High and dryDespite PM Oli’s airy statements about ending load shedding within a year, and more recently, connecting every kitchen with a gas pipe line so as to end the hassles of gas cylinders, ordinary citizens
Despite PM Oli’s airy statements about ending load shedding within a year, and more recently, connecting every kitchen with a gas pipe line so as to end the hassles of gas cylinders, ordinary citizens continue to suffer from severe shortages of electric power, transport fuel and cooking gas. Such statements only demonstrate how out of touch Oli is with popular sentiments and provide comic relief to a stressed citizenry. The political class is unaffected by the shortages; in fact, there have even been allegations that it is benefitting from the black marketeering that the shortages have generated. This, coupled with the citizens’ general habit of suffering patiently rather than expressing public outrage, has allowed the political class to take its sweet time to solve the problem. One exception was the demonstration organised by Women Security Pressure Group Nepal in Kathmandu on Sunday against both the shortage of cooking gas and black marketeering. It has been almost four months since the promulgation of the constitution, and the subsequent agitation in the Madhes and unofficial Indian blockade, led to the crisis. Yet there is still a serious lack of urgency in addressing the issues-politically and diplomatically-and relieving the citizens of the hardships they are enduring.
Of the three shortages, the shortage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), or cooking gas, arguably causes the biggest hardship for an average citizen. Long queues with empty cylinders are a common sight on the streets of Kathmandu and all over the country. Consumers, particularly women and children, are seen waiting outside the retail outlets for their turns to get a filled cylinder. School-going children are missing classes.
Many households have been forced to take recourse to firewood, a practice many in the urban areas are not used to. The impact of using firewood on rural women’s health, particularly respiratory health, has been well documented. Even in urban areas, the kitchen is still considered the domain of women, who are now bearing the brunt of the problems arising from the shortage of LPG. Nutrition is yet another issue. Families are either skipping meals or making do with far less in their daily diet. Dal, a staple and poor man’s protein, for example, takes a longer time to cook and many families are having meals without it, depriving themselves of their just about only source of protein. Needless to add, Nepal’s depleting forest cover is now seeing a serious onslaught as demand for firewood shoots up.
The shortage of LPG is to a considerable extent an artificial one, sustained to generate profits for unscrupulous dealers. According to figures from the Nepal Oil Corporation and customs offices across the country, about 1.13 million LPG cylinders were filled with the gas imported in the month of July/August, whereas about 1.04 million cylinders were filled in the month of December/January-not a huge difference. There are also reports of security agencies delivering cylinders to specified locations in the cover of night.
Is it too much to expect the government to crack down on the activities contributing to black marketeering and artificial shortages? One way to draw the attention of thick-skinned officials is to organise coordinated protests.