Digital Nepal and Smart Cities; Promises made, but not kept

When the government launched Nagarik App, it was with the promise of making services easier and decreasing the lines at the government offices. However, some of the services take longer now after the introduction of online services. The consular service which initially took 4 days takes up to 12 days now, because the service seekers are not informed about the change in process and all service seekers do not have access to the internet.

On one hand, the government is envisioning ‘Digital Nepal’ while on the other, the electricity authority is removing cables of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for using the electricity poles without paying any fee for it. Because of the fee for electricity poles, ISPs are trying to increase the amount for internet. This has been met with criticism as the increase in taxes and other fees would make internet more expensive for netizens rather than making it accessible for all.

The projects of building smart cities were rampantly introduced by the government after local election. But there seems to be no clear explanation on how practical or research-based these proposals were. The authorities have been failing to even implement and manage even the basic development plans. On the evening of September 21, 10-year-old Ujjwal BK fell into a sewer in Kapan and was swept away. The boy was found dead 4 days later at the border of Lalitpur and Makawanpur. However, this incident isn’t the first of its kind. Reports show that at least 48 people have fallen into the sewers that were left open in Kathmandu valley and 18 of them have died. The families of the victims have pleaded with the government to make the cities safer but the government has turned a blind eye to these traps while continuing to sell the dreams of smart cities with monorails and state-of-the-art technologies.

Similarly, Bharatpur Metropolitan which was declared to be turned into a smart city had garbage piled on the side of roads and pavements after the metropolitan failed to manage the waste for over two weeks. The local units are in the race to declare their cities or towns in the ‘smart cities’ without sustainable plans. Just declaring a city ‘smart’ on paper and forgetting about the implementation seems like another populist stunt of fooling the citizens and not implementing the plans as promised.


YouTube journalists’ disregard for personal privacy

Lately, YouTube journalism has gained popularity and YouTube news channels have high views and subscribers. Most YouTube news channels are notorious for being intrusive and violating personal privacy.

Police arrested 3 individuals including a YouTuber for filming a video of 2 women and a man while having lunch at a hotel in Britamode, Jhapa, and uploading it to social media without their consent. The victim party had filed a complaint against 6 people for violating their privacy and posting the video online. Similarly, four more YouTubers were arrested from Kathmandu on September 29 on the charge of character assassination after posting content of a woman that defames her, without her consent.


Increase in cyber-crime and online harassment

Reports mention an increase in the cases of digital violence, online harassment, and other types of cybercrimes during the lockdowns or prohibitory orders issued to control the spread of COVID-19. There have also been instances where fake social media accounts were used to defame young women. A Facebook account, “Yo maya ko sagar” allegedly published photos of dozens of young women from Khotang with explicit and sexual captions. Four of the women have filed a complaint at the cyber bureau demanding action against people managing the Facebook account.

There were other multiple reports of fake social media accounts including government authorities like former chief of Central Investigation Bureau and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba . Nepal Rashtra Bank and Siddhartha Bank also issued official statements warning clients against any deceptive information provided by the fake accounts using their name. While these are selected cases of creation of fake accounts of people by the authorities, unreported cases of fake profiles of women and girls are created in social media platforms everyday, often attacking their bodies, character and sexuality. Such incidents are rampant these days and it influences people to continue such misogynistic practices of attacking women’s bodies. This practice results into the lack of safer internet space for women and girls.

The law regarding cybercrime is unclear and is limited only to crimes mentioned in the law which provides loopholes for the ones who commit such crimes. Also, there is a lack of reporting for online crimes due to the problem in the laws and lack of a proper system in place where the victim can access it in a dignified way.

An incident of human trafficking reported in the media in which a man from Dhankuta befriended a woman on Facebook and eventually sold her in Combodia to a Chinese citizen as a household and sexual slave in the pretext of getting her a well-paying job in construction or business.5 The rights to access such important information regarding foreign employment provided by authentic government websites like the Department of Foreign Employment can reduce trafficking incidents related to foreign employment. This is directly linked to the economy and right to employment where people want to improve their economic condition and the failure of authorities to address such fraud before and after incidents is giving rise to such instances.