EDITORIAL: Reopen Tatopani

Built in the 1960s the 115-km long highway catered as a lifeline for Nepal to connect China’s Tibet and, the Tatopani customs point used to handle trade worth billions of rupees

It has been more than two years since the devastating earthquake in 2015 hit hard the central region, damaging the Kodari Highway, which used to connect the Autonomous Region of Tibet. The highway remained shut since. The trade and commerce to and from the Tatopani customs point has come to a halt as the Chinese side has closed the border point, citing fragile geography due to the tremor that left nearly 9,000 people dead, 23,000 others injured and half a million individual houses damaged, causing a huge loss to the national economy and leaving over a million people below the poverty line. Built in the 1960s the 115-km long highway catered as a lifeline for Nepal to connect China’s Tibet and, the Tatopani customs point used to handle imports of over Rs 20 billion and exports of around Rs 2.75 billion on yearly basis. It played a major role to develop the central hilly region as one of the major economic corridors. Even the Chinese government had also envisaged developing an industrial estate and setting up a petroleum reservoir at Panchkhal before the quake. Considering its historical significance and close ties with China, the Nepal government and leaders of various political parties have asked the Chinese side to reopen it at the earliest.

China’s official response about the prospects of reopening the closed highway is that the mountain region is too fragile to reopen the highway. However, the Chinese government is open to reopen it, only after setting up a joint security mechanism at the three tiers—an administration led by the concerned CDO along with the Armed Police Force and Nepal Police. In a joint meeting held between the Sindhupachowk CDO and Chinese authorities in Khasa, Tibet, the latter came up with a proposal from the central Chinese government about setting up a joint security mechanism before reopening the closed highway. The Chinese side believes that “an effective security mechanism can help control illegal and criminal activities across the border”.

Although the meeting ended inconclusively on Saturday, the Nepali side told the Chinese delegation, led by an eight-member political commissar, that the issue must be settled amicably at the central level of both the governments. The Ministry of Home Affairs is the competent authority to deal with such issue as the proposal from the Chinese side is new for Nepal and, it needs proper homework. It seems that the security issue is the major concern of the Chinese side, which must be sorted out at the diplomatic level for the mutual interests. However, the Chinese side has not clearly stated what sort of security issues they want to be addressed by setting up a joint security mechanism. Despite the fact, the Chinese side has also started repairing the Nyalam-Khasa section of the road on its side which will be completed within two months. But the road linking Tibet with Kathmandu depends on how fast both the sides reach a deal on setting up a security mechanism along the border. The issue of reopening the highway has featured in all political and diplomatic visits in both the countries. Nepal’s response is crucial as the border point holds special significance for both the sides in terms of trade and connectivity.

Rise above politics

It is sad that Rani Pokhari, a 17th century pond in the heart of Kathmandu, now has become a matter of political tussle, with office bearers of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City airing conflicting views over its reconstruction. A temple in the middle of the pond built by King Pratap Malla was destroyed by the 2015 earthquake. President Bidya Devi Bhandari last year on the first anniversary of the devastating quake had launched the national reconstruction campaign from Rani Pokhari. KMC Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya is for rebuilding the heritage site with modern technology, which has been opposed by conservationists.

Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi has said she would put in her best efforts to stop the ongoing reconstruction work. Shakya was elected KMC mayor from the CPN-UML while Khadgi was elected deputy mayor from the Nepali Congress. Office bearers of the KMC should work to save the heritage site with the best methods suggested by the conservation activists rather than engaging in conflicting views. All should think with cool head and find an amicable solution to save Rani Pokhari.