Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Transport workers unions call off protest

Transport workers have retracted their agitation following an agreement to take action against those involved in attacking transport workers, investigate the alleged irregularities in Lhotse Multipurpose, the contractor company hired to operate the New Bus Park, and discuss the remaining issues in a task force.

Confirming the decision, Nepal Transport Independent Workers’ Union chair Bhim Jwala Rai said that they decided to withdraw the protest after the government – during a meeting with Physical Infrastructure and Transport Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha among other government representatives held in the ministry today – committed to address their demands.

Public transportation vehicles did not operate in the Valley since early Tuesday morning due to the strike resulting in problems for the commoners.

“The government committed to take action against manager of the Lhotse Company – who attacked the transport workers – Sunil Kunwar and arrest Pankaj Malla, apart from addressing the demands of the transport workers and release the workers who were arrested while staging the demonstration today.

The Transport Workers’ Association yesterday announced that they will halt public transport services in the Kathmandu Valley from today, if their demands are not addressed.

There was no public vehicle on the roads today. Most of the people were either walking to their destination or using Pathau or Drive In.

The government thus, called them for talks, where transport entrepreneurs agreed to withdraw the strike following the talks with the deputy Prime Minister and Physical Infrastructure and Transport Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha. Shrestha expressed his commitment to resolve the problems forming a task force, according to chair of Nepal Independent Transport Workers Organisation Rai.

Yesterday, they announced the strike for today in Kathmandu Valley following a violent protest and demonstration in the Balaju-Machhapokhari area of Kathmandu. They said that they had to resort to strike due to the misbehavior by traffic police inside the Kathmandu Valley.

FNCCI organised protest agitation in Gongabu Buspark area on Monday, putting forth 10-point demand, including reduction in the traffic felony penalty. Incident of vandalism and arson were also reported in the course of the agitation. Likewise, the protestors have stolen the mobile phones from the shops run in the business complex.

The protestors also torched temporary police beat located at Balaju Chowk, apart from looting a mobile shop nearby.

Mobile worth millions looted under cover of protest

Mobile phone traders have demanded action against a mob that looted shops in the Gongabu area in northern Ring Road yesterday.

A cinema hall was damaged and mobile shops at Lotse Mall in New Bus Park of Gongbu were looted by a mob during the agitation yesterday evening. However, not a single political party has condemned such criminal activities, yet.

The mobile phone traders have but demanded compensation from the government for the losses incurred. Taking advantage of the protest by public transport workers, looters had made off with mobile sets worth millions in the robbery.

The Prime Minister himself looks after the Home Ministry but neither the Home Ministry nor the PM Office condemned the incident. The government had also announced public holiday yesterday in the memory of ‘Janayuddha Diwas’ – a memorial day of starting of Maoist insurgency in Nepal some two decades ago, though the conflict pushed the country a century backward economically.

The shop owner and vice president of the Federation of Nepal Mobile Business Association (FNMBA) Arjun Chalise said that mobile phones worth around Rs 80 million to 90 million were looted from his two shops located in the Lotse Mall. 

The association – holding a press conference at Lhotse Mall in Naya Bus Park today – demanded full compensation from the state for the loss and damage to the owners of mobile shops that were robbed and vandalised in the course of the protest of transport workers' demonstration in Gongabu. President of the association Bharat Bhattarai asked the government to compensate the traders. “The government should take action against those involved in Monday's incident,” he said, adding that the shops were looted in a broad daylight robbery. “We will launch protest programmes, if the government fails to compensate us for the losses incurred within 48 hours.”

The transport operators yesterday staged a demonstration against the traffic police’s ‘stringent’ rules, and Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s announcement to not let long and medium route public vehicles park in open spaces other than inside the New Bus Park at Gongabu.

The demonstration took a violent turn when the agitating protesters set fire to two traffic vans, venting their ire against the police, who they say overcharged fines. 

They also vandalised the supermarket’s building. The ‘protestors’ looted and vandalised the mobile phone shops during the demonstration of the transport workers.

Videos of protestors looting mobile phones from a mobile shop operating at Lhotse Mall in Gongbu have also been released on social media. 

