Nepal witnessed several highs and lows in the year 2019 which included high-profile scandals, corruption, dramatical political changes, significant international visits, major development projects and prime minister’s health.
Here, Reporters Club looks at the major controversies, scandals and achievements of the government last year.
The government registered a controversial Advertisement Bill at the parliament on Jan 8 proposing–as per the Section 25 (2)–up to one year in jail and up to Rs 10,000 in fine for both media publishers and owners of broadcast companies for advertising-related offenses. Publication or broadcast of advertisements containing false information or banned content, affecting fair competition in products and services, exposing information confidential by law, comparison between goods, products and services and other various issued defined by Section 5 would be taken as offensive advertisements.
Despite the nationwide protest, the House of Representatives endorsed the controversial Advertisement Bill in late August.
Other controversial Bills that made headlines were the Information Technology Bill, registered on Feb 14, and Media Council Bill, registered on May 10, both aimed at regulating social media. The former sought punishment of five years in prison and up to Rs 1.5 million fine or both for posting content on social networking sites that pose a threat to the country’s sovereignty, security, unity or harmony while the latter proposed up to Rs 1 million fine against the media outlets, editors, publishers and journalists if found guilty of damaging someone’s reputation or publishing contents which breaches the media code of ethics.
The public and media have expressed serious reservations over the bills saying they curtail press freedom and freedom of expression.
The Development and Technology Committee of the House of Representatives recently passed the Information Technology Bill.
Another Bill that sparked a series of controversies was Guthi Bill which drew criticisms from traditional Guthi supporters, stakeholders and lawmakers from both ruling Nepali Communist Party and opposition Nepali Congress.
After Minister for Land Reforms Padma Kumar Aryal tabled the bill at the National Assembly, tens of thousands of dissatisfied public especially pro-Guthi supporters took to the streets demanding the cancelation of the Bill saying it is a threat to centuries-old culture and tradition.
The provisions in the Bill especially the formation of Guthi Authority to oversee the Guthi properties that would effectively end the role of existing trustees who have so far been running the Guthis and the provision that would allow one occupying the Guthi land to acquire ownership certificates ignited dissatisfaction among the public.
Although the government defended the Guthi Bill arguing it was introduced to protect the culture, religion and century-old tradition, the bill was official withdrawn from the National Assembly on June 25 following the public pressure.
LALITA NIWAS LAND GRAB SCAM
Top political leaders and businessmen including former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai and ruling Nepal Communist Party General Secretary Bishnu Paudel came under the radar after it was found that 114 ropanies of land at Lalita Niwas was illegally transferred to private ownership.
Nepal and Bhattarai were dragged in the scam for their controversial policy decisions that paved the way for illegal transfer of public land to private ownership. Especially Paudel faced heavy criticisms for owning a piece of land in the government property which was nationalized in 1964 by duly compensating the rightful owners.
Paudel claimed that he bought the plot from the wife of Shobhakanta, Uma Dhakal and Madhavi Subedi fulfilling all the legal procedures in Jan 2005.
According to reports, about 100 individuals including big business houses Bhatbhatini, Goyal, Sarda, Chachan, Kediya, Gopal Khanal Group, Shobakanta Dhakal, Ram Kumar Subedi, Purushottam Paudel illegally own land in the nationalized property.
The year saw some high-profile scandals involving former Speaker of the House of Representatives Krishna Bahadur Mahara and lawmaker Aftab Alam that shook the domestic politics.
Mahara was arrested on Oct 6 after a female parliamentarian staffer registered an FIR against him accusing him of physical assault and attempted rape at her Tinkune-based apartment on the night of Sept 30. Mahara stepped down from the position on Oct 1 following the accusation.
Kathmandu District Court, after hearing on the case, sent Mahara to Dillibazar prison on Nov 4 until the final verdict. Mahara then filed an appeal at the Patan High Court seeking bail. However, the high court, saying that the prima facie evidence was against Mahara, denied the bail upholding the Kathmandu District Court’s decision to remand him to judicial custody.
Main opposition party lawmaker Mohammad Aftab Alam was arrested on Oct 13 in connection with a mass murder which involved burning of 14 dead and eight injured victims of 2008 Rautahat bomb blast–that went off in a cowshed of Sheikh Idri, a relative of Alam in Rautahat, Farhadwa – 4 when his cadres were making a bomb on April 9, the eve of the Constituent Assembly election–in a brick kiln to destroy the evidence. It was reported that he employed the people to make bombs with an objective to capture booths during the elections.
Rautahat District Court has filed charges against Alam and 10 others seeking life imprisonment and confiscation of Alam’s property.
PM OLI’S HEALTH
Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s health was one of the major concerns for the public throughout the year after his health deteriorated.
