Beyond the Rhetoric of Self-reliance

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--By Pradeep Kumar Kedia

Though all the dimensions of an economy are not always independent, immense possibilities exist, if we make the effort. We only lack the will and zeal. We need to do some extensive home work. It will not take long to consolidate a foundation for a self-reliant economy if the government, private sector and the political parties start doing this from their respective areas. The economies of Singapore and South Korea have shown what can be done if there is a will and integrity of purpose.

We will soon stand in the row of prosperous nations if we move ahead with a determination to attain prosperity. We can achieve that goal by effectively mobilising our internal resources and potential. It is necessary to take a bottom-up approach to develop our country. We have made several mistakes in the past in the areas of economic development. As a result, we are not only perpetually dependent but are also suffering from external domination. We need to move ahead by correcting our past mistakes. 

Though it is not new knowledge in that we can make hydro-electricity as the mainstay of Nepal’s economy, we have not been able to establish a new outlook and thinking with regard to its use. The production and use of electricity has only remained a rhetorical exercise. We are selling our unskilled labour in the overseas job market.   If we could send skilled manpower, we could earn three times as much.  A skilled worker enhances income. It could help a country, which is being sustained by remittances, immensely. 

Though Nepal is small from a geographical point of view, it has a diverse topography and climate. There is a difference in the ground realities of Taplejung in the east and Darchula in the west. Farming flourishes in the hills of Nepal. Many kinds of agricultural products are possible because of the diversity of the climate. We are getting to consume agricultural products even when they are out of season. If appropriate technology is introduced, there is no reason why we cannot profit from agriculture. We should give emphasis on products of comparative advantage.

We have not yet adequately exploited the potential that tourism has. In the past, tourists stayed only for 2/3 days but their visits have lengthened after the trekking infrastructure was improved. If we can identify and advertise potential areas, the possibility of earning from tourism is also not unattractive. 

It is necessary to enhance export to promote self-reliance. We are now dependent on India and a few other countries. We should expand our search for alternatives. Currently, we depend on India for petroleum products but we can find an alternative source. If we develop hydro-electricity, the quantity of petroleum imports will naturally come down. It will also help us to reduce the trade deficit. We can also earn a lot by selling electricity.

We have a habit of taking action only after we feel the pinch. You don’t open a hospital only after you get sick. The infrastructure for the treatment and prevention against diseases is necessary. Why can’t we be self-sufficient? This is something we should think about. We could not learn the lesson from the blockades of the past. Even today, we are just parroting the rhetoric when it comes to self-reliance.

There was obstruction at the border, so why did the government fail to operate our own dry port in time? If the goods were transported to other places in time, the magnitude of the loss would have been less. There are thousands of containers with goods still stuck at the Kolkata port. We are ourselves at fault here. We cannot just keep on pointing fingers at others. 

We are India-locked from three sides and have China on one side. The trade with China has increased lately.  More border points may be opened in the future. We can bring goods from anywhere by paying money because it is the age of open market and globalisation. What is needed is a liberal attitude on regulations and policies. In future, relations may sour with China also. A sense of uneasiness over trade with any neighbour may always exist. We should have adequate precautions in place to deal with such a possibility. We cannot exonerate ourselves by blaming others. Self-reliance is the only alternative.

The writer is President, Birgung Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

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