After internalisation of federalism in the nation, eight local levels were created in Banke district, which holds a population of 491,313. Nepalgunj, which is the main city of Western, Mid-western and Far-western development area is now striving to be the economic hub of Karnali State, State 5 and Sudurpaschim State.
The district, which has been claiming to be the capital of State 5 is the economic backbone of three States in the western Nepal. The under construction Sikta irrigation project, which holds national pride also falls in the district.
While socio-economic development and prosperity have been the main agenda of the entire nation under the campaign ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. Gorkhapatra Sambad, the weekly roundtable dialogue of the Gorkhapatra Corporation, was held in Kohalpur to explore the perspective of local government, private sectors and civil society on the issue of development.
Lut Bahadur Rawat, Mayor, Kohalpur Municipality, Ekmaya B.K., Vice Chair of Khajura Gaupalika, Chiranjibi Oli, General Secretary of Nepalgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Mohammed Ayub Siddhiqui, Chairman of District Bar Association expressed their views on the issue in the weekly sambad. Excerpts:
What are your thoughts and plans for the development of this area? How could development activities be pushed ahead?
Rawat: The local governments have a big responsibility but it has no magic wand. Nothing is going to change overnight. It needs required laws, regulatory directories, and working procedures. At first, we had shortage of manpower. It is being fulfilled through the employee adjustment. Still we have shortage of technical employees. We have thought of green city and touristic town. Every plan is connected with prosperity. We have started distributing technology and seeds to encourage modern farming. Kohalpur Municipality lies at the centre of State 5 in the west. We are working to show something valuable in this place. We are working to develop it as a touristic city. Development was, however, stranded. But now the development is gaining momentum.
Oli: We have been raising economic issues. Our organisation is putting pressure on the government. We are continuously working for developing Banke district. Nepalgunj Airport should be developed into an international airport. Why can’t we have Delhi-Nepalgunj, Nepalgunj-Banglore, Nepalgunj-Pokhara flights from here? Why cannot the tourists from India fly here, then to Pokhara? Even political parties are working on it. The government is also concerned on this issue. Now Banke is accomplishing many works.
You can look at roads and the status of education. If you look aat the higher education scenario, the number of students pursuing higher education is decreasing gradually. It may not be because of the federal set up but it may also be for the fact that the education system is not improving. If you look at the health sector, Bheri Hospital has become a choice of many people. Bheri hospital has become a referral hospital for the people of the mid and far western regions. Why the hospital can’t be made a brand. Many presume that the possibility of Banke has come to an end, but it’s not true. Banke has many possibilities. The survey for the construction of Nepalgunj-Jamunaha-Hilsa road has already been conducted. If we construct the road fast, then we can establish a tri-nation corridor.
The pilgrims visiting Mansarobar are increasing from this route. The number of Five Star hotels is also increasing. Investments have increased. This is all about increasing the international tourists. Five Star hotels are providing excellent facilities to the tourists. The steel companies have started production from here. Manpower for the factory have come from local areas. These examples show the progresses made by Banke and it has a lot do further. Industrial area is being constructed in Nauwasta and it needs to be completed soon. However, the establishment of businesses here has been affected due to the various factors, including the decision to fix the capital of the State. Cross border trade has affected the domestic business. The local businesses get adversely affected due to market access across the border.
BK: Khajura Gaupalika has a different identity compared with the rest of other local levels of Banke district. It does not have internal revenue sources. But it has land and human resources. It has mixed settlements. We are moving ahead in a planned way to make it a hub for education, health services and employment generation. We are trying to increase production in its fertile land. It has good potential for health service sector, too. We have formulated strategic plan and master plan of development. Two model high schools of Banke are located in Khajura where one on engineering and the other on agriculture. A natural resource management college is also coming into operation. We have made a big leap in education. In line with the spirit of the state government to develop a university, we decided to donate 100 bighas of land and the District Coordination Committee (DCC) has decided accordingly.
The Primary Health Centre is being upgraded to a 15-bed hospital and the Nepal Cancer Hospital is being built by the community, which will come into operation soon. We have also signed an agreement with China to connect people’s land to production and increase their income. We are working hard to make sure that all lands are cultivable throughout the year. For this, we are taking the help of agro technicians. We also have potential in dairy production sector. We are trying to connect agriculture with livestock farming by utilising our existing local manpower. On the road and transportation sector, 18 kilometres of roads were blacktopped last year, and 21 kilometres of roads will be blacktopped this year.
Siddiqi: Development of Banke has been neglected since since the Panchayat days. Then, the development centres were unfairly stationed in the hills. The regional offices were shifted to Surkhet. That had a negative impact. After the nation became a republic, there were some expectations. The people of Nepalgunj had participated in the movement to bring federalism and made big sacrifices for that. The expectation was that Nepalgunj would become the state capital because it had invested on federalism. Before the constitution was promulgated, the way the provincial map of Province-5 was drawn, our people had already understood that the state capital was not going to be established here. In the past, there were big match factories and steel factories, which no longer exist now. There used be big rice mills and factories, none of which exist today.
