On February 15, Nepal Airlines aircraft evacuated 175 Nepali nationals from corona virus-hit areas of China. The government also got praise for its well managed quarantine zone in Kharipati, Bhaktapur. The people and their families were happy as they got home after 15 days isolation and were applauding government for taking a good care. But the news from the Indo-Nepal borders where a lot of Nepalis got stuck has made headlines and the government was criticised for not taking any measures. It is well known that most of the countries have implemented lockdown after the COVID-19 outbreak starting from China. Thousands of Nepali citizens doing labour in different countries are the ones who are affected the most. Their families here in Nepal are anxious about them. At this time of chaos the government must step forward to console its people inside and outside Nepal. Thousands of Nepalis started walking home after Indian Prime minister imposed a complete lockdown on March 24. However, on March 22 Nepal had closed its open border with India to prevent the flow of corona virus pandemic. As a result hundreds of Nepalis were stuck at the border amid COVID-19 lockdown. They are stramded without any food for days and were sleeping like animals on the ground. This is very painful news to listen and their families are anxiously waiting for the government to take necessary measures to protect the stranded ones. The situation is further worsened in other parts of the border. According to Al Jazeera news, 29 year old Nepali man Ramesh Bista entered Darchula by crossing Mahakali river by swimming, taking the risk of his own life. He decided that he would rather drown in the Mahakali river than die of hunger in India. The river acts like natural border between the two countries. Many Nepalis are risking their lives to enter their native land. The government should take this matter seriously. Duty to protect citizens is its primary obligation. Initially the government made few numbers of quarantine places in the border areas and as the number swelled, the prepared quarantine became insufficient which made the people to strand in the border. Both federal and respective state governments should deploy its forces to built the quarantine enough for all the people. The government should immediately supply food and water for them. The federal government should manage the people at the border as soon as possible because with passing days the virus may spread among them. The government has come up with relief package to cushion the impact of disease on the economy. The package includes a 25 per cent discount on electricity tariffs for consumers who use more than 150 units every month and no penalty if utility bills and tax payments are not cleared till mid-April. The government has also announced social safety net for those who have suffered loss of daily wages. It announced a 10 per cent discount on rice, flour, dal, salt, sugar and oil supplies from Nepal Food Corporation and Salt Trading Corporation. The relief package brought by the government is a positive thing, however it is not sufficient. There are many daily wage workers whom it is hard to feed their family without working every day. With the end of first seven day lockdown and the decision by cabinet to extend it further, the government must start making provision to feed people under poverty line who don’t have anything to eat. In our neighbouring state of India, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced IRs 1.70 crore relief package for the poor to help them fight against corona virus. Eighty crore ration card holders will get 5 kg of wheat/rice per person for three months. In addition, it will also give 1kg of lentil per household. The Government of Nepal should also bring solid relief packages that directly serve food grains, lentil and salt for the daily wage earners and their family. Otherwise, Nepal may face yet another problem of people dying with hunger. Similarly, the government should start tracing its citizens outside Nepal in order to make sure that all of them stay well and safe at this time of crisis. The Nepali economy is balanced by the remittances sent home by our brothers and sisters abroad. During this pandemic, the Nepali embassies in respective countries should make sure that its citizens are staying safe and getting proper medication and treatment in case they are infected with coronavirus. It has to make sure every Nepali labour working in Malaysia , Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are getting proper treatment in case of infection with corona and ensure whether or not rest of them are getting proper place for quarantine and have food stuffs or not. In case of necessity, the government should make provision of distributing food and medical help through its embassies in respective countries. For those stuck at the border, the government should act quickly for their safe quarantine inside the country by providing all the necessary stuffs and medical assistance. Only then people will realise the presence of a strong government in the country. So, the efforts of the Nepali government is good but it’s not enough and necessary measures should be taken as quickly as possible to protect its citizens from the ongoing pandemic situation.
(Madai is a BALLB student at Nepal Law Campus, Kathmandu.)