Karnali State ranks last in Human Development Index (HDI). Around 52 per cent of people in the State fall under the multipronged poverty line.
Although Karnali State is geographically the largest in Nepal, holding around 1.7 million population, it is backward of all in terms of development.
Karnali State, which was the first one to decide its name and capital is now preparing the bases for development. It has been a year since a planning commission was formed to prepare the bases.
The Gorkhapatra Corporation held the weekly roundtable discussion, the Gorkhapatra Sambad this time in Surkhet, the capital of Karnali State.
Prof. Punya Prasad Regmi, Vice-chair of the commission, Pitambar Dhakal, civil society leader and former dean of Mid-Western University and Dhana Bahadur Raut, chairman of Surkhet Federation of Industries and Commerce, expressed their views on various aspects of Karnali State in the weekly Sambad. Excerpts:
What are the efforts of the Planning Commission (PC) in Karnali State’s march towards prosperity?
Prof. Regmi: A year has passed since the formation of Planning Commission. The commission has sensed that Karnali would get a facelift only if the commission becomes able to choose apt plan and its effective and efficient execution. We have been making a project bank for it.
The commission is currently collecting all the required facts and statistics of Karnali by interacting with stakeholders and experts of all 10 districts of the State to fulfill our prolonged objectives.
We had presented a concept paper of the plans of the state to the government but the plans are not being executed as per the paper. The government has not been able to disburse its budget.
The commission is concerned about the present and future of Karnali State and we have decided the priority accordingly. We have kept infrastructure, and road transportation to be precise, in our first priority.
Projects like Karnali corridor, Bheri Corridor and Mid-corridor are in the pipeline. These three corridors will be connecting Karnali with the northern frontier of the nation. Karnali would connect to Hilsa port, Bheri to Dhomrimla and Mid-corridor would connect to Nagchelagna port.
Energy and hydroelectricity is our second priority. Karnali holds the capacity of producing over 25,000 Megawatt (MW) electricity but only 8.5 MW electricity is being produced currently, while 55 projects are in pipeline and 10 have started construction.
We have planned to increase the electricity production to 200MW in next five years and to 5000MW within 10 years.
Likewise, the per capita income in Karnali is $606. We have planned to increase the per capita to $10,000 within 25 years from now.
The commission has also prioritised unified residential development. About 33 per cent of the residence in the State is in risk because of geographical difficulties. Residential development is a battle uphill here. Therefore, we have planned to develop unified residence by formulating Land Use Policy (LUP).
Currently, only 15 per cent irrigation facilities is being provided in the State. We have planned to expand the irrigation facilities by adopting Lift Irrigation System (LIS).
Almost 52 per cent of people here are under poverty line. The commission has planned to reduce poverty by increasing production of local crops.
We have marched towards prosperity, with a slogan ‘Prosperous Karnali, Happy Karnalibasi’ within a year of formation of the commission.
How are the civil societies viewing State Planning Commission and Karnali’s march towards prosperity?
Dhakal: This is the year of project formation. Even though two years have passed since the formation of Karnali State Government and a year has passed since the creation of the Planning Commission, Karnali has not witnessed much developmental changes.
As the plans and projects are being made this year, the government hasn’t effectuated the plans. Only the management of the nation has changed, the thinking of administrators and leaders is still the same.
Since the people had a lot of expectations from the State government, they seem to be disappointed for not witnessing any changes.
The Karnali residents haven’t seen the endeavors of the State government.
At least Surkhet, the State capital, should have witnessed some progressive changes but it has not. Surkhet is the entry-point of Karnali.
The plans should be made and effectuated from lower levels in order to live up to the expectations of the denizens.
How are the private sectors viewing activities of the State and the Planning Commission?
Rawat: In fact, today, the private sectors have been squeezed a lot. The private sectors are not in condition of doing investment at present context because of different tax provisions. The government, which needs to develop coordination and win the trust of the private sector, has not done this yet. The government has not been able to introduce investment-friendly specific policies and programmes targeting the private sectors.
Yet, no such policy and programme has come from the government sector that encourages for investment to the private sectors. Taking a loan is also not friendlier and easier to the investors here. There is a trend of taking permission from the Customs Office before taking loan for the private sectors.
Private sector-friendly economic policies should be introduced for making the economic sector viable and movable. Even there is no proper establishment of physical infrastructure and provision of giving a subsidy.
Private sector can too contribute a lot in the development of the State and for the sake of prosperity of the country. But there still lacks a proper coordination and communication between the State government and the private bodies.
Has the definition and general perception of Karnali been changed after the country adopted the notion of Federalism?
