Oil and beyond

Since it came to power about twenty-two months ago, the SPA government has been unable to ensure a smooth supply of petroleum products. Often, it has blamed the inability of the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) to pay the oil bills to its sole oil supplier in time, thereby leading to frequent disruptions in the supply. This has led to serpentine queues at the petrol-pumps across the country for hours almost every day, but even then without any guarantee of giving oil to everybody in the line. So to Nepalis, all the more so the residents of the Valley where most of the petroleum products are consumed, acute shortages and long lines for petrol, diesel, kerosene, and cooking gas have been all too familiar. Currently, the same situation prevails, but for a different reason - agitation in the Tarai and the truck drivers’ reluctance to carry oil for security reasons. The stock of oil supply is reported to run out in the capital after distribution today if no fresh supplies arrive.

As NOC has paid most of its oil bills, the supplier has not cut the supply. The problem, therefore, lies solely with the Nepali side. Even what has been said to be a security-risk area is just about 30-km road stretch from Raxaul to Amlekhgunj. It is unthinkable that a government that rode to power on the strength of the unprecedented people’s movement cannot provide security for just that section of the highway, if only it had the will. What is stopping the government from forcing open the road? Even at the height of Maoist insurgency, army and police escort had ensured supply, though the risks then were much higher. Why can’t the government do the same thing now? Even the Comprehensive Peace Agreement permits the deployment of the army for providing security cover for essential supplies.

The government has, by general reckoning, failed to establish its effective presence in the Tarai. The recent wrong-headed oil price hikes, which had to be rolled back under widespread public protests, had generated suspicion among some, rightly or wrongly, that the decision had to do something with affecting the Constituent Assembly election. The government’s present powerlessness has deepened the doubt further. Any Nepali citizen will, naturally, be tempted to ask the question: How can a government that cannot guarantee security for the transport of essential supplies along just a few km stretch of road be expected to provide security throughout the country for the CA polls? Then how can it hold the CA polls at all, let alone in a free, fair and credible manner? It is also hard to understand why the government has decided to hold the election in one day, not in phases. When it comes to the question of security, the Nepali Congress that holds both Defence and Home, besides heading the coalition government, should take the cake, not the supplies minister or any constituent of the government, except morally. Such a prolonged state of shortages of daily necessaries, like the petroleum products and electricity, can only make the government unpopular and embolden those who are conspiring against the CA polls in their designs.