Making hay whilst the sun shines: Land for the sons of the soil

During the early seventies, when 4 per cent of the population lived in the urban and 96 per cent in the rural areas, King Mahendra came up with a slogan “Back to the Village” and the concept of NDS or National Development Service. Both these schemes, though correct technically, fell through because of political opposition.

Following the Jana Andolan I, there was serious concern about Poverty Alleviation and much was made about investing in the agriculture sector for the creation of jobs. The importance of people staying on their land was stressed. Every one paid lip service to this proposal as the alternative to create say 10,000 jobs would have cost a tremendous amount.

We talk of Nepal as a “Krishi Pradhan Desh” but when it comes to giving facilities to the farmers there is much to be desired. The importance of farmers is stated but action is not taken. The supply of insufficient, substandard or adulterated fertilisers and the exorbitant bank interest rates are regular practice. Because of massive state control in import of fertilisers, people have had to resort to different methods to meet their needs. Death as a result of police firing is the latest episode in this chain of events. A complete volte face has to be done to give justice to the farmers. France and Japan are two such countries where so much facilities have been given that even the farmers elsewhere complain that it is unfair. The US gives money to its farmers for letting some land lie fallow every so often so that the quality improves.

Present day China is a success story in terms of industrial output and lack

of recession. They too have a massive rural population that is coming to the towns to work. One sees the extent of the problem annually

in the week preceding the Chinese New Year when thousands of urban workers are stuck at the railway

stations trying to get a seat for the journey back to the rural areas. This urbanisation has led to a situation

in places where the rural worker cannot get a wife as most girls prefer to work

in towns.

One remembers the days of the North — South conflict in Vietnam when thousands of city dwellers were forcibly sent to the countryside to till the fields as a form of punishment. Many suffered there and, doubtless, many perished. Are we on this threshold?

Over the course of last two years in Nepal, we have read or heard about the ‘capture’ of land by the YCL or by the landless. Is this a form of redistribution of land to the landless or a blatant example of “making hay whilst the sun shines” by a few clever Rambos.

It is to the credit of the present government led by the CPU-UML that during their last tenure of nine months they had the courage of their convictions to have a programme called Afno Gaon, Afain Banaun. Though they were not able to implement this then, they must be given credit for

reviving this idea in the

current budget allocations. The present government must be congratulated in trying to help people living in rural areas to go back

to the land. Facilities must be given as incentives to

facilitate this.

When one reads of our rural folks who go to countries of the Gulf to work in hostile environment, for which they are totally unprepared, one can only hold down one’s head in shame. The story goes that Nepalis who have never been exposed to such high temperatures have died as a result of heat stroke because the electrolytes that they lost through excessive sweating were not replaced. Initially, the unskilled labourers sent there were not even warned or trained for the hazardous nature of the work that they had to do.

One can only ponder on their fates in Iraq, Qatar or Afghanistan. Whose fault was this? The nation which can’t provide jobs to its citizens? The agent who is only concerned with the commission he gets from his counterpart in that foreign country? The foreign agent who is not aware of what the raw hand worker’s capabilities are? The foreign placement agent who is aware of the hazards or indignities of the work but is least concerned?

No wonder many Nepalis, once they come back on furlough, decide not to go back. Their comment is simply, “If I work as hard in Nepal as I had to work in foreign lands, there is no reason for me to go there.”

The only problem is who is going to give them a capital to start the venture of their lives? Presently one hears or sees plenty of returnees coming back from foreign lands. They should be given facilities, not necessarily financial but just know how and help to farm or set up small scale industries and stand on their own feet. This little aid will go a long way to help those who have had to struggle so far so that they can help in the making of a truly Naya Nepal.

The past ratios of city : rural dwellers which were 12:88 in 2005 and 15:85 in 2008 in Nepal, according to the Population Reference Bureau, will continue to show increasing urbanisation.

We, who have water in our taps only once in three days and load shedding daily, can only shudder at the thought of what it will be like in the years to come.