Any attempt to protect Khatri at this stage will only tarnish the image of the provincial government and the communist party

It would do everyone a lot of good if Minister of Physical Infrastructure Development of Karnali Province Khadka Bahadur Khatri surrenders before the Patan High Court as he has been indicted for banking fraud. On Monday, the court had directed the police to arrest and produce the ‘absconding’ minister before it within three days. Khatri, together with four other individuals, has been accused of providing fake bank guarantees of Rs 10.1 million to Bhojpur Technical Committee. The fact that he is “on the run”, instead of turning himself in to the authorities, only complicates matter and makes him guilty in the eyes of the public. Khatri may not immediately face suspension from his post, but it would be morally wrong to appear as a defendant in a criminal case while holding a high public post. So the provincial minister is better stepping down on moral grounds. Khatri was elected to the Karnali Province Assembly from Surkhet Constituency 1 on the ticket of the erstwhile CPN-UML, which has merged with the CPN (Maoist-Centre) to become the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) that now runs the federal government.

Khatri is a contractor, who runs KSK Construction in Surkhet in mid-west Nepal. The government had recently filed a banking offence against Khatri and four others for submitting two fake bank guarantees to Bhojpur Technical Committee between June and November 2016. The defendants had forged documents for two bank guarantees worth Rs 10.1 million of the Agriculture Development Bank, Bhojpur and submitted them to the technical committee. Surprisingly, Khatri, even after becoming the minister of Karnali Province, is said to be overseeing the construction of a number of road projects worth crores of rupees by his company. Why this conflict of interest was never questioned for so long is anyone’s guess.

The NCP at the centre has not made any comments on the issue, and let the silence not be interpreted by the public as trying to protect Khatri. The law of the land should apply to everyone equally without favour, and the NCP must play its part in getting Khatri to surrender before the court without much fuss. In this, the provincial government has a bigger responsibility and must decide quickly what to do with him. Any attempt to protect Khatri at this stage will only tarnish the image of the provincial government and the communist party. In any case, lawmakers and ministers, whether at the centre or in the provinces, should be people of upright character and high morals. One of the reasons why there is a deficit of the public’s trust in our political parties and their leaders is because quite a few lack moral values. There have been instances, not one but many, in which ministers, who are often seen sermonising in public about morals and ethical behaviour, have been charged with corruption, but unyielding due to the strong support of the parties. Increasingly, politics is seen as a means of reaching power at whatever it costs. And when muscle and money power come into play, the chances of unscrupulous figures making their way through the elections are always there. In Khatri’s case, the odds are stacked against him, still give him a fair trial, and let him prove his innocence, if he is.

Repair the bridge

Vehicular movement along the Butwal-Narayangadh section of the busy East-West Highway has come to a grinding halt after a steel bridge over the Arunkhola River caved in after a loaded truck hit its iron railings on Wednesday. Police said around 10 metres of the bridge have been severely damaged while some two metres of it have caved in, making it impossible for heavy vehicles to ply on it. Only light vehicles and two wheelers have been allowed on the bridge for safety reasons. Police said it would take time to assess the actual damage caused to the bridge and cost to repair the 300-metre-long bridge on the highway, which acts as the country’s lifeline.

The bridge needs to be repaired without any delay as failure to do so it will incur huge losses to the national economy, and the people heading west from Narayangadh and vice versa will face difficulty in their movement. An alternative route already developed to the north of the bridge should be quickly blacktopped to see to it that heavy vehicles carrying goods and public buses can play there without any hassle. At the same time, the traffic police should keep the drivers of heavy vehicles alert while crossing the long bridges.