Need and greed
Nepal is ruled by a coalition of parties that espouse social-democratism, Maoism, Marxism-Leninism. But all three adhere to just one ideology: extractivism.
Nepal’s history of the past 60 years has been a struggle between विकाश and विनास, the need to balance development and destruction. The songs of the early Panchayat period glorified the destruction of mountains and forests for the country to forge ahead. Nature had to be tamed and sacrificed on the path to ‘development’.
‘Growth’ would allow South Asia’s oldest nation state to catch up with the outside world. Along the way, we forgot that ‘growth’ can also mean malignancy. The pursuit of development mutilated mountains and denuded forests, the greed that drives growth has corrupted society, amplifying social inequities.
Whether monarchy or republic, Nepal has been a kleptocracy in which the politics of patronage sets the rules. King Mahendra’s trans-migration policy to move entire villages from the mountains to the Tarai led to the loss of vast jungles in the plains. King Birendra’s referendum to safeguard the absolute monarchy bought time, but came at the cost of further destruction of forests.
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Federalism was supposed to devolve power to local governments and make them more accountable, but it just decentralised patronage and corruption. In the absence of other resources and a manufacturing base, extraction of nature is the easiest path to enrichment for politicians and businessmen.
After 2017, many contractors became mayors who allocated budgets to rent their excavators to maul mountains. The destruction from quarrying has ravaged the fragile Chure range. Rivers across Nepal have been ransacked by sand and boulder contractors who have paid rural municipalities a pittance in royalty.
Those who stand up against the devastation are threatened, or even killed like Om Prakash Mahato ‘Dilip', who was crushed by a tipper truck nearly three years ago in Dhanusa district for daring to protest against illegal sand-mining. The perpetrators were let off.
Local, provincial and the central government are infiltrated by patronage. The prime minister and leaders of the coalition are forging ahead with building a new international airport in Nijgad, even though numerous studies have shown that it spells economic and ecological disaster to one of the last expanses of native forests in the eastern Tarai.
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There is also an uncontrolled hydropower building spree on rivers across Nepal, and the real destruction will start with proposed new reservoir projects. Elsewhere, quarries supplying limestone to cement factories have disfigured the landscape.
In state and community forests, even national parks, there is rampant encroachment by powerful businesses with political connections to build resorts, ashrams and cable cars. The deals are opaque, and no heed is paid to the environment.
The kindest explanation for this groundswell of destructive development is ignorance or incompetence of those in power. But the more likely reason is the nexus between politics and business that is now so deep that it is impossible to tell apart a contractor and a politician.
This is a well-oiled machinery that is lubricated at election time by pre-paid campaign financing. Natural resources are converted into party war chests that make the nouveau riche richer, and the perpetually poor poorer.
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B P Koirala was a Gandhian social democrat who wrote 70 years ago that large production centres and industries breed two types of crimes: machines first displace humans, and then business monopolies engender tyrants. B P was far ahead of his time in understanding that nature does not just have intrinsic value, but is inextricably linked to human wellbeing and survival. And that genuine democracy would be inclusive, and deliver social and environmental justice.
Today’s Nepali Congress is a far cry from B P Thought. Their Marxist-Leninist and Maoist coalition partners do not even have that ideological underpinning about the need to nurture nature. Forests, mountains, rivers, water, are all there to be harnessed ostensibly for ‘development’ and ‘economic growth’, but those are hollow euphemisms for personal greed and partisan gain.
The ongoing loot by Nepal’s extractivist politicians is now peaking. Soon, there will be few forests left to log, rivers that have not been mined to death, or mountains not ruined by redundant roads.
The interests of communities completely dependent on natural resources need to be protected, citizens most impacted by the degradation of nature need to rise up against state-sponsored destruction. When essential infrastructure is necessary, it needs to be constructed with minimal impact on the ecology.
Gandhi said the Earth provides enough to satisfy everyone's need, but not every man's greed. We have to stop destroying what is left before it is too late.
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