Madhesh & poverty (Editorial)


There is no denying the fact that all successive Governments since the opening of Nepal in the 1950s have been indifferent to the plight of Madhes—the flat land area in the country’s South, bordering India, and home of about half of country’s 28 million people. Much worse, and for all practical purposes, the region does not even get recognized as being Nepal’s territory, except that it exists on the map of Nepal.

The outcome of such policy of denial and neglect has been that Madhes region has suffered the consequences of colonial rule, generated internally, in much worse a fashion than British colonial rule of India. At least the British rule in India allowed locals to enter low- and middle-level of Government service jobs, and it created public facilities—transport, health, and education infrastructure–to benefit all. But, in Nepal’s case—from the beginning of Rana regime in mid-19th century, running through panchayat and Congress regimes up to the present day–exclusion, neglect, and deprivation of Madhes and Madhes people have remained as complete as can be said of any colonial rule that ever existed.

However, the loss to Madhes region from the misguided policies of the past cannot—and need not—be taken in isolation, since the isolation and neglect of Madhes over such a extended span of time have had much wider repercussions on the national scale, not just the amount of damage caused to Madhes population.

As has been pointed out above, Nepal’ economy has gone through a mediocre performance—reflected in the fact that the realized level of economic growth has just been a third to one-half of what could have been possible with available inputs, technology, and the amount of international support the country has received.

The contribution of Madhes’ neglect to overall performance of Nepal’s economy can be looked at in a number of ways but the main channels of effects can be categorized as those ensuing from the efficiency of resource use, human resource development, quality of governance, and on investment environment helpful for growth. Resource allocation effect: Given the overwhelming importance of agriculture to Nepal’s economy–source of livelihood for almost two-thirds of population—much of the development resource should have been invested in this sector, both for employment generation as well as output growth. However, the evidence is that agriculture was never made an investment priority and, further, most of whatever was invested in agriculture went to the wrong regions, in terms of value-added per unit of investment capital. Because of the vast tract of fertile line, easier transportation access, and plenty of irrigation potential, any amount spent on agricultural development in the Madhes region, for example, would be have been at least three times more productive than invested elsewhere in the country.

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