While Nepal welcomes foreign investment, it must be borne in mind that there are rules and regulations to follow here just as in the land of the investors
Following a parliamentary sub-committee’s report suggesting the government scrap a land-lease deal with Huaxin Cement Narayani, which is coming up with a big cement factory in Dhading, the Chinese company is in a quandary. And this problem would not have surfaced had all the stakeholders pushing for the cement factory followed the law of the land. The report of the sub-committee of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has questioned if Benighat Rorang Rural Municipality had the legal mandate to lease some 200 ropanis of public land to the cement company for a period of 50 years to build its plant. The PAC sub-committee has also found that the company did not carry out the initial environmental examination (IEE) as required to see if the project harmed the environment. This apart, the sub-panel has concluded that the company has breached nearly all of the legal provisions while executing the project. It has flouted requirements about pollution control, road construction, compensation to those affected and employment to the locals, among others. The sub-panel has submitted its report to the PAC, which will be presented at the full committee meeting to take a decision on what action to take against the company.
The cement company would not have hogged the limelight had the recent floods not caused extensive damage worth more than a billion rupees at the construction site. The structure is coming up on an area of 500 ropanis of land at Panikharka in Dhading — 300 ropanis that had turned to waste land during the 1993 floods plus another 200 ropanis that it has leased from the rural municipality. Had an environmental study of the place been conducted, it might have dawned on the company that the river bank was not a suitable place for building the cement plant, prone as it is to annual floods. It is apparent that the cement manufacturer would not have dared flout the existing rules and regulations if there had not been the backing and self-interest of the local politicians, many of whom are from the ruling party. The cement plant has jacked up land prices while boosting local industry, such as the crusher plant. The company is erecting the plant at a cost of Rs 15 billion to produce 3,000 tonnes of cement daily.
While Nepal welcomes foreign investment in different sectors of the economy, it must be borne in mind that there are rules and regulations to follow here just as in the land of the investors. Investment Board Nepal, which facilitates upscale investments in the country, must see to it that the investors follow the rules from the time of the registration of their company. Otherwise, this will only encourage others to flout the rules. To attract FDI, the concerned bodies must create a hassle-free environment for the investor so that he does not have to seek the patronage of petty politicians. One big complaint of foreign investors is that it is a nightmare finding a large piece of land to start a venture in Nepal. It is for the central government to coordinate with the provincial and local governments to make it available easily so that this does not become a problem for the investor when a project is half-way through.
Lawmakers pay a visit to the disaster-affected areas as a ritual without any plans. A five-member team of the National Assembly, led by NA chair Ganesh Prasad Timilsina, paid a visit to Rautahat, the district worst affected by the recent floods, which affected as many as 70,000 houses. The team inspected the dams built on the Lalbakaiya and Bagmati rivers and an Indian-built dam adjacent to Gaur Municipality. They also took stock of the situation with the locals and security officials, who are struggling to provide relief to the affected families.
This is not the first time that floods have wreaked havoc in the Tarai. It occurs every year during the monsoon season. But the government remains indifferent to framing a mitigation plan. The immediate relief and rescue operation is not going to solve this problem unless the three tiers of the government work together. Instead of visiting the flood-affected areas, it would be better if they start discussing in Parliament about ways to mitigate the natural disasters. If the problem of natural disasters is not addressed properly, people will be forced to live in a vicious cycle of poverty, causing huge loss to the national economy.
A version of this article appears in print on July 23, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.