Nepal’s former prime minister appears in a public program four days after testing positive for coronavirus. Will the government hold him accountable?

The government is supposed to ensure we live in a fair society where each person is seen as equal in the eyes of the law. This is a test case for the Deuba government’s commitment to equality and rule of law.

Ashim Neupane

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: On Thursday, CPN-UML chairman and former prime minister KP Sharma Oli attended a public program organized by the youth wing of the party, Youth Union. Four days earlier, he had tested positive for coronavirus.

The Youth Union had organized a program in Bhaktapur, near Oli’s residence. Oli joined the blood donation program with his wife, Radhika Shakya. Oli suggested to the participants that they should maintain social distance. A participant replied, “Nothing will happen if there is Baa with us.” “Baa”, literally meaning father, is a term that cadres of UML use to endearingly refer to Oli.

Laughter burst out following the remarks. No social distancing was maintained at the program, despite a surge in Covid cases in the valley. The video leaked has now put the ex-prime minister into controversies.

What is the legal provision?

The Infectious Diseases Act, 2020 (BS) has stated that the government can issue an order to control or prevent the infectious disease prevailing in the country. It has also mentioned that in case of the violation of the act, the violators will be subjected to a month of imprisonment or Rs. 100 penalty or both. Those who obstruct the works of authorized persons under the Act will be subjected to six months imprisonment or Rs. 600 penalty or both. 

Similarly, Muluki Criminal Code has a provision that infectious diseases should not be spread. A person helping to spread the disease, with intention or deliberately, can be subjected to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,00,000, according to the Criminal Code.

No exemption for people

Covid-19 third wave is raging across Nepal like wildfire. People are struggling to get paracetamol tablets. With the government imposing odd-even numbers on private and public vehicles, Kathmandu’s public transportation has become even more crowded. Hundreds of the personnel from the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division are deployed in various areas in Kathmandu to punish those who flout odd-even orders. Vehicle owners, if they are found to be breaking the rules, have to pay fines. This is but only for the ordinary citizens.

Outrage in social media 

People in social media have expressed rage, objection and disappointment with K P Oli, who should be leading by example for others to follow, for breaking the Covid-19 protocol, by risking  not only his own health but also by becoming a potential member to spread the contagion to others. 

Paras K Pokharel questioned Dr Dibya, Dilip and all the health experts of CPN-UML who were in contact with Oli and who provided him services: “Have you failed to communicate the matter or he does not want to understand it  at all?”

Manish Pyakurel (@hellosimara) writes: “It is wrong of KP Ba to attend a public program being Covid positive. But the National Youth Union’s members made a mistake. They deceived Oli asking him to just wave hands but taking him up to the gate and saying it’s only ‘a little further’. Baa could not resist the urge. That was wrong.”

Another user, @NRsamarpan, put the blame on Mahesh Basnet, the Youth Union leader: “It’s true that Mahesh Basnet has taken his stunts a little too far, not just this time but repeatedly in the past. It is wrong to put Baa into controversies.”

Yet another user, @db1magar, questioned whether the Covid health protocols were applicable only for common citizens. “What suggestions has the UML given to the government for covid control?” he wrote. “Chairman KP Oli, infected with the virus, is himself attending a public program. Should he not be in isolation? Why is the rule applicable only to the public?”

Milan Pandey, the embattled coordinator of Bibeksheel Sajha Party, demanded that Oli be punished for flouting the health protocols. “A former prime minister appears in a public function four days after contracting coronavirus—what could be more of a joke than this?” Pandey tweeted. “What message will it send to the public? Let KP Oli ji be punished as soon as possible under the Infectious Disease Act. Let there be a rule of law.”