Tremendous Possibilities and Ample Opportunities for Nepal
Interview by Sai Nikesh D
Nepal has come a long way in development. As a nation sharing borders with world’s two major economies, Nepal has been striving to become a developing country and grow further to achieve the developed country status. As a process, the Government of Nepal has been actively participating in various global and local level platforms promoting country’s strengths and potential to development, and is sincerely aiming to see the benefits as part of its UN 2030 Agenda.
Continuing with a wide coverage on Nepal and its developments over a period, Nepali Sansar, as a Nepal-focused media house, got a chance to get in touch with Dr Ek Raj Ojha, Senior Sustainable Development Consultant from Nepal, for a better understanding of the country’s progress towards its set goals.
Dr. Ojha, with his sound expertise in working with national and international level organizations like ADB, UN and government departments in sustainable development and planning, policy framework, among other key aspects of development and planning, shared a valuable information in this regard, helping us portray a complete picture of Nepal and its developmental path over a period and towards future.
Following are a few excerpts of Nepali Sansar Bureau’s detailed interaction with Dr. Ojha:
Q1. Nepali Sansar Bureau (NSB): After the successful completion of the long-awaited electoral process, Nepal is currently heading towards a new phase of transition. How do you feel in this regard?
Dr. Ek Raj Ojha: Overall, it is indeed heartening to see it happen that General Elections took place in Nepal at all three levels of governance – local, provincial, and national almost all at once albeit after prolonged delays, doldrums and disappointments.
Most crucial is the way the elected representatives meet the mandates of the people in the county at large.
As the political forces, the power centers, in particular, have often breached their promises and thus shattered the hopes of the general public, a ‘wait-and-see’ perception that appears prevailing (concerning tangible results in time) should be considered usual amidst optimism surfacing for changes taking place for the better with relatively-greater political sensibility and stability expected to be now in place eventually.
Q2. NSB: What are the notable developments that you think have boosted Nepal’s stature nationally and internationally? What significant impacts they can have on the country’s future?
Dr. Ojha: The decade of 1950s heralded the significant beginning of Nepal’s substantive steps towards attaining progress and prosperity domestically, and a wider and more distinct presence in the international arena.
That transformation chiefly entailed the securing of membership of the United Nations, establishment of the country’s central bank, starting the system of development planning, construction of the east-west highway stretching across the length of the country, and expanding diplomatic and development-oriented ties with international communities, both bilaterally and multilaterally.
Contribution to the formation of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), with its secretariat based in Kathmandu, and becoming its very distinctive member did earn Nepal substantial fame and friendship from many member states far and wide.
The adoption, in 1972, of the regional development planning strategy along with a most scientific and balanced demarcation of the countries regions into three ecological zones (north – south) and five administrative/developmental/political regions (east – west) was another most impressive breakthrough in this context.
Commensurate with the drastic upheavals and upturns in the political sphere and systems over the past several decades, overall public awareness about the importance of and anticipation for development has rapidly grown along with a significant expansion in such crucial socioeconomic sectors such as education, health, transportation and communication, among others.
These circumstances can be considered and capitalized for taking steady and strong strides on the appropriate and effective path to sustained economic progress and development in the country for the bright future of its people.
Q3. NSB: How do you see Nepal’s progress towards a developing and further to a developed country status?
Dr. Ojha: On some fronts, Nepal has made significant achievements over the recent decades. For example, per capita income has reached nearly USD 800, national literacy rate increased from only 54 percent in 2001 to over 65 percent by 2011. Life expectancy rose from 60 percent to 67 percent during the same period.
Similarly, crude birth rate, death rate, fertility rate, infant mortality rate and under-5 mortality rate reduced substantially as well.
However, such improvements apply mostly for the already relatively well-off places and people within the country. The large majority of the people living in the numerous rural and remote settlements are still lagging severely behind in all major socioeconomic dimensions.
Wide disparities between poor and rich places and people continue to exist, and even show the tendency of accentuating over the years. The overall Gini-coefficient value remains below 0.4.
Due to lack of Primary Healthcare facilities and services, many people, especially children and pregnant women, in remote areas are facing acute health problems. Failing to reach a health facility for safe delivery or treatment for severe injuries is resulting in untimely deaths and immeasurable pains and losses for many remote households.
