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Festivities over, Nepal stares at crises

Kathmandu, Oct 18 (IANS) As its biggest religious festival Dashain, similar to Dussehra in India, ends Monday and Nepal slowly returns to everyday life, crises threaten the nation whose coffers are drying up and time is running out.

The finance ministry dropped a bombshell Monday, with top officials saying that the caretaker government faces a severe funds crunch with only about NRS.8-9 billion left in the treasury.

The crisis was triggered by the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal in June due to Maoist pressure and the inability of the political parties to elect his successor despite holding a record 12 rounds of election in parliament.

The caretaker government was not allowed to table the budget by the Maoists, who say it should be done by a new government, which they are trying to head.

As the Nepali financial year ended mid-July, the inability of the caretaker government to introduce the new budget has created an acute funds crunch in a mirror image of the situation last year when the Maoists created another obstruction.

Former finance ministers have warned the caretaker premier that if the new budget is not passed by October, Nepal will be plunged into another dire crisis with no money to pay salaries, pensions, state-run projects and buy fuel from India.

Though the prime minister met Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda during the 10-day festival and urged him to allow the budget to be cleared by parliament, Prachanda is seeking an agreement on power-sharing as a pre-condition, which will allow his party to have a major stake in the new government.

Even if the Maoists relent under public pressure, like they did last year, and allow the budget to be passed eventually, Nepal faces another acute crisis.

The new constitution, that was to have been drafted by May 2010, may not be ready now within the extended deadline of mid-May 2011.

The 11 parliamentary committees entrusted with addressing different aspects of the new constitution were to have sent their recommendations to the constitutional committee for discussions by Oct 16.

However, only three of the eight committees have got their act together so far.

The first draft of the new constitution has to be ready by Nov 17.

With just a month left for the massive task and the Maoists raising new preconditions, it seems unlikely that the Nov 17 deadline will be met.

The Maoists are now demanding that the ruling parties first reach a power-sharing agreement with them. They are saying that only after that would they agree to disband their guerrilla army that has over 19,500 fighters.

As the warring parties failed to draft the new constitution this year, the constitutional timetable had to be amended 11 times.

Now a 12th revision in the timetable is in the offing unless the parties pull up their socks and put the constitution above party and personal interests.

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