postplatform: Eight years ago

Sep 24, 2014-

It’s been eight years since renowned geographer and planner Harka Gurung’s tragic death in a helicopter crash. The chopper had been chartered by WWF and was returning from a conservation site at Ghunsa in eastern Nepal when it slammed into a mountain on Saturday, September 23, 2006, killing all 24 persons on board, including other noted conservationists.

Gurung’s death remains a great loss for the country. With Nepal going through changes on many fronts, political as well as socio-economic, his absence is acutely felt. It may be fair to say that there is no one in Nepal who understood both the geography and life of Nepal and Nepalis as well as him. A true nationalist and a man of principle, Gurung was a living encyclopaedia of Nepal, who gave generously to a wide range of social and environmental causes and movements. Towards the end of his life, he was spending much of his time and effort in securing a bigger share for Janajatis in new Nepal.

Born in Ngadi, Lamjung in 1935, Gurung was the fifth of (Thule) Subedar Parsai and Maishyo Gurung’s six sons. Nicknamed Hanuman, he was creative and always wanted to be extraordinary among his family members. He went to a military school in Dehradoon, India and stood first in his IA from Tri-Chandra College, Kathmandu and in his BA (Hons) from Patna College, India. He did his Post-Graduate diploma (1961) and PhD from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1965. He was one of the first Gurungs ever to receive a PhD and play a leading role in and outside the Nepal government.

Gurung served the Government of Nepal as a member and later vice-chairman, of the National Planning Commission from 1968-72 and 1972-75, respectively. He was Minister of State for Education and Industry and Commerce from 1975-77. He became the first Minister for Tourism, Public Works and Transport from 1977-78. In 1982, he served as vice-chairman of the government’s Nepal Tourism Promotion Committee and chairman of the Mountain Naming Committee. He was a member of the National Commission on Population from 1982-84 and chairman of the Task Force on Migration in 1983. He also served as director of the Asian and Pacific Development Centre in Kuala Lumpur from 1993-97.

Subsequently, Gurung returned to working as a consultant for the government, ADB, ESCAP, IDRC, IFAD, IUCN, UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNRISD, USAID, WWF and World Bank. He had been associated with New ERA, Kathmandu since 1981. He has published 15 books, 14 monographs and more than 500 articles on culture, demography, development planning, environment, geography, political economy and tourism.

Nepal has not needed Gurung more than it does at present, when it stands at the threshold of historical changes. The international community too has lost a great leader, scholar, geographer, planner, conservationist and development guru. It is still hard to believe that Harka Gurung is no longer with us. May his soul rest in peace.

- JIT GURUNG

Published: 25-09-2014 09:31

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