When it comes to Connectivity, children at a number of such places not only have to walk long distances but take extreme risk crossing a river swimming, or using a traditional boat or a twain. Poor accessibility in such areas that are mostly rugged is thus posing a variety of constraints for socioeconomic well-being of the people.
Sophisticated constructions, facilities and services continue to emerge with prioritized investments heavily concentrated in urban enclaves at the cost of continued stagnation and deprivation in lagging areas. Provided the above-reflected situation is urgently reversed in favor of the erstwhile most disadvantaged areas, there are tremendous possibilities and ample opportunities for Nepal to advance relatively quickly to a developing country status and even further to developed country.
With regard to Food Security, many areas especially in the mountainous region are still food deficient. Whereas, in areas with surplus produce, it remains either unsold and gets rotten or distress sold at meagre prices for lack of a dependable market facility.
The pace of progress in such dimensions has however been so far disappointingly low and slow. Drastic timely changes for the better/best are the need of the day.
Q4. NSB: How do you look at the human rights situation in the country in the wake of changing societal and development trends?
Dr. Ojha: With deep and long suffering from a variety of constraints and having gained and felt substantial changes around especially in terms of awareness, common citizens of the country have naturally been increasingly aspiring for and anticipating fast and full-fledged improvements in all aspects of their life.
With regard to Living, the agony lies in the prevalence of stagnation and even degrading situation of people in quite many places – arid, rugged, remote, disaster-prone and disaster-hit. Many of the victims of April 2015 earthquakes are still suffering from chilling winter, hot waves, heavy rainfalls and deep floods for lack of proper shelter and sufficient supply of other basic necessities of life.
Nepal stands low as of now in all the dimensions that constitute fundamental features of human rights including education, health, livelihoods, security and justice. Over the decades, there have indeed been significant expansions in the installation of the related service centers. However, delivery – what actually matters most – has been very low and weak. Justice delayed is justice denied remains a reality especially for those that are disadvantaged in several other aspects of life. Impunity, of which cases abound, is in high magnitude.
With regard to Education, the literacy rate is still very low, particularly for rural areas and females. Quality education is still scarce available for only a tiny section of the population.
With regard to Poverty, over a quarter of the population is compelled to live absolute poverty. Relative poverty and disparities in all walks of life are rampant.
With regard to Women Empowerment, almost two-fifths of girls get married before age 18 and 10 percent before 15. Chhaupadi (menstruating girls/women compelled staying away from main house during the period) system largely continues in the far-west part despite being outlawed.
Employment is virtually almost all captured and controlled by the ruling class and their associates to make it a reservation for their own close relatives, clever cadres, and corrupt companions in various crucial sectors of the economy. In essence, the situation is dismal as also indicated by research reports of several international agencies with specialization and mandate in the related dimensions.
Q5. NSB: What is your take on development strategy and planning across various public and private sectors of Nepal?
Dr. Ojha: Compared with some Asian countries such as Japan, a modern process of development process in Nepal, especially in terms of education, has started much later. However, in certain aspects as arts and craft including architecture, culture, music, literature and indigenous knowledge systems such as those on traditional medicine encompassing Ayurveda had flourished very well in Nepal even in ancient and medieval Nepal.
Formal education for the general mass of people however remained heavily constrained even in the recent centuries, plummeting the prospects for educational opportunities.
Overall, development schemes and strategies formulated in the country over the past few decades have generally been impressive superficially.
Owing to the predominant domination of less and the least-appropriate professional specialization involved in devising and dispensing them, the overall positive impacts – what matter most – have unfortunately been very bleak and weak.
Primacy of political whims often supersedes local needs, aspirations, and technical feasibilities of developmental schemes, development planning, execution, monitoring, and impacts thereof.
With regard to Business Development, private sector players seem to be doing relatively better, especially in terms of meeting their own intents and purposes.
It is generally the very limited number of large establishments that have access to and affiliation with power centers and manage to reap large benefits. Small and medium-sized ones and those that try to come to existence find it too hard and nearly impossible to sustain and survive due to inadequate public sector support.
