Conflict Victims Made To Wait For Compensation, Again
As news emerges that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ handed out more than Rs. 167 million on a single day to party cadres in June, interviews conducted by Onward Nepal reveal that his government has failed to deliver the promised ‘interim relief package’ amount of half a million rupees each to the kin of those who were killed, have disappeared, and were displaced during the Maoist insurgency led by him between 1996 and 2006. Both the Nepal Army and the rebel group engaged in atrocities, human rights abuses, and victimised people and prisoners during those years.
Last September, when Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ was leading the government as Prime Minister, he had announced the amount as ‘interim relief package’ for conflict victims. The government also released a Rs 8.72 billion budget to that effect. Yet, in most of the districts, only 80 percent of the allocated budget has been distributed due to bureaucratic formalities and administrative incompetency. A total of Rs 1.65 billion of the amount has been frozen.“This is not the first time that the government has let us down,” says Tika Kandel, a Dhading native whose son Amrit Kandel disappeared from the Nepal Army’s Bhairabnath Battalion.
Tika Kandel, whose son Amrit Kandel disappeared from the Nepal Army’s Bhairabnath Battalion.
We received the compensation amount in instalments in the past as well. This time, the local administration made us sign a receipt for Rs 500,000 but deposited only Rs.400,000 in our account.
Brief History of the ‘Interim Relief Package’ Compensation
The Maoists emerged as the biggest party in the first Constituent Assembly election in 2008, and its Chairman ‘Prachanda’ assumed the office of Prime Minister. His government announced Rs. 1 million as compensation to conflict victims. However, he resigned well before his plans were implemented.
In 2011, the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) led government decided tha half a million of the promised budget would be given to victims in the form of shares in the Upper Tamaksohi Hydropower Project. This was struck down by the Nepali Congress Party’s Sushil Koirala led government in 2015. The government decided to provide Rs. 500,000 in cash compensation, but the amount was not released until Prachanda took charge of the government, last year.
However, the budget released from the centre was not to be disbursed to all conflict victims this time either.
“District administration told us that they distributed the amount to all victim families equally,” Shanta Sedhai, wife of Mukunda Sedhai who was detained first, then went missing from Chhauni Barrack of Nepal Army, told Onward Nepal.
Shanta Sedhai, wife of Mukunda Sedhai who was detained and went missing from Chhauni Barrack of Nepal Army
They assured us they would give the remaining amount later. They should clarify why they did not give us the promised amount.
All 172 victims’ families in Dhading district received only Rs. 400,000 this time. When asked, Chief District Officer Mahesh Acharya blamed the centre for sending insufficient budget for the purpose. “We distributed the amount we received to all conflict victims equally,” Acharya told Onward Nepal. “The remaining amount will be deposited in their accounts as soon as the ministry releases the budget. We have already informed the ministry concerned.”
The budget record of the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction gives a different scenario. The ministry had released the amount as requested by the districts. For instance, Rs 109.2 million was allocated for Dhading. However, the district could spend only 30 percent of the allocated budget. A total of Rs 31.6 million from the budget remains frozen.
Jumla, Kailali, Sindhupalchowk, Bajura, and Achham are the districts that distributed the allocated budget for conflict victims, while the remaining 68 conflict-affected districts have not spent the budget allocated as compensation for conflict victims.
“There could be more than one factor that led to the failure in distribution of the allocated budget for local administration,” defends Ram Prasad Bhattarai, spokesperson at the ministry. “Local administrations that have many pressing duties other than working exclusively for the ministry, had limited time to ascertain the number of conflict victims and verify them before depositing the amounts into their individual accounts.”
This time, the government had also allocated compensation for families displaced during the insurgency. The number of people displaced during the decadelong insurgency has not been fully ascertained yet. This could have been one of the reasons for budget deficit in the district. This is also the first time the government has allotted compensation to displaced people.
Changing Number of Conflict Victims
The number of conflict victims has been changing almost every year, since the government formed a taskforce in 2015 to enlist the victims left out during the original verification process. In all the three succeeding governments, a taskforce has been routinely formed to enlist ‘their own people’ as conflict victims, a person with knowledge of the issue told Onward Nepal.
Three taskforce teams have been formed in the past three years, each adding an average 12,000 conflict victims to the list. The government has maintained a record of 132,253 conflict victims so far.
Conflict victims are categorised as dead, disappeared, disabled, persons requiring treatment, abducted, displaced, orphaned, and persons whose properties were lost, destroyed, or damaged. However, the government released compensation for 15,566 dead, 1,162 disappeared, and 82,000 displaced.
Over the years, conflict victims have regularly expressed losing faith in the government due to ad-hoc decisions and policies. This time, the government released the fund right before the local election, and was criticised by the opposition as an attempt to influence voters. Once the election code of conduct came into effect, the budget could not be spent. Local administrations were allowed to distribute the budget only after the election.
“Government changes every nine months,” says Kandel. “You never know if the successive government will scrape the decision made by their predecessor.” In ten years since the Peace Accord, victims have been receiving compensation in instalments. However, this is the first time the government released a lumpsum of half a million as compensation for victims.
“Compensation is a welcome step, but closure of our cases is the most important for us,” says Ram Kumar Bhandari, conflict victim and activist. “We want the transitional justice bodies to find out the truth and deliver justice.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons, formed two years ago to look into conflict-era cases have just begun investigation of the cases. The commissions have registered over 60,000 complaints till date. It is going to take a few more years to complete investigating those incidents.
Says Bhandari, “Compensation amount is a relief package for the conflict victims, justice lays foundation for reconciliation and peace.”