On Tuesday, home secretary Binod Prakash Singh telephoned Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dhiraj Pratap Singh and instructed him to identify those involved in the incident and take immediate action.

The spokesperson of the Home Ministry Jitendra Basnet said that the incident has drawn attention of the ministry.

Bhattarai also accused the government for not showing any concern and remained silent on the state incident for 15 hours. “Monday's incident will confirm how weak the country's security system is and that the state should pay the entire compensation for the incident,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Home Ministry late afternoon instructed the police to investigate the robbery of mobile shops during the protest of transport workers.

Meanwhile, 10 individuals have been arrested in connection with the vandalism and robbery of the mobile shops.

Friday, February 10, 2023

NEA adds 86-MW electricity to national grid from Solukhola Dudhkoshi

Though, commercial production will start within 15 days, electricity generated from the Solukhola Dudhkoshi Hydropower Project – the third largest hydropower project of the country and the largest till date constructed by any private power developer – has been connected to the national grid.

Sahas Power Company – the promoter of the 86-megawatt (MW) Run-Of-The-River (RoR) confirmed that the company has added the electricity to the national grid from February 7 as the test.

Chairperson of Sahas Power Company Him Pathak today shared that the electricity generated by the company has been connected to the national transmission line of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) after successful test operation.

The river flow-based power project is connected to the 132 kVA Solu Corridor at the Lammane substation. The project is connected to the 132 kV transmission line by constructing a 13-km grid from Sahas Energy's powerhouse to Lammane. According to the promoter, the gross head of the project is 613 meters.

The water of Solukhola located in Soluddhukanda Municipality-11 has been diverted to Makubesi in Thulung Dudhkoshi Rural Municipality-3 through a 4,679-meter long tunnel and 1,938-meter long pipeline to generate 86-MW of electricity.

In October 2016, the company, which obtained a generation license from the Electricity Development Department, was entrusted with the construction of the civil sector by the Italian company CMCD Rivenna. But a new contract was called for after breaking the contract with Italian for not working according to the contract. After that, CE Construction took the contract and completed the civil works on time and the project was completed.

The hydro-mechanical contract of the project was taken by Machapuchchhe and Metal Work Sup and the electro-mechanical contract was taken by Vyth Hydro.

The construction of the 86-MW power project was completed at a total cost of Rs 13 billion with a total of 25 per cent of the founders and shareholders and 75 per cent of the bank's investment, under the leadership of Nepal Investment Bank – currently Nepal Investment Mega Bank – with some 10 banks. A consortium of 11 commercial banks, led by then Nepal Investment Bank has provided loan facilities of 73 per cent of the expected cost – of Rs 11.86 billion – to construct the project. The remaining 27 per cent investment is in the form of equity, the company added.

According to the company, the project consists of a simple weir with undersluice, side intake, gravel trap, approach channel, desalting basin, headrace tunnel, surge shaft, inclined pressure shaft and horizontal penstock tunnel, surface powerhouse and a tailrace canal.

The project utilizes a design discharge of 17.05m³/s from Solu Khola and the elevation difference between the proposed intake at Solu Khola and powerhouse at Dudhkoshi River for power generation.

Estimated to complete within September 2020 Solukhola Dudhkoshi Hydropower Project, is delayed due to Covid-19 pandemic.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

USAID to provide $58.5 million to ‘advance democratic progress in Nepal’

The US development agency is providing up to $58.5 million to advance democratic progress in Nepal.

Visiting United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power announced – during an interaction with the leaders of the government, civil society and private sector in Kathmandu today – that the assistance includes $20 million to strengthen inclusive democracy and prosperity in Nepal and $18.5 million to support civil society and media.

“$40.2 million of the announcement is part of the $659 million development objective agreement announced in 2022,” according to a press note issued by the US Embassy in Kathmandu.

“Following transparent and peaceful elections in 2022, Nepal has an opportunity to strengthen federalism, advance the inclusion of women and marginalised communities, empower its young people, and demonstrate that democracy can deliver for its citizens,” it reads, adding that the United States will be a partner in this effort.