These are some of the basic reasons why a large number of already-functioning enterprises have either suffered heavy losses, closed down, or migrated out of the country, leading to accompanying substantial capital flight. A well-thought-out transformation process has to imminently set in in order for the onset of the advancement of the country and its people through conducive, creative and productive partnership between the public and private sectors. Due support from all other partners and stakeholders in the process plays a crucial part in the process.
Industrial and other establishments including those relating to educational and health services are heavily concentrated in urban centers or/and close peripheries, with a sparse presence of even small ones in such far-away locations as the far-west region.
These unbalanced and unhealthy conditions relating to development strategy and outcomes continue, progress and prosperity of the economic sector and the overall human development status of the country cannot make any headway. Clearly, this would chiefly require sufficient realization, sincere commitment and determination, and strong sense and practice of devotion, and complete fulfillment of accountability on the part of the ruling political forces.
Q6. NSB: What progress do you observe in the country’s development across local bodies in line with UNDP goals?
Dr. Ojha: Election of local representatives and installation of local government bodies for delivery of day-to-day services have certainly been notable achievement in line with UNDP goals as well as the essential requirements locally.
Local bodies are yet to be well-equipped, well-facilitated, well-trained/oriented and they have therefore been soon unable to delivery as would be normally expected from them.
Capacity building has become an urgent need under such overall substandard representation and serve delivery mechanism. Being elected is one thing based largely on personal qualities and often aided by power affiliation in our case. Professional capabilities usually remain secondary, unfortunately.
Local infrastructure in remote areas is still either far inadequate or too weak and fragile vulnerably to damage from natural and man-made processes. Roads are either non-existent or in dilapidated condition, and so are the buildings and the sets of essential furniture. Health service centers are either too far away or poorly equipped and inadequately or inappropriately staffed. Besides, paucity of medicines and medical equipment renders situation most pathetic both for the service providers and the recipients and alike.
Lessons learnt through both successes and failures may have to be critically analyzed to device and dispense effective mechanisms and measures ahead for remarkable positive results. This is also where studies and reporting are made fully independent, keeping the country’s well being on the front of the mind and mentality can play significantly important contributory roles.
Q7. NSB: Where does the country currently stand in terms of sustainable development goals and inclusive development?
Dr. Ojha: The truth is that, neither the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) nor the genuine needs and aspirations of the Most Disadvantaged Groups (MDGs) were ever met satisfactory in the country, so far, for various reasons stated above in essence.
Even the educated high-level position holders tend to mix mere economic growth with development and simply economic development with sustainable development in both their perceptions and practices leading to ineffective and inappropriate planning frameworks.
When the three fundamental pillars of sustainable development, viz., economy (resources), society (population), the environment (ecology) are not in harmony in terms of their balanced promotion and protection, attaining the goal of sustainable development would clearly be impossible for the country.
Similarly, as long as the most disadvantaged places and people are not paid to, due attention and care in terms of effective developmental interventions and impacts for them to experience distinctly the attainment of inclusive growth and development cannot be possible. These are largely stalled in Nepal so far.
Q8. NSB: We see a growing foreign investment and private sector participation trend in Nepal. What is your take on this particular aspect?
Dr. Ojha: We only have much potential for a growing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and private sector participation. The trend so far has not actually been encouraging.
Such investments and active and fair participation become possible only under a predominantly stable and supportive political atmosphere for which we still have to wait and see if this actually happens.
With improvements in its governance system, Nepal would certainly attract a tremendous amount of FDI as well as an increasingly productive private sector participation in its development endeavors.
Nepal, a country of great natural beauty and bounty, holds huge potential for many internal and international collaborative creative undertakings in various sectors, provided a sufficient conducive investment climate that is maintained for fair trades to emerge and flourish in the land.
Q9. NSB: What sort of support and encouragement do you see Nepal getting from international aid agencies like ADB, UNDP, UNHRC, among others for overall development of Nepal?
Dr. Ojha: Generous support has been pouring in for victims of the devastating earthquake in the country. However, what has been equally essential and urgent is the fair and timely distribution, which does not seem to be taking place unfortunately. Expectations from such governments do not mean much in absence of a good governance. Corrupts are addicted to committing crimes of various sorts even during such critical times.
International organizations such as the United Nations must therefore contribute in handling matters fairly to prove their worth.
