Two months and eleven days since its announcement, the government is yet to provide compensation of Rs 500,000 each to the bereaved families of the 16 Mt Everest Avalanche victims.
The avalanche, which killed 13 Sherpa guides leading to the disappearance of three more on April 18, 2014, is the deadliest in the history of Mt Everest mountaineering.
“They have to tell us clearly whether we will get the money or not. Such lingering is intolerable at a time when we are bereaved of our sole bread winner,” says Ningma Sherpa, who lost his father Ang Tshiring Sherpa in the disaster.
“We are in a pathetic situation, as we do not have alternative income sources apart from mountaineering. It would be a great relief to us, if the compensation process comes to an end instantly.”
Bowing to mounting pressure from all sides, Tourism Minister Bhim Acharya, who had visited the Everest base camp after the incident, had announced that the government would provide Rs 40,000 to each of the 16 families for immediate relief and Rs 500,000 to each of them a few days later.
The victim families received Rs 40,000 promptly. But much to their agony, the process of getting Rs 500,000 has been mired by red tape as both the Tourism Ministry and the Finance Ministry are involved in a ping-pong blame game.
“We have already dispatched the file to the Finance Ministry for an approval,” says Madhu Sudan Burlakoti, Joint Secretary at Tourism Industry Division, Ministry of Tourism.
“The Finance Ministry had some queries in regard to the file but we have already resolved their queries. But we have not received their approval until today.”
According to Burlakoti, the Finance Ministry has to send an approval letter to the Tourism Ministry, following which the latter would table a compensation proposal at the Council of Ministers’ meeting.
“Only after that, the demands of victim families will be addressed.”
Ram Sharan Pudasaini, Joint Secretary at the Finance Ministry however refutes Burlakoti’s claim.
“Whose decision is it to compensate Rs 500,000 each to the victim families?” asks Pudasaini, “Was this the decision of the Tourism Minister or the Council of Ministers? Actually, I’m clueless!”
“It has to be approved by a decision of the Council of Ministers.”
The procedural ambiguities about the compensation and the government’s lackluster initiatives have led to a growing concern among the stakeholders in the tourism sector.
“It is unfortunate that the government bodies have been dilly-dallying in such a gravely sensitive issue,” says Ang Tshering Sherpa, chairperson, Nepal Mountaineering Association.
“If this unending process continues, the victim families will never be able to get the compensation. Such a situation will only encourage the stakeholders to look for measures that would exert pressure on the government.”
The total compensation of Rs 8 million to be paid to the families is less than what the government charges to three Everest mountaineers.
The government charges US$ 40,000 (around Rs 3.8 million) to each mountaineer and as such, collects as much as Rs 15 billion as royalties from some 400 international mountaineers each climbing season while transactions alone in the Mt Everest region stands at around Rs 5 billion.
“The victim families have already suffered too much. The government should no more delay in releasing the fund,” stresses NMA chairperson Sherpa.