As the fiscal wheel turns
As the fiscal wheel turns
– DAULAT JHA
Every time I visit Janakpur, I find the city has aged. True, new houses are being built and the city is gradually expanding, thanks to the inflow of money from migrant workers. But the roads get worse every year. With the sewage system being non-existent, mosquitoes thrive on pools of water during monsoon. The municipality, notorious for its corruption, rarely picks garbage. This time was no exception. Huge pieces of rocks were piled on the road from the airport, making it so bad that rickshaw-wallahs were hesitant in using the road. The rocks were supposed to be gravel to be used for road construction. Mud piles lined both sides of the road in parts of the main city, dug out to build drains.
The fiscal year is drawing to an end. This means that the different government agencies have to use the assigned budget before the end of Asadh. Thus the flurry of work – the road and the sewage. As happens almost every year, the government rushes to conduct token works of development by piling stones and digging holes at this time of the year.
In Gaur, a local leader told me that they had stopped expecting anything from the Nepali government. The Indian government, meanwhile, had built a hospital and was building a girls hostel and roads. Then comes the monsoon and before real work is done, the rain washes away whatever work has been done. This sorry state of affairs has become the norm in our country. As it is, rarely is any real development work done by the government agencies. Those that are started immediately prior to the monsoon are washed away within a month. The few projects that are completed also deteriorate in no time, thanks to the sheer amount of corruption.
The government’s inability to undertake any large development project in the region is one of the main reasons that alienated the Madhesi people from the Nepali state. Janakpur municipality has the reputation of being one of the most corrupt institutions and past mayors have been marred with accusations of corruption.
The deficit of trust towards the Nepali state was made apparent as I was having a conversation with a friend. Pointing to a road that was being constructed, he said that this time the project would actually be successfully implemented. The reason – the roads were being built by India. In my travels around the Tarai, I have come across similar opinion. In Gaur, a local leader told me that they had stopped expecting anything from the Nepali government. The Indian government, meanwhile, had built a hospital and was building a girls hostel and roads. Near my village in Dhanusha is a large high school, which the Indian embassy (along with donations from the Nidhi family) built. Meanwhile, the once prestigious R.R. Campus looks dilapidated, despite the tremendous wealth it has, solely because it is sarkari.
Underdevelopment, along with racial discrimination, is the main argument people use when talking about federalism. Now that we will have a Madhes state, there will actually be concrete development – they say. But so far, the Madhesi parties have not been able to deliver on the high expectations they raised in the aftermath of the Madhes Movement and during the CA elections. A stark reminder is the government’s apathy towards the Koshi flood victims in a region that boasted of some of the most prominent politicians.
No wonder, disillusionment with the political leadership runs high. The political in-fighting and splits have increased this sense. Both the Maoists and the Upendra Yadav-led faction of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) faction can capitalize on the frustrations since they are now in the opposition but they too are perceived as being more interested in central level politics than achieving any meaningful change in the region. The Maoists could also make significant inroads among the landless and the marginalized communities in the Tarai , particularly if they are able to appease Matrika Yadav.
The fiscal year is drawing to an end. The government agencies have to use the assigned budget before the end of Asadh. Thus the flurry of work.In this background of utter despair and underdevelopment, and fueled by the inefficiency of the security apparatus, it is the armed groups and criminals who benefit. Abductions, killings, extortion and threats continue unabated. There is actually a chance that they may rise in the coming months due to the influx of money that usually come to contractors, businessmen and government employees following the end of the fiscal year. Similarly, the dissemination of funds to village development committees when the new budget comes in place may also increase the dangers faced by VDC secretaries.
With the crime wave in Kathmandu reaching a new high, law and order has assumed a greater urgency for the government than when incidents occurred mostly in the Tarai.
However, the government has yet to develop any comprehensive strategy in dealing with the increasing lawlessness. The security situation in the Tarai has many dimensions given the interconnectedness between the political parties, security apparatus, criminal gangs and armed groups. We will have to wait and see how the new government deals with the peace and security issue in the Tarai. As of yet, we have not heard anything regarding the armed groups or about what the strategy is to control crime.
The political parties in the government must surely understand the costs of ignoring the Tarai, which would only further weaken their influence in the region and provide a platform for the Maoists and the Yadav-led MPRF. What is of importance is whether the government will continue to patronize the criminal elements seeing them as the only source of consolidating their grip in the region or will seek to develop a comprehensive strategy aimed at eliminating the structural causes that has led to the sorry state of the region, namely increasing representation, implementing development projects and maintaining law and order through a more nuanced approach. Then, hopefully, people will not have to look southwards for development.
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