Protests against fuel hike shut down Kathmandu valley


Kathmandu : Kathmandu valley was paralysed Wednesday as communists called a shutdown against the hike in fuel prices Monday midnight and street protests broke out for the second day in a row.

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The Nepal Communist Party-Unified enforced a shutdown in the capital and neighbouring Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts. Public transport stayed off the roads and educational institutions and shops were closed.

The seven student wings of the ruling parties also kept up street demonstrations, demanding a rollback in prices.

Smoke rose from burning tyres and logs while bricks and stones lay strewn in the areas where protesters clashed with security forces. Eighteen protesters, including a student leader, were arrested.

More unrest is anticipated in the afternoon after the seven student organisations hold a mass meet at the heart of the capital, followed by more rallies.

Demands arose for the resignation of Commerce, Industry And Civil Supplies Minister Shyam Sundar Gupta, following the third hike in fuel prices in three months.

Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), the monopoly state agency importing fuel from India, increased the price of diesel, cooking gas and kerosene Monday night by nine to 20 percent to match international market prices and cut down the monthly loss of millions of rupees incurred due to its earlier policy of subsidies.

Diesel now costs Nepali Rs.61, costlier by Rs.5., while kerosene has gone up to Rs.60 from Rs.51 per litre.

The price of cooking gas went up to Rs.1,250 per cylinder, up from Rs.1,100.

Immediately after the hike, transporters also increased public transport fares by 25 percent. Taxis plying in the Tribhuvan International Airport area will now charge passengers a 50 percent surcharge.

For almost a year, Nepal has been grappling with an acute fuel scarcity after it failed to pay Indian Oil Corporation, from whom it imports fuel, and the Indian agency began slashing supplies.

The NOC says it has been incurring a monthly loss of Rs.236 million even after two hikes.

Despite the third hike, it will continue to incur a monthly loss on cooking gas.

The price hike comes at a time elections are round the corner and the Election Commission has enforced a code of conduct.

The growing protests are likely to impact the crucial election scheduled for April 10 with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s party having to pay dearly.

The hike has been condemned by the Consumers’ Rights Forum, which called it a crime against consumers.

Jyoti Baniya, chief of the forum, said the hike would cause the price of all commodities to go up and would especially hit students.

Baniya said the government was falsifying its loss by including taxes in the figures.

According to the forum, the government can reduce fuel prices by cutting down the commission given to dealers, which it says is the highest in South Asia.

Branches of the Agriculture Development Bank also called a strike nationwide Wednesday to protest against the murder of an employee Tuesday.

Bikram Shah, manager of the bank’s branch in Rajbiraj town in trouble-torn Saptari district in the Terai, was shot dead by an armed group who snatched Rs.3 million from him.