.
A version of this article appears in print on June 25, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.