Govt’s inconsistent and ad-hoc policies letting down conflict victims

March 31, 2017

The Kathmandu Post, Prithvi Man Shrestha, 31st March 2017, Kathmandu

Government’s inconsistent policies and ad-hoc decisions on compensation to conflict victims have not only increased the liability of the state but also have left them at their wit’s end.

The government on March 8 decided that a compensation of Rs 1 million each would be provided to the families of those who were killed or disappeared during the decade-long Maoist insurgency.

This was the fourth time in last nine years that the government has changed the compensation amount. 

A total of 19,416 people were earlier confirmed dead or disappeared during the decade-long armed struggle. An additional 399 people have been identified as dead or disappeared.

Currently, 132,253 people are identified as those who are entitled to compensation from the state. The process of identifying conflict victims is going on, and an additional 14,988 people are likely to be added to the list of those entitled to compensation. 

While justice to conflict victims still seems a far cry, inconsistent, untrustworthy and short-term policies of the government have let down all those who suffered at the hands of warring sides, say rights activists. 

A look back at the announcements—made and changed—by the successive governments that were formed after the end of civil war shows policy inconsistency depending upon who is in-charge of Singh Durbar.

Around two years after the peace deal, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal came to power in 2008 and his government announced Rs 1 million in compensation to the kin of those killed or disappeared during the war. 

But three years later in 2011, the then Jhalanath Khanal government reduced the compensation amount to Rs 500,000, saying that the remaining amount would be given to the victims in the form of shares of the Upper Tamaksohi Hydropower Project. 

Four years later, the then Sushil Koirala government again made some amendments. Koirala’ Cabinet on March 27, 2015 decided to strike down the hydropower share provision and decided that the conflict victims would receive a total of Rs 500,000 in compensation. 

In August last year, Maoist Chairman Dahal’s return to power completed the full circle, and as per his announcement during an address to Parliament in September, his government on March 8 again increased the compensation amount to what was earlier declared—Rs 1 million. 

Four governments and four different policies have but left conflict victims puzzled. 

Even the officials at the Ministry of Peace, the agency which keeps track of conflict victims and provides compensation to the victims, are confused. Ministry officials say the state liability will keep on increasing if the trend continues. According to them, if the compensation amount is increased to Rs 100,000, the state has to disburse more than Rs 10 billion from its coffers. And an additional 

Rs 1 million will be required if we take into account the 399 families who have been added to the list of conflict victims, they say.  But more than liability, rights activists say, it’s the plight of conflict victims that the government needs to pay attention to. 

Even more than decade after the end of the conflict, victims are still awaiting justice, and the state is failing them with its inconsistent policies on compensation.

Till the last fiscal year, according to the ministry, 15,948 conflict victims had received compensation of Rs 500,000 each.

Most of the families of those who were killed or disappeared were given the amount in instalments—Rs100,000, Rs200,000 and then the rest again in two phases.

Bhagi Ram Chaudhary’s brother and sister in law—Chaitelal Chaudhary and Sita Janaki Chaudhary from  Dhadhawar, Bardiya—were arrested by then Royal Nepal Army on December 20, 2001. They never returned. 

Since they did not have children, their eight brothers, including Bhagiram, were handed over the compensation. 

“What we received in instalments was too little, too late,” said Bhagiram. 

Phanindra Luitel from Rampur Village of Okhaldhunga  district, whose father was abducted and killed by the then rebel Maoists, said the flip-flop on the part of the government shows that it is not sensitive towards conflict victims.

Suman Adhikari, president of Conflict Victims Common Platform, said government and parties have “used” conflict victims’ plight for their political advantage only.

This government could have taken the decision of increasing the amount much earlier, as it was formed eight months ago,” he said. 

“The recent decision after the election code of conduct was declared was announced with an aim to influence voters in view of local elections,” he added.