Oli, who had undergone a kidney transplant in India in 2007, had visited Singapore for a routine check-up in early August where he received plasmapheresis treatment at the National University Hospital. But, in less than 15 days after returning from Singapore, he revisited the foreign hospital after his anti-body was found more than required.
After his return, the 67-year-old prime minister visited hospitals a number of times to undergo dialysis, before he was diagnosed with appendicitis and admitted to the Manmohan Cardiothoracic, Vascular and Transplant Center.
He underwent a successful surgical operation on his appendix. He was also suffering from peritonitis, according to the hospital.
CHINESE PRESIDENT XI’S VISIT
President of People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping visited Nepal on Oct 12-13 becoming the first Chinese head of state to visit Nepal after 23 years.
During his visit, President Xi held delegation-level bilateral talks with Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli. Following the meeting, the two leaders witnessed the exchange of 18 MoUs and two letters of exchange related to the partnership with government bodies including the Ministries of Home, Foreign Affairs, Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Agriculture and Livestock Development, Industry, Commerce and Supply and the Kathmandu metropolis.
Xi also called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Nepal Communist Party Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and secretariat members, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, National Assembly Chair Ganesh Prasad Timalsina.
SOUTH ASIA’S FIRST CROSS-BORDER PETROLEUM PIPELINE
Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and his counterpart Narendra Modi jointly inaugurated the Motihari-Amlekhjung petroleum pipeline through a live video conference on Sept 10. The 69.2-km long pipeline is South Asia’s first cross-border pipeline completed under Nepal-India corporation and has the capacity to supply 4,000 kiloliter petroleum products to Nepal every day. The project was completed at the cost of Rs 5.18 billion.
DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS
The government dramatically reached an 11-point deal with Alliance for Independent Madhesh led by CK Raut in March welcoming Raut, who had been accused of leading the separatist movement in Madhes, to national mainstream politics in the condition he would abandon the secessionist movement. Following the agreement, Raut formed Janamat party. The agreement has been viewed as one of the major achievements of the government in domestic politics.
However, the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN)’s disappointment with the government continued and withdrew its support in March saying the government failed to keep its promise of constitution amendment. However, the RJPN has been back in alliance with a two-point deal for the upcoming National Assembly elections. The deal will reward the regional party at least two seats (from Province 2) in the upper house while the ruling party will get the remaining 16 seats. As per the deal, the NCP will support the candidates of RJPN in the open and people with physical disabilities quota while the latter, in exchange, will support the ruling party in women and Dalit quota.
Meanwhile, Samajbadi party chair Upendra Yadav, who was heading the deputy prime minister and law ministry (and health ministry before he was shifted to the law) pulled out of the government on Dec 24, a day after PM Oli rejected his proposal on constitution amendment during a meeting of the Council of Ministers.
TRAGIC CHOPPER CRASH
Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Rabindra Adhikari, along with six people, was killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Taplejung on February 27 while they were returning from Pathibhara Temple.
At the time of his death, a sub-committee formed by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives had concluded he was complicit in misappropriation of Rs 4.3 billion during the procurement of two wide-body planes by the Nepal Airlines Corporation. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority was investigating the case when he died.
NEPAL’S MOUNTAINEERING UNDER SCRUTINY
This year, the government of Nepal issued permit to record 381 climbers to scale the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. This year was also termed as one of the deadliest and busiest climbing seasons with 11 deaths reported on Everest—which also brought the way the authorities manage Everest under massive scrutiny. Many national and international media blamed the traffic jam on the way to the world’s tallest peak for the deaths.
BBC–while interviewing Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli–claimed only five of the 60 liaison officers deployed at the base camp were on the duty.
PM Oli struggled to answer when BBC journalist Matthew Amroliwala asked him: “Did that revelation disturb you?”
CONTROVERSIAL INDIAN POLITICAL MAP
Nepal was swept in anger after India, in the aftermath of forming Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh following the move to rescind the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir under the Article 370 of the Constitution of India, released a new political map placing Nepali territory of Kalapani and Lipulekh inside its border.
The move erupted a nationwide protest across the country against the Nepali border encroachment by Nepal.
13TH SOUTH ASIAN GAMES
The year ended with the successful conclusion of the 13th South Asian Games, which was held from Dec 1-10. Amid speculations over Nepal’s ability to hold the SAG due to the incomplete infrastructure including the Dasharath Stadium–which was supposed to host the inauguration and the closing ceremony, the SAG completed with much fanfare. This SAG also went down to history as Nepal claimed record 51 gold medals including 60 silver and 95 bronze medals. In the eighth SAG, which was also held in Nepal in 1999, Nepal had claimed record 31 gold medals.