EDITORIAL: Settle them pronto
It is the duty of the government to provide shelter, food, health and education to the freed kamaiyas and haliyas
When the government emancipated the kamaiyas, semi-bonded labourers, in the five plain districts of Dang, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchapur in 2000 and the haliyas in the 12 hill districts of the far- and mid-west in 2008, the government had promised to rehabilitate them by providing them shelter, livelihood support, education and health. But both the communities do not have their own land to till or a shelter to live in till now although they have been liberated from the clutches of the semi-bonded labour system. The government had, however, declared that they need not pay back the loans that they had taken from their masters. Even after their freedom from the traditional practice, they have not been able to lead a normal life thanks to their poverty and no tangible support from the government for their survival. They are in need of long-term support from the government agencies. The government had planned to rehabilitate them within the current fiscal. But it did not happen as the federal government outsourced its funds to the local levels, which lack institutional capacity to handle this issue.
According to government data, there are as many as 27,570 freed kamaiyas and 16,953 freed hailyas in these districts. The Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation (MoLMCPA) has dispatched Rs 1.56 billion to each of the groups. The ministry claims to have rehabilitated about 98 per cent of the freed kamaiyas and 80 per cent of the haliyas since their freedom. The government has decided to provide a piece of land to a freed kamaiya and haliya family to build a house or cash (Rs 225,000 in Tarai and 325,000 in the hills) if it fails to provide them with a piece of land for housing. It has also decided to provide Rs 125,000 and Rs 155,000 to each of the freed kamaiya and haliya family to repair their houses if they had already built them. However, the Mukta Haliya Mahasangh has said that the amount provided by the government is too little to rehabilitate themselves either in the Tarai or in the hills.
The freed kamaiyas and haliyas deserve a dignified life. They should be given free health services, education and livelihood support till they become self-sustainable, as per the Supreme Court verdict issued last year. Another problem they are facing right now is that the land plots received from the government have been found occupied by other people. Some of them have obtained land ownership certificates without any land plots. Such problem should be resolved by the federal government, which handled the issue from the very beginning. One of the biggest problems both the freed kamaiyas and haliyas are facing since their liberation is the unavailability of livelihood support from the Centre and the local levels. It was a bold step of the government to set them free from the semi-bonded labour system, which had been in practice since time immemorial. Providing them with job opportunities at the local levels is the need of the hour. The local levels can create a lot of regular or seasonal work for them as per their skills and local needs. They can be given priority in the public construction sector where a large number of people are absorbed round the year. The government cannot escape from its duty of rehabilitating them.
Excessive levels of fecal coliform bacteria have been detected in the water supplied to the two wards of Bheri Municipality in Jajarkot in mid-west Nepal, leading to an outbreak of diarrhoea. However, the locals have no option but to consume it. The source of the contaminated water has been identified as Budbudi, where the coliform count is as high as 140 per 100 ml of water, although a level above 5 is not fit for drinking. Both the locals and prisoners from the local prison are already making a beeline to the district hospital after suffering from diarrhoea.
Water-borne diseases kill hundreds of people every year in the remote districts of mid-west Nepal year after year, and the government must act quickly to bring the situation under control, especially now that the source of the contamination has been located. With the monsoon rains, there are chances of flood water mixing with the drinking water source to cause diarrhoeal outbreaks as well as jaundice and typhoid. The authorities must start an awareness campaign among the locals about diarrhoea as well as ways to prevent it, such as adding chlorine drops to disinfect water or boiling water and filtering it.