Weekly Musings: Protection Of Heritage
Money seems to be the guiding principle in many of the state, district and city affairs these days. Whether it be the government or the municipalities, the objective seems to be to acquire more money by any means. This can be done by increasing the taxes on the already burdened people. But with the increase in taxes, the people rightly expect better governance and better deal to the people who pay taxes and who maintain the government. But does this happen? At the local level, the municipalities, perhaps inspired by political parties, are no less avaricious. They dish out long term lease of public open spaces to real estate agencies to build structures that are totally not keeping with the city history, heritage and even environment.
The government which should have prevented the misuse of power by local authorities is not only a silent spectator, but it is also alleged, the government in a subtle way encourage this kind of malpractice to take place. This is because political parties that run the government receive the much needed funding from big businesses including big real estate agencies. There are a lot of speculations among the people that the misuse of public open space is taking place in the three cities of the valley because of corruption inherent in deals between the government and semi-government agencies and the private sector. It is a pity that those non-governmental organisations that claim to work for the preservation and conservation of the natural and historic heritage and the healthy environment have not moved even a single public interest litigation in court against such actions of the government and local bodies. If this kind of attitude continues, the uniqueness of the Kathmandu Valley will soon disappear.
Sundhara and Dharahara area of the city is said to be landmarks. But the Kathmandu municipality deemed it fit to lease out the Dharahara area to a private party. And what has been the result? Is it something to be proud of? The open space in front of Dharahara and to the south of Sundhara has been transferred into an eatery and after the great quake of April 2015, the ticket house of Dharahara has been converted into a clothing and garment store. This is in addition to the construction of a stall to house garment and clothing stores. How one wonders this kind of attitude and planning on the part of authorities help in preserving and conserving this country’s heritage. Everywhere one looks the vision is almost the same: the destruction of the natural and historic heritage, the disappearance of greenery, and the constriction of space.
Open spaces in different parts of the country belong to the people and yet the government and its agencies, including the army do what they want in public open spaces. The army these days seems to be more intent on construction and so it has taken over a portion of Tundhikhel and started to build different structures. It has also pulled down the old army hospital and is building a colossal structure in its place and this is right in the heart of the city. It is said that this will be a hospital to serve the people. Really?
The Provident Fund has built the Kathmandu Mall in Tundhikhel and so has Nepal Airlines. And both actions combined to effectively block the age-old flow of water to Sundhara which went dry. But do authorities care? Hardly. They seem to be keen on repeating the same mistakes again and again. And now part of the Open Air Theatre at Tundhikhel which was used by the young for outdoor activities has been taken over by the municipality to turn it into a bus depot. A bus depot is more important than a playing space for the young must be the gist of the argument. The bus depot has been shifted from another spot which the Kathmandu municipality in all its twisted wisdom decided to lease out to a private agency to erect a tall shopping structure. The shopping building will be in addition to the hundreds of other shopping malls that dot the city apart from the footpath that play the role of stalls to hundreds of vendors that sell cheap garments and other goods without having to register with the concerned authority of the government.
The disappearance of open spaces in the city has effectively deprived the children and the youth from finding a healthy outlet. No wonder that the youths seek other ways to pass their time, not all of which activities are healthy, neither physically or mentally. Every political leader from those in the government to those in the opposition speaks highly of the need for proper development of the youth. But the leaders themselves speak one thing and do just the opposite. Proper planning with the necessary inputs from the experts is needed if the country’s natural and historical heritage along with the healthy natural environment is to be preserved. Mad rush at construction may bring in immediate monetary benefits but could well prove to be a long term disaster.