Lack of infrastructure and connectivity in 1951 to prove a challenge for Nepal’s commercial and industrial development

Shortcomings in connectivity, communication, and urban development: Ganesh Man Singh

Porters transport a car on long poles across a stream in Nepal, 1948

“Nepal’s backwardness wasn’t limited to education, we were also economically and socially backward”, Singh adds more insight to the socio-economic situation at the time he was elected minister.

According to Singh, besides education, connectivity (transport network), communication network, and urbanization, played an important role in raising the socio-economic development of a nation.

“The Rana administration was lacking in all”, Singh added.

“They did not build new towns. The main cities, Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur, Birgunj, Janakpur, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj, Dhangadi, Dhankuta, Bandipur, Pokhara, Tansen, Chainpur, Okhaldhunga, and Doti were developing markets prior to the establishment of the Rana rule. Their continued development wasn’t on the basis of government plans, rather owing to the forces of the market”, he said about urbanization.

Visiting the topic of connectivity, he highlighted the scarcity of roads and highways.

“During the Rana administration, there was no highway connecting Kathmandu valley to the rest of the nation. All goods had to be ferried by porters via the Bhimphedi route.”

“Lastly in the name of communication, there were telephones, but only for official communication, and not for public use. Thrice a week, the national daily Gorkhapatra would be published – but the state owned media was heavily regulated, and would only praise the government. There was postal service, however, due to lack of roads that too was highly inefficient”, Singh commented on the communication sector.

Background of Nepal’s Industry and Commerce in 1951 A.D.

The reason Singh visited lack of education, connectivity, communication, and urbanization was because these factors were to prove to become challenges to Singh after assuming the position of Nepal’s Minister for Industry and Commerce.

An efficient transport network, reliable communication, and urban development are basic necessities for a robust economy – however, Nepal was lacking in all. Furthermore, Nepal was relatively new to modern industrialization.

“At the time, the most reliable and the most sought after employment opportunity was a job in the government office. A majority of the population would farm – however, farming being a seasonal business, many Nepalis would be effectively unemployed for several months in a year. Very few people traded, and there were even less industries”, Singh shares a brief contextual background of the era.

“With great difficulty, two-three industries were established in Biratnagar – however, because Nepali labourers lacked the skills to operate such machinery, there too, a majority of the labourers were Indian”, he added.

“Because they possessed the necessary skills for the job”, Singh stressed.

“In Kathmandu, the Newars and the Marwadis would be involved in trading, however, that too did not generate enough employment opportunities”, Singh added.

It was for these reasons, people were reliant on government jobs or other odd jobs for employment – while the world had already reaped the benefits of industrialization, Nepal’s industrial wave was yet to arrive.

Lack of proper infrastructure further aggravated the problem.

The need for an office for Nepal’s newly elected ministers:

The need for an office for the newly elected ministers was urgent – most were of the view that Singha Durbar should be the new space for the office of the Council of Ministers.

Singha Durbar was built in 1908 A.D by Chandra Shumsher JBR. Initially built as his private residence, Chandra Shumsher later sold the palace to the Government of Nepal for a sum of NRS 2 crores. Singha Durbar then became the official residence of the Prime Minister of Nepal (Shree Teen Maharaja).

Since it belonged to the government of Nepal, the ministers, including several Rana ministers were of the view that Mohan Shumsher should vacate the building and allow the ministers to set up office there.

“Another reason the Ranas were in favour of Singha Durbar as the office for the ministers was because Mohan Shumsher was asking other Rana leaders to vacate their palaces for the same purpose”, Singh added.

Until the issue of Singha Durbar was to be resolved, the ministers came up with a temporary solution – to convert their own residence into an office. For the Rana Ministers, converting their palaces into an office wasn’t a problem, however, for the Congress Ministers (with the exception of Subarna Shumsher), the solution demanded great adjustments.

“We had moved to Kilagal from our ancestral home in Yetkha. With my grandmother, mother, Mangala Devi, Shankar Man and his wife living in the same house, making space for an office was going to be difficult. Furthermore, I was also expected to make space for the two officers assigned for my security”, he shared his predicament.

“Another problem was also the placement of a national flag – a national flag had to be hoisted outside every minister’s house. However, because right outside my house was the main street, I could not place the flag there. I could not hoist the flag on the roof because after nightfall the flag had to be lowered and folded. Finally, we decided to place the flag on the street behind our house, and use that street as the main entrance of the office.

Thus, Singh’s Kilagal home was used as the office of Nepal’s Ministry for Industry and Commerce.

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