As much as the external bilateral and multilateral supporters command the credits for the contribution to the developmental successes of Nepal, they bear the blame for the flaws and failures faced by the country and its people in the context of development.
Their contributions cannot and should not be undermined while their shortcomings stand out as well. The open truth is that neither the taxpayers of donor countries nor the needy recipients of the development aid and its potential beneficiaries have been very happy with the outcomes and impacts achieved so far.
It is therefore time to seriously review and rigorously restructure the aid utilization mechanism to ensure that all stakeholders can experience reasonably high amounts of natural gratification and desired benefits commensurate with the amounts of finances and other scarce and precious resources spent.
Q10. NSB: As an academician across reputed institutes, what is your take on education and research development in Nepal?
Dr. Ojha: Compared with the education and research advancements in developed countries such as USA and Japan, Nepal should be considered to be still in a rudimentary state.
Some substantial strides have however taken place in the recent decades in terms of number and distribution of educational institutions across the country.
A few good academic research institutions were set up in the country around 1960s and they performed well for some time but are now in dismal condition in terms of their research capacity, undertakings, and outputs. Some other technical research institutions, especially in such areas as agriculture, were established also in recent decades.
It has been most disappointing and disadvantageous for Nepal that educational and research institutions here have been heavily influenced and negatively impacted by excessive and undue political interferences.
Most appointments – from top to bottom – are made based on political affiliations and personal or family relations rather than on meritocratic criteria and subject specializations.
With political affiliation and influence one can get part-time employment first and then under contract to eventually get permanent and rapid promotions and then ride the highest rung as an executive in an educational or research institution.
Such individuals are often found holding several lucrative positions simultaneously at different organizations.
On the contrary, those devoid of political interest and influence remain either fully deprived of the opportunity, or at the most, have to be content with prolonged part-time and poorly remunerated status and are even somehow sooner or later relegated from the engagement using unfair tactics of various manifestations.
There are hardly any educational and research institutions, like most other institutions too in the country, that are not captured and tightly controlled by either the political players themselves directly or through their close allies.
In such a situation, research undertakings and reporting would naturally be biased in favor of their group interests rather than being based on research rigor and ethics.
It is not surprising therefore that some of such centers of learning remain either grossly underutilized or even locked up for many months in total due basically to internal irregularities and political disturbances.
Some public educational institutions, in particular, are rendered by politicians and their appointed loyal executives as political incubation sites and some sorts of battlefields rather than the centers of academic and research excellence.
Who suffers most are the common students, their guardians, and naturally the society and eventually the country as a whole. Under such awkward and terribly unfavorable circumstances, education and research – that otherwise are believed to be the seeds of development – cannot at all increase in magnitude and improve in quality.
Unless we manage to come out of this dilemmatic mishap, we would never be able to advance in the development arena.
Q11. NSB: Over the years, we observe a trend of large number of Nepalese migrating to foreign destinations for education and employment. What do you feel and where do you think that Nepal’s education and employment sectors are currently standing at?
Dr. Ojha: Truly, an estimated average of 1,500 Nepalese, especially from the economically most-active section of the population, are migrating to foreign lands everyday in anticipation of employment opportunities.
Similarly, it was found a few years ago that the number of Nepali students going abroad for better study environments and the money flowing away in that process increased six-folds over a period of five years.
This is the result of gross neglect for and failure to offer quality education to potential beneficiaries and the excessive political instabilities and disturbances causing the severe malfunctioning of the educational institutions and economic enterprises.
There must be a fair dealing in providing employment and other opportunities to all people in the country, depending upon merits and not on any other false criteria. However, in Nepal, things are going completely on the wrong track at the cost of great loss to the country and people on the whole.
Positions are made full reservations for political party cronies, connections and cadres. What can the politically non-connected but professionally capable and committed people do then than moving out to foreign lands in anticipation of better chances? A severe instance of bad governance prevailing!
Q12. NSB: As an expert in rural and regional development planning, how do you see the development scenario across rural and remote communities/areas of the country?
Dr. Ojha: Some changes for the better have certainly occurred in the rural and remote areas of the country in recent times, but these are still very limited in scope and strength.
