KATHMANDU: The Tourism Ministry is preparing to ask the Cabinet to extend the contract giving exclusive rights to the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) to collect royalties from mountain climbers, despite opposition from the Office of the Auditor General, a source privy to the matter said.
The NMA receives Rs70 million in climbing fees from mountaineering expeditions annually.
The Tourism Ministry’s proposal is expected to run into controversy as the Office of the Auditor General, which is in charge of auditing the finances and activities of the public sector, is against allowing private firms to collect royalty, multiple sources at the ministry confirmed.
Moreover, all royalties generated from the use of natural resources are to be collected by the central government from the fiscal year 2018-19.
The government’s budget statement for 2018-19 will contain provisions on the distribution of royalties collected by the central government. This means local and other bodies will be barred from collecting royalties after the end of the current fiscal year.
While the government itself issues permits to mountaineering expeditions for Himalayan peaks more than 7,000 metres high, the NMA has been allowed to manage 33 small peaks known as ‘trekking peaks’ which range in height from 5,587 to 6,654 metres. The NMA was established in 1973, and in 1978 it was authorized to collect royalties for 18 peaks by a Cabinet decision. Apparently satisfied with the performance, the government allotted another 15 peaks to the NMA in 2002.
The NMA is required to set aside 20 percent of the revenue for local development, 10 percent for environment protection and 5 percent for rescue purposes.
The mandate given to the NMA to collect fees for the second batch of 15 peaks expired on September 20. The government has not set any time limit for the NMA to collect fees for the other 18 peaks.
In July 2015, advocate Deepak Bikram Mishra filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court arguing that it was unconstitutional to grant permission to a non-governmental organisation to collect royalties from climbing expeditions to the Himalaya. Mishra had demanded that the privilege be revoked.
The Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation and the Department of Tourism were named as defendants in the writ petition. The final verdict is yet to come. The now-dissolved parliamentary International Relations and Labour Committee had also summoned Tourism Ministry officials and told them that the NMA could not collect government revenue, and that it should be done by the government itself.
Faced with the possibility of losing its income source, the NMA has been lobbying the government hard to insert a provision in the Tourism Act about collecting royalty or managing peaks.
– THE KATHMANDU POST