EDITORIAL: Too slow a pace

Some of the beneficiaries whose houses were damaged in the quake have been deprived of government aid

The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) marked its two years of establishment on Wednesday, seeing three chief executive officers in operation. It was set up under a law with a view to expediting the reconstruction works following the damage caused by the devastating earthquakes in April and May 2015. As many as 9,000 people were killed and over 23,000 injured, mostly in 14 hilly districts of the central region. According to the NRA, 767,705 households were found to be eligible for housing grant of Rs 300,000 to rebuild the individual houses in three tranches. However, it is sad to note that only 26,454 households have received the third and final installments and 664,644 households have just received the first tranche so far over the last 31 months. At the same time, around 80,000 houses have already been built without the government assistance. The NRA has set a deadline to disburse the grant, a decision which has been opposed by the eligible beneficiaries. Some of the beneficiaries whose houses were damaged in the quake have been deprived of the government assistance, as they lack landownership certificates and others have failed to utilize the grant for want of suitable land to build their houses.

The RNA had given top priority to help reconstruct the individual houses over the public property. But the pace of rebuilding private houses has been so slow that it might take another decade to fully complete the reconstruction mission. Political wrangling, bureaucratic hassles, unavailability of masons and construction materials in the rural areas, border blockade, migration of able workforce and deep-rooted corruption are the reasons for not being able to complete the task of reconstruction on time. On the other hand, financial support pledged by various countries and development partners also did not come, mainly because of the NRA’s institutional inefficiency and frequent change of guard in the government.

The pace of reconstruction of public property has also been very slow. The NRA has so far rebuilt only 257 health centres, 2,741 educational institutions, 177 government buildings and 79 archaeological sites. Similarly, 904 drinking water facilities and 44 security buildings have been rebuilt since the earthquake. All these figures provided by the NRA itself show that less than one-third of the reconstruction task has been completed so far. Frustrating to note is that the reconstruction authority is all set to train over 50,000 masons when its five-year term is more than half way. Frequent change of leadership in the reconstruction authority along with the change in the government is one of the major reasons behind the slow pace of reconstruction process. Also, it all happened as Nepal lacked institutional preparedness to deal with such a large-scale natural disaster that took place in an interval of 90 years. Had the government developed its institutions capable enough to tackle any kind of natural calamities or disasters, the post-quake reconstruction works would have been smooth and, the government would not have to spread its begging bowls before the world community.

End untouchability

Nepal enacted a law against caste-based discrimination more than six years ago. But it’s a shame that untouchability practices and caste-based discrimination are still rife in many parts of the country. On many an occasion, offenders go unpunished. On June 23, Prem Bahadur BK of Kanda in Chhededaha Municipality-1 in Bajura was forced to pay Rs 2,000 “in fine” four touching a buffalo belonging to Rajendra Bahadur Singh. After the incident came to light through media, rights activists asked BK to file a case with police.

But the case was later settled in the presence of some Dalit rights activists, political leaders and civil society members after the victim was paid Rs 80,000 in compensation. The victim did not file a case with police. A similar incident was reported in Bajura earlier as well where the case was settled “within the village”. Apparently, the victims were put under pressure not to go to police. Settling cases “within the village and by the villagers” without letting the law take its course is a worrisome practice. An all-round effort is needed to end caste-based discrimination so as to ensure a fair and equitable society.