Disastrous dependencyNepal must learn from the ongoing fuel crisis and seriously look for alternatives
This is not the first time that Nepal has had to suffer from a fuel crisis. And like every other time, experts advise the government to look into alternative resources. But, no sooner the crisis is over, the government acts as though the crisis never occurred. This time around, the government should have seen the crisis coming given the Tarai unrest. But with the India imposed undeclared blockade of essential goods, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Though it has only been a fortnight since the blockade began, it has already resulted in a national crisis.
This has raised many questions: Why is the Nepali state so weak that it cannot even withstand a blockade for two weeks? Are there alternate ways of mitigating such crises? If so, why have no efforts been made towards that end in decades?
Explore new routes
The main reason behind our pitiable state of affairs is that we depend entirely on India for our fuel. We have neither sought to diversify our options nor have we tried to explore natural deposits in Nepal. It is true that we are surrounded by India on the three accessible sides and China beyond the inaccessible Himalayas. Accepting this as our ‘fate’ and not acting on it has been our culture. The inaction continues till date. This is not only deplorable as a national strategy but also an indicator of the indifference of the government towards the sufferings of the Nepali people.
Let us concentrate on the possibility of importing fuel from China. There are geographical limitations imposed by the mighty Himalayas. But there are some useable passes through which mutual trade can be extended. Yet, we only use the Kodari and Rasuwa routes both of which have been badly damaged by the April earthquake. Repair works are said to have reached the final stages after which they will be used for transporting goods other than fuel. But why isn’t the government using the routes that connect Mustang, Taplejung and Humla with China? The Mustang pass, after all, is said to be much easier than the Kodari pass. Is it because of Indian pressure? Nepal must have gone ahead with opening the Kodari route despite the reservations of its southern neighbour. If Nepal could prevail then, why cannot it do the same now?
Why cannot Nepal import fuel from China? Is it because Nepal wants to allow India to be the sole provider of fuel till eternity? Such a stance is understandable given the high cost of importing fuel from elsewhere. But isn’t the ongoing fuel scarcity more worrying that the higher cost of import? Nepal could negotiate with China to keep the costs low by exempting taxes. Shouldn’t Nepal even display minimum courage and stand up to Indian coercion? Why is there no pressure on the government to take action and rescue the nation from its present predicament? Does the Nepali government’s servitude befit a sovereign state?
Given this dismal state of affairs, it is heartening that the Nepal Oil Corporation has decided to call for a global tender for the supply of fuel. The media have also reported that the government has granted permission to import fuel from China in view of the impending festival of Vijaya Dashami. Furthermore, oil will also be airlifted as necessary. Such decisions will definitely have unprecedented ramifications, but such actions were long overdue.
Find an alternative
Moving on to the exploration of possible fuel deposits in Nepal, according to the Geology Department, there are ten potential areas in the country. But a proper study has only been carried out in Morang. It was not a viable option. Still, we cannot rule out the possibility of finding something in the remaining nine locations. Licenses were apparently granted to different international agencies for exploring different locations but there was no progress. They have all left now. So the government no longer has the obligation to wait and watch. It can take the initiative to conduct the exploration study on its own. Nepal, as it is already aided by multiple bilateral and multilateral agencies, can also seek funds for such a project.
There are other ways to reduce our dependence on India or any foreign country for fuel too. The best option would be to switch to electronic vehicles instead of using petrol and diesel dependent buses and cars. Trolley buses that used to run from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur in the past were discarded due to faulty management and corrupt government personnel who handled it. They could be revived with renewed enthusiasm not only in Kathmandu Valley but also in other parts of Nepal. The proposed second Ring Road in the Valley would be a good place to start.
Likewise, the safa tempos that run on batteries could also be a good alternative. The government should also promote the use of electric vehicles for short distance travel. It could help keep our environment clean in addition to providing easy and accessible transport services.
The other option to reduce fuel dependency would be to introduce railways in Nepal. The southern plains are best suited for rail transport, but they can also be developed in other flat areas, large or small, in different parts of the country including Kathmandu Valley. Railways are the second cheapest transport system after water transportation. Nepal should, therefore, consider investing in the railways. It could learn from Europe which boasts of one of the best railway networks in the world. Nepal could link its railway network to that of India in several locations and China in some suitable passes.
Several countries have developed their capabilities after facing an unprecedented crisis. Japan’s development occurred in the second half of the 19th century after what was known as the Meiji Restoration. Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia also developed under dynamic leaderships with the same determination. Sadly, Nepal lacks is a leader with a vision and the determination to materialise the dream into reality.