Most of these areas lag far behind urbanization and are surviving on short supplies of basic needs such as food, housing, healthcare, shelter, sanitation, safety and security, and economic and educational opportunities
Depletion of forest resources, degradation of land, depletion of soil fertility, drying water sources, declining farm productivity are forcing the youths – both male and female – to migrate out in large numbers either to urban centers within the country or even to foreign countries.
For lack of able-bodied manpower required for the ongoing traditional farming that is largely labor-intensive, huge tracts of agricultural terrace systems are remaining barren.
Besides, Culture, which is valued as ‘have way to heaven’, is eroding, healthy traditions and customs are fast disappearing, community fabric is disrupting owing also to newborn and vibrant, but excessively volatile and sometimes even violent, political surroundings and sentiments.
The general attitudes and ambience of community cohesion, compassion, cooperation, and collaboration has drastically diminished especially after the armed conflict that mainly ravaged the rural and remote areas, in particular. Wounds are healing, but only slowly.
Farm, non-farm and off-farm productive sectors are all equally negatively impacted by these complex circumstances and trends.
Q13. NSB: With such a vast experience in working with government departments, how do you find the country’s progress in terms of government functioning (internally and externally), policies and development framework?
Dr. Ojha: The prevalent system and style of government functioning in Nepal are largely characterized by and beset with a plethora of anomalies – rampant corruption, mismanagement, lack of transparency and accountability, frail framework and faulty functioning of reward and punishment system in general.
Corruption, which is corrosive in many ways and has pernicious impacts on development, and bureaucratic delays, hassles and harassment that harm and reduce the availability and quality of socioeconomic opportunities, productivity and positive outcomes have become norms than exceptions.
Inhabitants of the rural and remote areas and also those who lack political and/or administrative power connections have naturally been suffering the most.
Policies and framework for development usually get drafted on an ad-hoc basis where relations and influence rather than professional expertise and experience serve as criteria for delegating the manpower and other resources.
Responsibilities, related hierarchies and corresponding incentive packages often get set based not on professional capacities and seniority, but on individuals’ proximity to power centers. Consequently, the institutions and the country, as a whole, often fail to sufficiently mobilize and utilize resources of various types available otherwise in plenty within the country and from external sources.
There are many cases of rural roads for instance, where hardly 25 percent of the allocated budget gets spent genuinely and the rest is destined to be misappropriated / misused among unfair hands across several strata of the delivery system.
In nearly three years after the devastating April 2015 earthquakes, reportedly as many as 88 percent of the victims are yet to receive the real relief. Similar is the plight of many cultural/historical monuments that were badly damaged due to the tremors.
Appointments for high-level lucrative positions alone take prolonged political feud and its vibrations and influences reach from the top to the grassroots levels in the form of disturbing, debilitating, and disappointing effects and impacts.
Substandard, ineffective and inefficient project implementation, monitoring, supervision, evaluation and feedback, and follow-up mechanism lead to harsh misuse of scarce resources while at the same time leading to severely-negative consequences such as various conflicts, calamities, casualties and huge losses and maladies in the long run.
Some steps and procedures seem to be in place but mostly in name-sake situation as far as their effectiveness and outcomes are considered.
Q14. NSB: What notable difference do you see between new Nepal and the erstwhile Nepal?
Dr. Ojha: Significant expansion in facilities and services relating to education, health and hygiene, communication and transportation, electricity and water supply, life styles and living standards that has taken place in the country over the past decades can indeed be considered as a sign of progress compared with situations in erstwhile Nepal.
Again, the agony is that these facilities and services still remain away and largely unavailable for a large number of people dwelling in our numerous rural and remote settlements.
While pollution in the cities, especially in the Kathmandu, has reached crisis level through excessive urban sprawl along with the work for widening highways and rapidly-growing vehicular traffic, the rural settlements are riling in dire consequences of the vicious cycle of poverty, natural resources depletion, and excessive outmigration and associated social ailments and complications.
Some rich systems of indigenous knowledge and wisdom and edifices of outstanding art and craft have been lying dilapidated amidst the overall urban opulence.
Some of the well-established Self-Help Systems (SHGs) and large manufacturing enterprises have been either fasting disappearing or have even fully disintegrated and dissolved across many locations of the country.
These deconstructions do naturally dilute whatever progress Nepal has managed to make so far. Setting up and setting in a well-harmonized system of sustainable development has therefore become indispensable for us today in order to really experience absolute progress in the country.