Prof. Regmi: There is a trend of keeping all the development programmes and budget by one particular group of people in the name of doing development in Karnali. The government has not been able to do much expense in the development projects. The development expenditure can be increased taking local bodies in trust, but as of today, they have not been able to do so.
We have been repeatedly saying to hand over project that are over Rs. 10 million to the State government, and projects again more than Rs. 10 million should be forwarded only by conducting feasibility studies, but the State government was focusing their concern only in small and scattered projects.
Last year, the State government executed the development programmes going against their own set policy and programmes. It seems that the State government was engaged in making happy to their lawmakers only.
Local bodies should be given training and knowledge about the way of choosing their right and best project and the way to do expenditure in particular projects.
Karnali doesn’t have only prospect, but is surrounded by too many problems. Karnali’s definition could be changed if we become able to design and implement a planned policy and programmes.
Dhakal: State Assembly lawmakers have some knowledge deficit about administration and its operation. They are too much focused and oriented only in their constituencies. I don’t think the lawmakers have given that much attention in the projects designed by the State Planning Commission. Thus, it still takes some more time to change the definition of Karnali.
Rawat: No such environment is made yet to encourage and attract investment in the State. In absence of specific and investment-friendly policy, industrial sectors here are not able to make the desired progress. The government should introduce an easy-going policy targeting the private sectors. Development of Karnali is a must to bring changes in its concept and definition.
Would you please highlight some of the challenges and its resolutions for the development and prosperity of Karnali State?
Prof. Regmi: In fact, Karnali State doesn’t have an opponent. The opponents of Karnali are the illiteracy, tough geographical terrain and diseases. State Assembly lawmakers representing the Nepali Congress too are seen showing solidarity in the development and prosperity of Karnali. Everyone has a desire and wish to make the State a prosperous, but they all are failed to move ahead with a planned policy and prorgrammes.
We are developing a new model for the development of Karnali. We are preparing to bring only the selected projects from the recently established project banks and will take them to an implementation phase based on their priorities. But here, our lawmakers are bringing their already set plans and programmes prepared from their own pockets.
Some of the projects like Nalgadh, Betan Karnali, Jagadulla are in a ready condition of taking it into implementation phase. Of course, investment for these projects will be availble. Road ways from Kohalpur to Surkhet must be fine for all the time.
Another problem with Karnali is that, civil servants do not want to come and work here for a long time. We are not being able to do expected expenditure as dreamed by the budget due to insufficient employees and some legal technicalities. Over 80 per cent of the government offices are being run by the officiating officials here. The State Planning Commission too has no sufficient staff.
There are 153 employees in the Federal National Planning Commission. They have 60 years of experiences. But the Federal NPC is not willing to send one employee here at the State PC. The State PC is introducing a model programme called a ‘Compulsory and Basic Daily Earnings’ for reducing poverty graph of the State. This particular programme will begin from Birendranagar Municipality-14 in Surkhet.
The Federal government should not hesitate while handing over legal rights for the development of Karnali.
Without consent of the Federal government, the State government can’t do a single work. Majority of the projects lies within the State fall under the authority of the Federal government.
Dhakal: Nobody should take much worry as these two years are also considered as the beginning years for us. But having said this, there is no such condition of keeping mum in the development of Karnali. A change in the mindset of ministers and lawmakers must be for the development of Karnali. Ministers and lawmakers should be ready to accept the projects that came only from the State PC. Integrated settlement concept should be introduced for the development of Karnali. Trend of spoils sharing in every issue and development must be stopped by the lawmakers and ministers.
Rawat: The government should promulgate easy and specific policies and programmes. Eight months of the current fiscal year have already elapsed. But the government was unable to do much and desired expenditure in development headings. Timeline should be made while executing development works if have to increase the development expenditure.
What could be the future prospects of Karnali State?
Prof. Regmi. : Obviously, tourism sector of this region has boomed recently. Investment in big infrastructure like hotels has increased. Trend has already been set to hold several big events even in Surkhet besides Nepalgunj. Mobility of people in Surkhet and other districts has increased. All these have become possible due to the tourism. These have shown a great prospect of the State.
Dhakal: Local representatives, who used to be seen only in Kathmandu, can now also be seen in the State. Now, we have State and local-elected representatives, who are liable to prepare and implement projects. They are very much aware about the problems of their districts.
Rawat: Voices for the civil rights and the level of people’s consciousness have now increased. People can directly put their problems and development issues to their State representatives and local representatives. The elected representatives have their rights to make people aware and this is a positive indication for the future prospects of Karnali State.
(Prepared by Purusottam P. Khatri, Sampada Anuranjanee Khatiwada and Lalit Basel. Photogrpahs by Sagar Basnet.)
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