Review

Talking Policies

May 21, 2015 |

Swarnim Wagle, Ram Charitra Sah, Ananda Raj Khanal and Suraj Raj Acharya were featured in the four weekly talk programmes organised by the Nepal Engineer's Association in January

The January chapter of the Nepal Engineer’s Association (NEA)’s weekly talk programmes featured such high-profi le experts as Swarnim Wagle, member of the National Planning Commission; Ram Charitra Sah from the Centre for Public Health and Environmental Development; Ananda Raj Khanal, director of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority; and Suraj Raj Acharya, an infrastructure engineer and public policy analyst.

The Economy

Wagle’s presentation, titled ‘Igniting Nepal’s Fortunes: Out past and Future’, looked Nepal’s history, its present and future in economic terms. The noted economist, an LSE and Harvard alumnus and former senior economist in the World Bank’s International Trade unit, pointed out that the economic growth rate in Nepal has been sluggish at best in the past 200 years.In the medium run, as Wagle pointed out, investment has been low, so has the level of entrepreneurship. Our geography, the largely hilly and mountainous terrain and our landlockness, are big hurdles to economic development.However, he explained that there has been remarkable social progress in the country these past years.

The life expectancy of an average Nepali has increased, so has the standard of living. Youth bulge, conflict and the rise of the remittance economy are prominent features of the present and recent past.

The economist pointed out that Nepal’s ‘second chance’ lies in policy reform and infrastructure boost. The hydro sector might be a game changer as might a ‘zero-carbon’ economy by the mid -21st-century on the back of clean energy, agriculture and tourism. Wagle also discussed the possibility of neighbouring India and China becoming our gateway to global value chains in the future

Safety and the Environment

The subject of another weekly talk programme, this time featuring Sah, was “Environmentally Safe and Healthy Developmental Structures (Lead, Mercury and Asbestos)”. The presentation analysed the uses of lead–as pure metal, alloyed with other metals or chemical compounds: paints (pigments), batteries, ceramics, soldering, pipes, lead sheet, ammunition, lead alloys, cable sheathing and artificial jewellery.


The major focus of Sah’s presentation was the presence of lead in paint. The coating solution sector in Nepal is growing at a rate of over 10 percent per year. As the environmentalist pointed out, this sector dominates 60-90 percent of market with up to 70 percent of that share belonging to the decorative paint market. His paper analysed the presence of lead–an element that is dangerous to humans even in low amounts– in paints. He pointed out that price does not seem to be the big issue as far as lead-free paints are concerned. There seems to be a lack of awareness regarding lead-free paint, and markers and marketers do not seem to realise the importance of this issue. Sah suggested that policies must be put in place to check the infiltration of lead in everyday items.

Telecommunications

When Khanal presented in another week of NEA’s January talk sessions, his topic was “Critical Issues in the Telecom Sector and the Way Forward”. He started with a discussion of sectoral development indicators and financial indicators. He talked about major issues faced by the telecom sector.These include license migration and issues related to renewal of licenses, spectrum management, market consolidation and disbursement of rural telecommunications development funds. He also discussed ways in which increased operational efficiency and effectiveness might be achieved in the telecom sector including inter-operator roaming, mobile number portability and the establishment and operation of infrastructure companies.

Transport and Special Development

Another edition of the NEA weekly talk programme featured Acharya’s presentation titled “Revisiting the Project Model for the Fast Track’”, which explored transport and spacial developments.The public policy analyst examined whether or not any possible impact on the pattern of spatial development is taken into account while deciding on major transport infrastructure.Regional transport connectivity, basic access, mobility and travel time, travel costs, and levels of service (reliability, comfort and safety etc) were analysed.The dynamics of transport connectivity were analysed. Acharya talked about how the modal (transport) competition and travellers’ behaviour may have significant influence on factors determining transport connectivity–value of time, door-to-door travel time, passenger fare and cost of different modes and urban or corridor density, among others.

He talked about how ugrading the transportation system in Nepal to a higher speed may have signifi cant impact on spatial development patterns. He discussed national level transport and regional development (national land-use) issues as well as transport and urban land-use. He also brought to light different issues that need to be addressed while discussing the strategic importance of the Kathmandu-Terai link.

He suggested that a key network should be appraised as more than just a project. As he explored the potential advantages of a high-speed link (road or rail), he also talked about the unexpected impacts such a link may create in terms of generalised transport costs and the resultant changes in national/regional economies. He also discussed how such a link can dramatically increase the likelihood of shifting part of Kathmandu’s function to the Terai region.


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