Road to prosperityWhy is Nepal adamant on adopting western-style development that has already resulted in colonialism and two world wars?
The rekindling of the 900 MW Arun 3 hydropower project is one of the massive infrastructural developments that the country has been promised by its incumbent Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. In a neoliberal world interconnected by trade and transport, development projects are necessary for Nepal if it is to benefit from the current economic model in place. However, it is increasingly becoming clear that the ride to Oli’s promised land of ‘prosperity’ is paved by effacing dissenting voices and disregarding environmental concerns.
The fast track road, if completed as planned, will provide easy access between Kathmandu and the proposed Nijgadh International Airport. But the road construction, sanctioned by the government and spearheaded by the Nepal Army, is forcing itself through traditional Newa neighbourhoods in Khokana, displacing hundreds from their ancestral way of life. When these disgruntled people marched on the streets to make their plight visible, the state resorted to violence.
The signs are not positive
The apathy shown by the present regime to the ones who are squeezed under the concrete of development is itself the precursor towards the government’s general attitude towards the natural sites of the country. Whenever an infrastructure development project is announced, there is a very speedy process to cut down the trees to clear the site for the construction of the intended infrastructure. But the actual construction process gets forestalled for a number of years. A case in point is the urgency that the army showed in cutting down the trees in the area that is intended for the construction of Pokhara International Airport. Similarly, 2.4 million trees are being cut down to make space for Nijgadh International Airport. There can be pride in the fact that upon completion, Nijgadh Airport will be the biggest in South Asia and it will provide some respite to the increasing traffic congestion faced by the only current international airport in Nepal. While the government is set to provide monetary relief to the ones whose property will be over taken by the airport, no consideration seems to have been made towards indigenous populations who have economic, social and cultural ties to the forest. Furthermore, there seems to be no acknowledgement of the threat to the wildlife in the area, and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which is necessary before a project is given the green signal, has been reduced to tokenism.
A question, then, arises: What is the way to make the development process more egalitarian? What can be done such that there is no victim of development? With such questions in mind, several organisations are lobbying to ensure that there is adequate compensation to those who will be most affected by big projects. Yet, what is missing is an accurate, unbiased analysis of mega projects. There needs to be a proper evaluation of the benefits and drawbacks of development, which is not limited to just the economic perspective. A study needs to be done, for instance, on the impact on wild habitat when there is an airport in the middle of the forest.
The bigger picture
“We will turn Nepal into Singapore or Switzerland,” our politicians promised immediately during and after the 2006 revolution. Though they may never fulfil their tall promises, western imitation has become the modus operandi for development in Nepal. But there seem to be no recognition to the fact that the western model of development, which took off during the industrial revolution of the 19th century, resulted in colonialism and two catastrophic world wars. The on-going developmental project is already creating a big trench between the elites and the poor in Nepal, as well as globally. It will not be a surprise if the people who have been tortured by the forces of development take up violent means to get what they believe to be rightfully theirs.
KP Sharma Oli won elections by promising prosperity to a populace that has lived with a sense of acute scarcity in their lives. But for whom the prosperity is intended needs clarification. It is clear that Oli’s promised prosperity hopes to eradicate poverty, but it is not clear whether his vision includes a state where consumptive production and consumption are the accepted norms—a societal habit already in the making. Consequently, it becomes an imperative to define ‘prosperity’—by contesting the idea in a public sphere—where the term can mean more than economic affluence.
Instead, if nothing is done and the general populace ‘plays along’ with Oli’s nationalist agenda, then Nepal will be a place where the GDP might be as high as the rate of mental illness. Isn’t it an imperative, then, to seek alternative visions of development where spiritual fulfilment matters as much, if not more than meeting the material conditions of an industrialised nation?
Ghimire is a journalist associated with the Kathmandu Post