EDITORIAL – Rotten Fertilizer – The Himalayan Times – Nepal’s No.1 English Daily Newspaper

At a time when farmers across the country were reeling from a severe shortage of chemical fertilizers, more than 7,500 metric tons of them rot in the open air in the dry port of Birgunj, due to lack of permission from the concerned agencies, which mattered that they spent billions of rupees. A total of 7,591 tons of fertilizer, supplied by the Swiss company Singapore Overseas Enterprises Pvt Ltd, based in the United Arab Emirates, has been dumped at the dry port of Birgunj over the past and a half years.

The quality of 7,591 tons out of the 25,000 tons of fertilizer imported is in question, and this quantity remained unguarded and allowed to rot during customs controls. Neither the Ministry of Finance (MoF) nor the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development has paid attention to the management of imported fertilizers. There seems to be a lack of coordination between the two ministries regarding the rapid clearance of fertilizer, purchased by Salt Trading Corporation Limited (STC) and Krishi Samagri Company Limited (KSCL). About two weeks ago, the Commission of Investigation into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) filed an indictment against senior officials of KSCL, a fertilizer supplier and certification agency, for importing substandard DAP, potash and urea fertilizers up to billions of rupees. As the fertilizer was stacked in the open, it was damaged by heat and rain.

It should be recalled that the Parliamentary Commission for Delegated Legislation and Government Insurance had ordered the relevant secretaries and bureau members of STC and KSCL to clean up the fertilizer so that it could be distributed to farmers during the planting. A month ago, the Ministry of Finance decided to hand over the fertilizers to the Ministry of Agriculture, which refused to accept the decision, saying it was too late. The Ministry of Agriculture had written 40 letters to the Ministry of Finance, but the latter had ignored them. As the fertilizer was dumped at the dry port for a long time, its quality deteriorated due to dampness. The main question here is why did the Ministry of Finance take so long to respond to the Ministry of Agriculture? While farmers are facing a severe shortage of fertilizers during the planting and post-planting periods, the prices of chemical fertilizers have tripled in the international market due to the drop in production, the strong demand on the domestic markets and persistent supply bottlenecks. In this case, the Ministry of Finance made a serious mistake by not taking the decision to clear the fertilizers in time.

The Ministry of Finance must explain to the public why it did not turn over the fertilizer to the Ministry of Agriculture in time. If there had been any irregularities when purchasing the fertilizer, the Ministry of Finance should have clearly informed the Ministry of Agriculture and terminated the contract with the supplier. How can we hope for robust agricultural growth in the country when the officials themselves, responsible for the supply and distribution of chemical fertilizers, are slow to take decisions on crucial issues? The government must take punitive measures against officials who have not made a decision in time.

Keep ’em safe

With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus across the country, the rising number of infections among healthcare personnel (HCP) is becoming worrisome. In Chitwan, for example, 537 doctors and health workers tested positive for the virus in hospitals and health facilities on Monday. The district is home to a number of major hospitals including the BP Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital and two medical schools. But the cancer hospital saw 144 infections among its HCPs and Chitwan Medical College 114 cases. Although health facilities have so far not stopped their services, they may have to do so if more and more health workers fall ill.

During an epidemic, doctors and other health workers are at great risk of infection because they treat dozens of patients a day. The increasing number of infections among HCPs means that being fully vaccinated does not guarantee immunity against COVID-19. Considering the sacrifices doctors and health workers make to treat COVID patients, people would be doing them a great service if they at least followed the government-mandated health protocols to curb COVID infections.

A version of this article appears in the January 26, 2022 printing of The Himalayan Times.

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