Indian blockade leads to fuel rationing in Nepal

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Border crossings closed for fifth day as Nepal runs short of essential supplies

By Deepak Adhikari

KATHMANDU, Nepal – Nepal imposed fuel rations Monday as an Indian blockade entered its fifth day, local media reported.

Nepalese officials have accused India of closing all 26 border crossings with its northern neighbor in support of Indian-origin ethnic groups who claim Nepal’s new constitution will leave them under-represented in parliament.

The blockade is impacting on essential supplies in the landlocked Himalayan kingdom, including petrol, cooking gas and medicine.

The Nepal Oil Company began rationing petrol Monday, a day after the government introduced a scheme to bar vehicles from using the roads on alternate days according to their number plates.

Motorcyclists can buy up to three liters a week while car drivers can purchase 10 liters.

“We have asked petrol pumps to stamp vehicle registration cards to avoid duplication,” Deepak Baral, a Nepal Oil Company spokesman, told the Nepali-language Kantipur newspaper.

The government has also asked international airlines to refuel their planes abroad before flying into Nepal.

The country has been shaken by weeks of protests by the Madhesi and Tharu peoples who live on the southern plains. More than 40 people have been killed in the protests, which have alarmed India.

A new constitution was agreed in June as part of deal to end a 10-year Maoist insurgency, transforming Nepal into a secular, federal republic made up of seven states. However, the Madhesi and Tharu say the government is not listening to their grievances over the charter.

According to a Nepali customs official, around 2,500 goods trucks and tankers are stuck on the Indian side of the border while Kathmandu has seen long queues of motorcycles and cars at petrol stations.

Mitra Lal Regmi, head of the customs office at Birgunj, told Anadolu Agency that supply trucks from India had been stopped on the Indian side for the past five days.

“India hasn’t allowed a single truck from its side to Nepal,” he said. “Neither has it allowed our cargo trucks to cross into its territory.”

He added: “It’s not because of Indian customs officials. Their job is to clear our cargos once the paperwork is done. Indian security forces are blocking the shipments.”

Birgunj – 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of Kathmandu – is Nepal’s largest border check post and handles half of the country’s imports from India, collecting up to 350 million Nepalese rupees ($3.3 million) a day in revenue for Nepal. Regmi said 7 billion Nepalese rupees ($66 million) in revenue had been lost at Birgunj due to the unrest.

India denies that it has imposed a blockade, claiming the security situation in Nepal is impeding traffic.

On Monday, Nepal’s Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat tweeted: “Another blow to Nepali economy after devastating earthquake. Blockade/obstruction harming trade, industry and common man.”

More than 9,000 Nepalis were killed in a 7.8-magniture earthquake and aftershocks in April and May.

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