Imagine that you live in a region that is connected to the rest of the world via only one road. The road has frequent landslides and it takes 12 hours to get to the nearest airport and 16 hours to the nearest intensive care unit (ICU). All of your supplies like food and medicine come from elsewhere in trucks and buses that use the same road. Imagine how you would react if you learned that the people who own those passenger buses and cargo trucks have decided to limit the number of vehicles on that road so they can charge more for transportation. Yes, we are talking about Achham and the far-west, where this unthinkable injustice has been allowed thrive.
For several years, the truck and bus syndicate have been practicing price-fixing all over Nepal. Several people have cried foul over this and this practice, although still alive, significantly diminished in most parts of Nepal. The far-west, however, continued to suffer this resource-denial. A deal was struck to officially end cartelling in all parts of the country except in the far-west. Prices of all commodities remained high: about 55% higher than they would be if there was free competition. This unjust deal was set to expire in December but the practice continued.
Kailali district became the center of attention as people tried to fight this price-fixing practice. Kailali houses a lot of businesses that send goods to Kathmandu and to the impoverished districts in the far-west. Because of cartelling, businesses were unable to provide goods at a low cost. The central government attempted to send a strong message that this was illegal but the practice continued. 150 industries in Kailali handed over the keys to their local administration in protest of the latter’s inability or perhaps, unwillingness to enforce ban on price-fixing. Several media outlets joined the outcry. This author wrote an op-ed in the Nepali times about price-fixing as an example of a larger system of resource-denial in Achham and the far-west.
Some good news finally arrived last week. The Supreme Court of Nepal ordered the government to end the syndicate system that was conducting price-fixing. The effectiveness of this order is yet to be seen. A lot of political and monetary incentives at are stake so it is unlikely that the syndicate system will end overnight. However, this victory highlights the importance of advocacy on behalf of people in the far-west. Given the centralized governing structure of Nepal, major decisions that affect that far-west take place in Kathmandu. It is a huge challenge for Achhamis, who are being forced to pay extra due to anti-competition practices, to organize and hold the central government accountable for this injustice. As we work toward our primary goal of providing healthcare to the people of the far-west, we will continue to work with our partners in the media to advocate for a fair treatment for the people we serve.
Bibhav Acharya is the Executive Vice-President of Nyaya Health. He is currently completing the MD program at Yale School of Medicine.