Terai troubles more than security issue

October 5, 2008 at 7:13 am Leave a comment

Terai troubles more than security issue




KATHMANDU, Sept 30 – A day after assuming office, Minister for Home Affairs Bamdev Gautam announced on September 1 that he would deal politically with armed Terai groups that have a political agenda while crushing the others.Nearly a month on, Minister Gautam himself seems to be in a quandary about how he wants to deal with the armed groups, which are reportedly meeting in Katihar, India, and joining hands to fight back the government.

The government’s inaction over dealing with as many as 14 armed groups in the troubled southern districts has not just forced innocent people to live with constant insecurity. Defiant Terai groups are, in fact, stepping up their activities, something confirmed by to police.

This has further aggravated the already poor law and order situation in the eight most troubled Terai districts – starting from Parsa in the Central Region to Saptari in the East. Many say the government in these districts has shrunk back to district headquarters after its credible presence during the April elections.

Apart from the government offices at district headquarters, local bodies including VDCs are the strongest manifestation of government presence on the ground. But there have been no local bodies in place since 2002. Worse still, most VDC secretaries remained displaced from their villages and civil servants deputed to various government offices in these districts have fled their duty stations because of widespread fears of extortion and concern over personal security.

As a result, most government offices in Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusha, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Parsa and Bara districts are either empty or grossly understaffed.

“The recent killing of Mohan Mainali in Parsa has further stoked a sense of insecurity among civil servants in Terai districts,” says Ganesh Basyal, president of the CPN-UML affiliated Nepal Government Employees’ Organisation. “Civil servants act as a bridge between people and the government, but this lifeline is on the verge of collapse due to repeated assaults against us.”

An armed group belonging to the Sanyukta Janatantric Terai Mukti Morcha on September 19 shot and killed Mainali, a section officer from the District Administration Office, Parsa, at Ranighat area of Birgunj Submetropolis-2. He was reportedly shot dead after he declined to give in to the group’s demand for a huge, though undisclosed, ransom.

Mainali is just one such case. At least 13 other government employees including four in the civil service have already been killed by various armed groups for not paying ‘donations’ after Janaandolan II in April 2006.

They include Manohar Kumar Shrestha (in Parsa), Surya Narayan Yadav (Siraha), Raj Kumar Joshi (Dhanusha), Bikram Prasad Shah (Saptari), Naba Raj Bista (Banke), Purna Prasad Dhakal (Banke), Karna Bahadur B.K. (Sarlahi), Jitendra Prasad Sah (Dhanusha), Suresh Yadav (Rautahat), and VDC secretaries Ram Hari Pokhrel (Siraha), Ram Brichha Raya Yadav (Rautahat), Ram Babu Sharma Neupane (Bara) and Alauddin Ansari (Mahottari).

Subodh Devkota, general secretary of the Nepali Congress-affiliated Nepal Civil Service Union, alleges that the government has failed to act against criminal elements in the Terai. “The security situation in the Terai is deteriorating by the day due to government apathy,” he says. “Those who are posted to Terai districts think of tendering their resignation instead of going to their postings, out of fear for their lives.”

Devkota argues that the situation was not this bad even during the conflict years. “A government official could feel safe once he paid a certain amount of money as donation every month,” he recalls. “It is just so difficult now. There are over a dozen armed groups in operation and who do you talk to?”

Rukma Lamichhane, president of the Maoist-affiliated Nepal National Employees’ Organisation, says the government should get tough with the armed groups after developing consensus among all political parties. “It is unfortunate to see civil servants, under whom the police administration works, being butchered one after another,” he says.

While most of these civil service employees are stationed at the district headquarters, where the security situation is relatively better, the VDC secretaries, who are far from the district centers, suffer more. “We are now working through districts headquarters. We cannot go to the villages until the government arranges proper security,” says Bhuwani Prasad Ghimire, president of the VDC Secretaries’ Welfare Protection Center.

As much as poor policing, it is also the political vacuum that has contributed to poor law and order. Locally elected bodies, which have remained dissolved for six years, are supposed to mobilise the VDC grants, which are now being managed by the VDC secretaries in the absence of elected officials. According to the new budget, each VDC will is to get up to Rs 2 million for local development.

Everyone acknowledges that the law and order situation in these eight Terai districts is dire but the political parties are not quite sure how to deal with the problem. The biggest problem: how do you differentiate armed groups with criminal intent from armed groups which have a political objective? “Therein lies the crux of the problem,” says a senior police official, asking to be unnamed, as all the armed groups are into killings and abductions. “What criteria does the Home Minister have for drawing a line between the two groups?”

Hopes were high after the CA elections, when the two Terai-based parties Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) and Terai-Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP) made a strong showing in the polling.  Other national parties thought that the MPRF and TMDP’s fair representation in the CA would help reclaim the political space in the Terai and de-legitimise the armed groups. “Yes, that is true,” says Upendra Jha, a central committee member of the MPRF. “But I doubt that the armed groups would simply come and lay down their arms without getting due recognition from the state, just as with the Maoist some three years back,”

Jha, who is in touch with the top leaders of some armed groups, says all of them are open to negotiations. “Administrative measures alone would surely backfire on the government,” he claims. “It’s high time the government appointed a facilitator and initiated negotiations. The home minister needs to take that into account. The government will use force to crush criminal outfits, while it will deal politically with political groups operating in the Terai.”



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