Wait and see

  • A targeted development plan for border districts, if mooted, will need local buy-in
Wait and see

Apr 15, 2015-

Over the last few weeks, protests have raged in the Tarai over the government’s decision to extend service centres outside of certain district headquarters. Most recently, protests in Gaur, the headquarters of Rautahat, took on a violent turn as police resorted to excessive force when quelling violent protests, as pointed by the National Human Rights Commission in a statement. While the protests were a reflection of the deep-seated unease with which Madhesis view the Pahadi-dominated Kathmandu centre, they were also indicative of resentment at having been neglected in terms of development plans and policies.

This umbrage is not misplaced. Despite being less than 300 kilometres from the Capital, the Tarai districts of Mahottari and Rautahat have among the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) scores—0.388 and 0.386, respectively—according to the Nepal Human Development Report 2014. These numbers are comparable to those for the Far West districts. The Tarai, on the whole, has an HDI of 0.468 while the hills are at 0.520. The mountains rank the lowest with 0.440, primarily due to low scores in the Far West.

Given this disparity and perhaps propelled by the recent protests, the government is mulling over a special development programme for border districts, primarily those in the Tarai and the mountains. Twenty-six districts border India while 16 border China. The plan is being crafted because Nepali citizens are apparently crossing the border into India to avail of facilities, lacking such amenities on the Nepali side. Those in the mountain districts are similarly deprived but unable to cross the Himalayan border. In any case, it is clear that the border districts are underdeveloped and a special plan targeted at these very districts would be welcome.

Still, it would be wise to be cautious. The plan is in the very initial stages and has yet to be see substantial discussion. If mooted, the plan must be utilised in a manner befitting individual districts. The Tarai districts have infrastructure and road access, but are behind in terms of education and health; the mountain districts lack access to markets and all kinds of infrastructure. The new plan must complement existing development efforts, like the Postal Road in the Tarai, which has long lain stagnant. Progress on this road would greatly benefit the Madhes heartland. Care should also be taken to make certain that the programme is not hijacked by partisan interests to benefit certain constituencies.

Furthermore, judging from official comments, it appears that the plan is being considered more as a ‘prestige’ issue vis-à-vis India than a genuine desire to develop border districts. Certainly, the two are not mutually exclusive, but it would be myopic to put nationalism before the well-being of citizens. Incidents like the protests in the Madhes need genuine engagement, not a patronising plan that is once again, driven by the centre with little local buy-in. It would be best to move carefully, thoughtfully, and above all, by considering local sentiments.   

Published: 16-04-2015 09:53

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