Q15. NSB: How do you see the country’s economic progress and sector-wise contribution to the same?
Dr. Ojha: From its negative value in the recent past, Nepal has started realizing a positive economic growth rate measuring about 4 percent on average across the latest years.
This indeed is a good sign of and signal for further progress in this regard. Reduction or removal of frequent strikes and economic blockade have chiefly contributed to this improvement. However, when compared with the two neighboring large economies that are growing at rates measuring around double digits, we have a long way to go.
A country does not have to be too big in geographical and population size to attain high level of economic growth or higher level of overall human development. Many countries have demonstrated this fact distinctly. We could do that too, provided we have a near perfect good governance in place to lead the rest of the developmental dimensions on a right and rapid path to sustained growth and development.
Economic progress moreover requires that the benefits of growth are fairly distributed among all people in the country. We are lacking severely in achieving this. Reaching next step and goal – high level of development – cannot be practically attained unless we make satisfactory economic progress.
We are called a predominantly agricultural country, not only mountainous and rural. Carrying about half of the country’s population, nearly 80 percent of our land is classified as highlands (mountains and hills combined) and almost same is the percentage of people living in rural areas.
Over 65 percent of the total population still rely on agricultural occupation mostly directly and partly indirectly and agriculture sector now contributes to about 35 percent of the nation’s GDP as against 65 percent till a few decades ago.
Clearly, the shares of industrial and services sectors in the economy have grown substantially over the recent decades.
Reliance on agriculture imports, especially the staples such as rice, has increased over time in contrast to the next exporter status we had maintained until a couple of decades ago.
Excessiveoutmigration of the labor due to varied adverse local circumstances including lack of irrigation facilities, depleting soil fertility and agricultural productivity, and unavailability of easy marketing facility and satisfactory price are the major causal factors.
Tourism has been a potentially promising industry. Besides, there is ample possibility for many others that could be based on local natural resources such as medicinal herbs and forest fibers.
Nepali tourism industry has not flourished as much as it should be expected to for an amazingly beautiful country like Nepal. Who is there to manage it in rural and remote areas under domestic tourism, most of which are yet virgin in this regard despite their own special fascinating features capable of appealing the choices of the tourists?
Services sector could grow best when other sectors like agriculture, hydropower, and tourism could bloom and boom.
Manufacturing is limited only in a few centrally-located sites. Some major ones have closed down and many potential investors have moved abroad. Small- and medium scale enterprise find it too hard to exist and thrive for lack of the much-needed support from the public sector.
In order to bring about rapid positive changes in these circumstances (factors), proper mobilization, motivation and utilization of the most crucial resource – human capital – would be indispensable.
When our close neighboring countries have adopted stimulus packages to attract the return of their migrated specialized human resource why cannot Nepal do the same?
So far, however, a situation remains where even those who returned might mostly be repenting for having missed opportunities abroad. Appropriate and adequate attention and actions of the major actors (policy-makers, planners, administrators, local leaders, technicians, aid agencies) would be most vital in this regard.
Q16. NSB: Be it signing diplomatic ties, drawing good foreign investment, presenting in global-level meetings, among others, Nepal has drawn a wide global attention in the recent times. How do you see Nepal’s path ahead towards development?
Dr. Ojha: Participation in global events have naturally been a much sought-after opportunity for high-level office holders in Nepal.
It is also often seen that dignitaries take with them an unexpectedly large number of people some of whom ignorant of and irrelevant to the agenda to be addressed, whereas subject experts stay back home for lack of the much-needed backing.
Nepal has drawn global attention, sympathy, and support primarily due to its critical problems of poverty, deprivation, disasters, and at the same time its immensely high developmental prospects. The moot question however is whether we have capitalized well on these events, processes, and flow of aid.
Establishment and functioning of a fully-legitimate, people-centered, effective and efficient governance mechanism for the country as a whole is the most imminent necessity for Nepal today.
All incumbents of all leadership positions must demonstrate full honesty to completely honor the people’s genuine verdict and fulfill their mandates, with a special thrust directed towards the development of people living in lagging locations. Strong, sincere, capable, committed, free, frank, fair, and forward-looking media do have immensely important roles to play in this process. The country has remained underdeveloped for a long time due basically to the absence of the above-indicated fundamental conditions. This sincere suggestion bears equal relevance for international stakeholders as well. They should offer support matching this urgent need of the country if they wish to see that their aid emanating from the hard-earned money paid in tax by the citizens of their respective country is applied genuinely well and for reasons.
