--By Ashok Kumar Baidya
Vietnam, a once war-ravaged South-east Asian country has set itself up as a model for development in a short period of time. This shows that economic independence is possible if there is strong will and commitment. We should understand that economic independence today is prosperity achieved through the maximum use and exploitation of one’s own available resources. In Nepal’s context, it should be understood as the exploitation of resources like tourism, hydroelectricity, agricultural products, herbal products and minerals. Nepal is not only landlocked like Switzerland, it is also endowed with natural beauty. We have a reservoir of human resources which remains underused. It can help us to achieve self-reliance if we use it properly. If the countries of the Middle East have presented an example of development by using Nepali human resources, there is no reason why we cannot make good use of this resource.
Singapore has developed by itself significantly even from a situation of low industrial base. Switzerland has created a self-reliant economy despite its land-locked status. These countries made their disciplined human resources and tourism as their base for a self–reliant economy. There was a time when Nepal used to export rice to India, Bangladesh, Burma and other countries. Now the situation has changed completely. Instead, we are importing rice on a huge scale annually. I still remember when my father used to export rice to Andhra Pradesh in India. Now Andhra Pradesh itself produces sufficient rice.
The potential in hydro-electricity can be used to make Nepal self-reliant. We can earn billions of rupees from this. But we have lagged behind because of our failure to exploit these potential areas. We could not generate electricity from hydroelectricity projects like Arun III even after 20/25 years, whereas a small country like Bhutan has been transforming hydro-electricity into earnings.
We have an equally bright potential in tourism. In addition to our natural scenery, we also have religious tourism which can help promote a self-reliant economy. It’s true that we are land-locked but if land-locked Bhutan can achieve economic progress despite limited resources, then there is no reason why we cannot do so. Because of geography, it is easier for us to trade with India than with China though we should maintain friendly relations with both neighbours.
Nepal shares an almost 2000 kilometre open border with India. Most of the border points are functioning. With regard to China, only the Tatopani border point is in a functioning state. That, too, is now almost dysfunctional due to the earthquake last April. Now there is talk about opening other border points also. The diversification of trade is a good thing. It will benefit the national economy. But the difficult geography and long distance should also be taken into account. This is why the trade with India is more important.
In my opinion, we should start removing the present hurdles at the diplomatic level. India had imposed an official blockade against Nepal in 1989 but the question arises as to why we did not take precautions against such a possibility happening again? We should now try to find a solution to end another similar situation from occurring which could throw us into chaos when our relations with a neighbouring country grow cold. For this, we need to achieve self-sufficiency in things we can produce and should have a sufficient stock of what we must import. We failed to demonstrate our diplomatic sharpness over the issue of laying pipe lines to supply petroleum products. This is being talked about lately but is yet to take on any momentum. The supply of petroleum products is of strategic importance. We need strong economic diplomacy to realise it.
India needs sufficient electricity for its industries. If Nepal can increase its capacity to use its hydro-electricity potential, there will be interdependence between Nepal and India which will be to our benefit. For a self-reliant economy, trade and industrial policies should be flexible and the private sector friendly. And the private sector forms the basis of our economy. We need to have a long term plan and concrete ideas. If we focus on the above mentioned resources for the next ten years, we can, in my opinion, create a self-reliant economy. Political stability is also one of the basic prerequisites for a self-reliant economy. During my term at the Birgunj Chamber of Commerce and Industries, we had succeeded in signing a 12-point Agreement by bringing together five former prime ministers. If the political parties implement this, it will help lay the foundation for a self-reliant economy.
The writer is former president, Birgung Chamber of Commerce and Industries.