Starving for Justice

Govinda KC breaks his hunger strike on the 26th day with Kedar Mathema and Subash Chandra Nembang just before midnight on Thursday.

On the 26th day of his 15th hunger strike, his longest yet, the Government finally met all nine of Govinda KC’s demands to make health care affordable and accessible for all Nepalis, by removing corruption from the medical education sector. But there have been agreements like these before, does it mean KC will not have to go on hunger strike again?

The last sticking point was KC’s demand that no more medical colleges should be allowed in Kathmandu Valley for 10, which the Government was adamant not to sign off on categorically. Finally a compromise was reached that the government would address the 22 amendments KC wants in the Medical Education Bill through Parliamentary procedures.

The reason for KC’s latest fast was the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government, with its near two-thirds majority in Parliament, trying to hurriedly pass the Bill without pledges previously agreed to in previous hunger strikes.

With KC’s health deteriorating, public opinion was overwhelmingly on his side. The Government’s negotiation team, led by former House speaker Subhas Nembang, by Thursday evening agreed to most of the doctor’s demands. If the Bill is now passed, no new medical colleges will be allowed in the Valley for 10 years, and those that have got permission will either be bought over by the State or be relocated elsewhere.

This was the point on which there was a last minute hitch with negotiators going through several revisions of the draft agreement at the Prime Minister’s residence in Baluwatar, and playing it back to KC at the Teaching Hospital in Maharajganj.

KC has said his demand for a moratorium on medical schools in the capital was to ensure teaching hospitals were evenly spread out in the country. Powerful figures in the ruling party are known to have stakes in new medical colleges waiting for licenses in Kathmandu however.

The Government agreed to a list of other demands, such as medical colleges not becoming affiliated until they had operated their own hospitals for three years, and a single university should not be allowed to license more than five medical colleges. Other demands included Medical Education Ordinance being implemented to the letter, all officials including the acting deputy be appointed to the Medical Education Commission, and a common entrance test be conducted.

KC started his most recent fast in Jumla after Kathmandu’s Maitighar Mandala was declared a no-protest zone. He agreed to be flown back to Kathmandu but only after police raided the Karnali Academy of Health Sciences, throwing tear gas and firing rubber bullets. KC also wanted Karnali Academy to be upgraded to enroll MBBS students.

There had been no dialogue between the two sides even after KC was taken to Kathmandu from Jumla on 19 July, with the Government actively seeking to discredit KC’s fast. It claimed he was being manipulated by opposition Nepali Congress and Bibeksheel Sajha, with one minister even saying the hunger strike was part of a “grand design”.

KC has signed 11 agreements with the Government in the past eight years, and this one appeared to be a make or break. Given the financial interests of the medical-political nexus, however, the NCP will be under pressure from investors to renege on the deal. KC likely suspects this; so even if he has called off this hunger strike, it may not be his last.

The original version of this article has been updated after Govinda KC called off his hunger strike.