Remembering BP’s sentimentNepali Congress observes BP Memorial Day every year by holding tree-planting programme.
In 1976, when former prime minister and Nepali Congress leader BP Koirala was returning from exile in India, he was horrified to see massive deforestation, soil erosion and ruthless exploitation of the forests from his aeroplane window, on the flight from Patna to Kathmandu. In those days of Panchayat rule, deforestation had caused widespread soil erosion. The destruction of the woodlands threatened to desertify huge swathes of the country, despite government efforts, funds, planning and management.
After BP's death in July 1982, Nepali Congress decided to observe Shrawan 6 (July 22) as BP Memorial Day every year by holding tree-planting programmes. It was also a kind of ‘awakening programme’ for the party workers and cadres, and a challenge to the dictatorial partyless system that Nepal was under back then. The partyless system took it as a threat to their authority, and did not hesitate to take stern action by using vigilantes who even physically assaulted the party’s activists. This year marked the 37th BP Memorial Day, and it was celebrated by organising tree-planting events and talk programmes highlighting BP's thoughts and ideology at different places. The ideology that he propounded was socialism with democracy—democratic values and ideals based on the principles of equality and social justice.
BP was born on September 8, 1914, in Varanasi, India where his whole family was living in exile. He was born during the days of World War I, when India was going through a kind of national awakening against British rule. The war also left signs of social awakening in Nepal. Why did the Nepali Congress decide to observe BP Memorial Day on his death anniversary by holding a tree planting programme? The answer is very simple. During the 1959 election campaign, the Nepali Congress chose the tree as its election symbol (and it continues to be so till today). The tree symbol and the four-star flag have become well known as the party's emblem.
BP’s concern was to pursue sustainable development, environmental protection through massive forestation and proper use of forest reserves. Therefore, as soon as BP took the oath of office as the first-ever democratically elected prime minister of Nepal in 1959, his government passed a bill to protect and conserve the jungles. That is why ‘Hariyo Ban, Nepal Ko Dhan’ (green forest, Nepal's treasure) became the core slogan of the government.
In the days of direct rule by king Mahendra, the king continued the system prevalent during the Rana autocracy before 1951—gifting forest lands in the Tarai-Madhes to royal family members. The king’s brothers Himalaya and Basundhara were among the fortunate members of the royal family to get vast forest areas as gifts.
The BP Koirala-led Nepali Congress government forwarded the Forest Bill as the government’s first step towards nationalising the forests. The National Forest Policy 1959 divided forests into five categories—protected forests, production forests, local forests to be fully regulated and managed by local units, wild parks and special forests. Since the objective of the National Forest Policy was also to protect and conserve wildlife habitats, the government pledged to provide full security with a view to protect and save rare wildlife species. Moreover, with a view to check soil erosion and maintain the beauty of both sides of the rivers, the policy also required authorities to plant trees up to 150 feet at either edge of a river.
The National Forest Policy was by all means very progressive in nature at the time of its implementation. The sole aim of creating the five categories of forests was to increase productivity with their proper utilisation and scientific management. The forest policy was all against the ruthless exploitation of forests without any proper plan and management to conserve and protect them.
Revolutionary land reform
The first-ever elected government led by BP also daringly passed revolutionary land reform and labour laws for the first time in the history of Nepal, and introduced a number of reforms in administration. This was widely acclaimed by supporters of democracy. Even the international organisation of democratic socialist parties, Socialist International, hailed the government's programmes and reforms, including the National Forest Policy, and recognised the Nepali Congress as a member with observer status. It was a great leap forward towards international recognition of the party that led the elected government for the first time in the history of Nepal.
Thus, we can easily trace how BP’s sentiment was deeply attached to trees, forests, soil conservation, environment and proper use of forests for the sake of the nation and the people whose daily lives were closely linked with them. This is the reason why the day of Shrawan 6 holds a special place among the few memorial dates related to BP Koirala.
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