USAID’s investment is expected to help Nepal cement its democratic gains and usher in greater prosperity and resilience for the Nepali people by strengthening public financial management, independent civil society and media, democratic processes and institutions, rule of law, and private sector development.

Power, who also handed over the reconstructed Adarsha Secondary School in Bhaktapur, holds a Cabinet rank in the US order of precedence. The school was damage during the April 2015 devastating earthquake. The reconstruction of the school was supported by USAID and was implemented in partnership with National Reconstruction Authority and Central Level Project Implementation Unit (Education). 

During the handing over of the school, Power also interacted with the students and played basketball with them.

Power, who arrived Kathmandu today, for a two-day official visit, holds a cabinet status and National Security Council membership in the Joe Biden administration. She is also the senior-most official to visit Nepal after the US State Secretary Colin Powell, who was in Nepal in 2002.

A week ago, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, Victoria Nuland visited Nepal and yet another dignitary is visiting Nepal soon. The frequency of visits of diplomats from the US has increased in recent years, which – according to foreign policy experts – could also reflect the shift in Nepal’s foreign relations priorities and growing geopolitical importance.

Power is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Deputy Prime Minister Bishnu Paudel, civil society leaders and some businesspersons before leaving Nepal tomorrow.

But she met foreign minister Bimala Rai Paudyal at the ministry, according to a press note issued by the Foreign Ministry. “During the meeting, views were exchanged on various aspects of Nepal-US relations and cooperation,” the press note reads, adding that the foreign minister shared Nepal’s view on the need of a clear roadmap and ambitious goal on climate finance highlighting Nepal’s strong commitments on climate change. 

Nepal, on the occasion, thanked the US for its continued cooperation for Nepal’s socioeconomic development, including the USAID cooperation package last year, which has contributed to various areas of Nepal’s development such as health and education, transport and communication, agriculture and environment. 

Power also complimented Nepal’s democratic development and said that the US will continue to support Nepal in its socio-economic development efforts.

Also today, foreign minister Paudyal delivered an opening remark in the event on “Deepening US-Nepal Democratic Partnership” as a guest speaker together with the USAID Administrator. In her remarks, the Foreign Minister highlighted the continued efforts made in the consolidation of Nepal’s democratic processes. 

Power will also ensure that USAID enhances its longstanding leadership in areas including food security, education, women’s empowerment, and global health, it adds.

Prior to joining the Biden-Harris Administration, Power was the Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the William D Zabel Professor of Practice in Human Rights at Harvard Law School. From 2013 to 2017, Power served in the Obama-Biden Administration as the 28th US Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

An immigrant from Ireland, Power began her career as a war correspondent in Bosnia, and went on to report from places including Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. She has been recognised as one of Time’s ‘100 Most Influential People,’ one of Foreign Policy’s ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers,’ and by Forbes as one of the ‘World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.’

Power is also an author and editor of multiple books, and the recipient of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.

Power was sworn into office as the 19th Administrator of USAID on May 3, 2021. “In leading the world’s premier international development agency and its global staff of over 10,000 people, Power will focus on helping the US respond to four interconnected challenges: the Covid-19 pandemic and the development gains it has imperiled; climate change; conflict and humanitarian crises; and democratic backsliding,” the US Embassy press note reads.

Monday, February 6, 2023

NOC hike petro prices

The state fuel monopoly has increased the price of petroleum products including diesel, petrol and kerosene.

The price of fuel has been increased by Rs 3 per liter to take the retail price of diesel and kerosene at Rs 175 per liter and of petrol to Rs 178 per liter, confirmed a press note issued by the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC). 

The new price will come into effect from today midnight. The price of aviation fuel and LPG – popularly known as cooking gas – remains unchanged, the press note reads, adding that the price of petroleum products had to be increased due to the increase in the price of petroleum products in India.

A fortnight ago, when the petro price has come down, the state fuel monopoly did not recude the price but the price has been jacked up as soon as the price increased, showing double standard in price adjustment.

The NOC refused to reduce the fuel prices last fortnight, when the price has come down, citing its regular losses. Last year too, the NOC denied decreasing the fuel prices citing losses, though it repeatedly claims to have implemented automated pricing system.