Nepal considers air-lifting fuel as India border stays blocked by protesters against Constitution

Passengers ride on an overcrowded bus as limited public transportation operates in the city during the ongoing fuel crisis in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Passengers ride on an overcrowded bus as limited public transportation operates in the city during the ongoing fuel crisis in Kathmandu, Nepal.PHOTO: REUTERS

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal is considering air-lifting fuel, possibly from Bangladesh, as supply routes from India stay blocked by protesters opposing its new Constitution, a short-term solution ahead of a key festival even as the government talks to China for help.

Thousands of trucks are stranded at the border with India, the main supply route into landlocked Nepal, leading to a critical shortage of fuel in the country that only months ago suffered its worst earthquakes in 75 years.

"Getting oil and petrol from a country other than India is a very difficult question to answer," Mr Deepak Baral, a spokesman for the state-run Nepal Oil Corp, told Reuters.

Other than its lowland border with India, Nepal's other frontiers are mountainous with poor roads. After India, Bangladesh in the closest country with access to the sea.

"At the moment India is blocking trucks carrying goods from third countries, so we cannot do this by land. We will work with what stock we have around the Dashain festival. For this we may look into lifting oil and petrol supplies by air from a third country."

Nepal says the blockade is being imposed by India to pressure political parties to address the demands of groups in the southern plains who are unhappy with the constitution passed last month. More than 40 people have died in protests related to the charter.

India denies any role in the blockade.

Dashain, the highlight of Nepal's religious calendar, is due to begin in less than two weeks. Many people who live in Nepal's capital hail from districts outside the Kathmandu Valley and return home for the festival.

At Kathmandu's main bus station, operators were only selling tickets for travel on the same day due to the fuel crunch. Traffic in Kathmandu was severely curtailed and public transport was limited, with passengers sitting on the roofs of buses.

"It's quite quiet at the minute," said Ms Susan Magar, who works for a bus company ferrying travelers to Dharan in the east. "We can't sell tickets in advance for Dashain because we don't know if we'll have fuel."

Nepal Oil's Baral said the company was looking at ways to ensure people can get home for the festival, but air-lifting in supplies from a third country would only be a short-term solution.

He said the Nepali government was talking to China, India's rival in the Himalayas, about fuel supplies. "If we get the nod from the government, then we can start talking to our counterparts, but even then we estimate we can only receive 10-15 percent of our requirements from China."