Q17. NSB: As an expert in planning and sustainable development, what do you think is the need of the hour for Nepal with regard to infrastructure development, among other key areas?
Dr. Ojha: A big-push emphasis to rural infrastructure expansion and strengthening, besides the establishment and effective operation of major facilities for education, health, enterprises (e.g., agriculture & agro-processing, savings & credit, mining & manufacturing, trade & tourism, hydropower & high-tech) at most suitable local area centers within each district of the country is urgently needed.
Fully unbiased recruiting, remunerating, rewarding, and retaining of the most suitable manpower for the best management of institutions and the most profitable and sustainable conservation and utilization of local resources is vital to ensure increased local employment and incomes and improved living conditions of the people.
Building, upgrading, and maintaining the capacity of skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled people would be an essential prerequisite to facilitate the above. Most notably, zero tolerance to corruption would be an immense necessity, and so would be the need for ensured availability of security and justice.
The resultant positive impacts and influences would lead to a great wave of a virtuous cycle of productivity, progress, prosperity and long-lasting peace in the country.
Q18. NSB: Where do you see the country’s overall development in infrastructure and sustainable development, among other key areas, as per the UN 2030 Agenda?
Dr. Ojha: So far, Nepal’s infrastructure development, in general and its rural and remote terrains, has been poor despite a substantially-extensive stretch of the road network.
With regard to Road Transport, roads are fair-weather (seasonal) and fragile subject to damage easily by heavy rains and runoff. The serpentine structure of narrow roads running along hillsides in particular have been very risky often inviting severe accidents causing losses of lives and property.
Even a large part of the road network in urban areas is either dusty or muddy depending upon seasons. Pollution, congestion, crimes, and overall chaotic condition appears rising in most crowded settlements in the plains and valleys.
Unpaved and unsettled roads, quite often ill-planned, ill-constructed, ill-managed and overused, cause travel and transportation commuting a very unsafe, uneasy, unpleasant and unprofitable undertaking.
Consequently, people have the natural tendency of shifting themselves and their movable assets to lowlands and preferably their urban relatively well-off and comfortable areas.
Air transportation is limited in availability besides being insufficiently equipped with essential modern sophisticated systems. Many airstrips in rural and remote areas remain as idle grasslands due to the suspension of flights to and from them often in excuse of the road access created for those areas lately.
With regard to Trade, carrying heavy loads of backpacks long distances to be traveled for basic services have still been the destiny of many common people living in remote settlements of the country. The drudgery is immense.
Goods transporting costs, especially the bulky and easily perishable ones, is very high, usually incurring losses instead of profits for ordinary farmers.
For lack of effective comprehensive plan formulation and implementation aimed at bringing out a balanced and sustainable development for all areas and people of the country, all parts of the country, every sector of the economy, and each dimension of the environment are facing acute turmoil and chronic troubles. This stalemate must be overcome with urgency.
For this to materialize, setting in and accelerating the pace of the right kind of development process in all major dimensions of development becomes imperative.
Timely and effective global partnership is indispensable for attaining sustainable development in the country as per the 17 goals and as many as 169 targets the United Nations has set for their fulfillment by year 2030, universally.
Time quickly passes by as it did for the MDGs that for Nepal were only partly met. We are in the third year since the SDGs were declared. Looking at what we have achieved so far in this regard should be considered only meagre.
Therefore, for Nepal, an appearance of concrete signs of rapid and right kind of developmental process in only a couple of years must be ensured, keeping of course the eradication of absolute poverty on the top of the national agenda.
When this happens, it will be only then that all concerned partners in the development process of the country would have the right to claim to have worked seriously for the progress, prosperity, and peace in the planet common for all.
I wish to wrap up my viewpoints here with the following quote from Amartya Sen’s book Development as Freedom,“If the ruler is sincere and upright, then honest officials will serve in his government and scoundrels will go into hiding, but if the ruler is not upright, then even men will have their way and loyal men will retire to seclusion.”