In order to develop this area, the leaders of main political parties must join hands. We need to put pressure on the government. It is almost certain that this area is not going to be the capital though being capital alone is not sufficient for development. Instead of becoming a capital city, we have choices of creating industrial hub, business centres, educational hub, health service hub and touristic centre. If we develop various hubs, it can accomplish its identity.
In India, Mumbai is more developed than the capital city Delhi. Bangalore and Hyderabad have become first choice for Information and Technology. The capital city has its own importance. However, there are more developed cities than the capital city. The central political leaders should have positive attitudes towards Banke.
How can Kohalpur be established as the ‘Transit-hub’ connecting India and China?
Rawat: Kohalpur district is regarded as the transit point connecting the western Nepal to China. Banke district is connected to Uttar Pradesh (UP) of India. As the corridor is the shortest route to travel to Mansarober, various Indian devotees have been opting this route to reach Mansarover.
The government has also introduced a project to connect the district to Hilsa. This will aid big time in development of Banke and Karnali. The project, if implemented would definitely be successful. It was told that Nepalgunj or Kohalpur would be established as the replica of Mansarover, but now, some people have been exerting pressure to establish Baijanath as the replica. Baijanath is located at the edge of the state, and the prospects of tourism is less there.
How can cooperation between the government and private sectors be facilitated?
Rawat: The private sector has entered the municipality to cooperate with the government. They have been approaching us with proposals to upgrade agriculture sector of the district by investing where, 25 per cent would be invested by private sectors and 75 per cent would be invested by the government. The government, however, is concerned about misuse of authority to be given to the private sector. Cooperation between private sector and the government would undoubtedly be fruitful as the private sector caters more skillful, competent and expert human resources.
Oli: Private sector believes that the government would be autocratic if it doesn’t partner with the private sector while carrying out developmental works. After declaration of Banke National Park in 2068 BS, the tigers are also being conserved well and it has helped in inviting more tourists in the district. This shows how the private sectors and government complement each other and their cooperation would always be fruitful.
The Municipality’s ongoing campaigns would help increase prosperity of the district. However, the private sector is doubtful about it. The businesses have not been fostering. Tax rates have been increasing but businesses have been decreasing. Collecting tax is not the sole responsibility of the local government. It should focus on expanding and improving business environment.
If the government fulfills its responsibilities it owes to the private sector, the businessmen would also be loyal to the nation. Situations money deals under the table still exists. This shows that the business persons are also not ethically aware.
B.K.: Nepalgunj is an old city and it is the center of 24 districts. It is important to retain the historical infrastructure present in the city, in order to establish Nepalgunj as historical city. Number of youths involved in drug abuse, of late, has been increasing. The government should stress the management of production of drugs.
Businesses in the district are dependent on various external factors. In Khajura Gaupalika, after studying about the importance of involvement of private sectors in development, we are now going to call for cooperation from private sector. Private sectors and the government cannot be separated. Detailed study must be done about the prospects of converting Nepalgunj into a metropolitan city.
I believe that developmental works should be carried out on the basis of equity, along with utilisation and mobilisation of all the available resources. The local levels lack competent human resources. The local level itself is responsible to develop their area with effective coordination between the private sectors and the government.
Siddiqi: It is all because of the contribution of private sector that Karnali state has reached this stage. The contribution of the government is nil. Talking about Kohalpur, the medical college was established through initiation of private sector. Naubasta Industrial State was told to be established in 1,000 Bighas land. The land, in reality is less. Everything operates here on hoax.
It is high time political parties and leaders of Banke leave their political interest and focus on the socio-economic development of the district. Every political party should unite for development of its area. The state will not be connected to India unless the airport gets upgraded. The government should also strive to construct Jamuna-Hilsa road section as soon as possible. Nepalgunj is also in need of a government owned medical college and technical universities. The government should cooperate with every sector to ensure prosperity of Banke.
In the context of Metropolitan City
Rawat: The citizens’ view must be taken before deciding on capital and metropolitan status of the state. The citizens say that if the capital does not fall from Butwal to Dang, the Banke and Bardiya district should join the territory of Karnali state. Also, the metropolitan city should be established by unifying the local levels around Nepalgunj. The citizens have called for establishment of metropolitan city by connecting Baijanath of Kohalpur and Rapti-Sonari.
(Prepared by Govinda Sharma and Siraj Khan and translated by Ajita Rijal and Sampada Anuranjanee Khatiwada. Photo by Sagar Basnet.)
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