Managing Heritage: Whose Job, Anyway?

prem khatryPrem Khatry

When the country, society and people dream of, or for that matter, are actually entering an altogether new phase of development and change, there is always much confusion and less clarity about the plans, the moves, and the direction. If legal and host of other paper works are said to be only in ‘pipeline’, as they normally say, things become even more confusing and critical.
Good old Nepal entered the new ‘federal’ incarnation with the adoption of the new constitution. Despite the PM’s confession while on a tour of a foreign country recently that the constitution remains to be amended and he would spare no efforts in that direction, people thought rightly that the Constitution of Nepal is there in place and nothing under the sun can create hurdle in its implementation. So his act of taking an oath standing next to his host and counterpart through his speech was indigestible here at home and there in the team itself. Do we have to tell the host that the once buried issue can/will be unearthed and prepare it for another operation? The PM should know better.
According to the Constitution, whether an amendment or not, the country is a Federal Democratic Republic. The Centre, the Federation and the Local are the three layers of Nepal’s political-administrative structures. The first phase of elections have been over and preparation for the second or the last phase are almost complete according to the Election Commission. Once this one is done there will be a strong base of governance at the local level in place.

Thus far, Nepal lacks a ‘system’ that is efficient and that works. Several political changes, change of guards, passage of time and efforts to ‘unleash’ the forces of development, Nepal’s overall performance whether in the human rights, per capita income or an expected growth in general, has remained very slow, to say the least. No leader, no government, and no political party has remained out of the power grip for a long time in recent years. It is like ‘hide and seek’ game in Nepal’s politics - one players goes, another comes but doesn’t survive and falls to make space for the other one in waiting.
With this backdrop, the writer wants to touch upon the current crisis faced the country and the people – heritage conservation/safeguarding and the lead authority to do so in the days to come.
The current laws have vested the authority to do so on the Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation. Since this is a conjoint type ministry looking after tourism and aviation affairs also, it cannot pay full attention to cultural affairs of the country. That is the government’s ministry can give only 33% attention to issues and matters related to culture. This is the crux of the problem in terms of planning and implementation of government policies and programs. It is the experience of people and institution working in the field of culture that the shared responsibility in this sector is highly inadequate considering the nature of our culture and heritage.
Several examples can be cited to show why and how but space doesn’t allow the writer to do so. Therefore few examples will suffice. In the aftermath of the mega quake, the government constituted the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) and gave full autonomy with responsibility to proceed with the serious task of rebuilding the settlement lost to quake, renovate and reconstruct the heritages and complete the task in a given time frame.
China, India, US, Sri Lanka, EU, other nations came forward and extended their support for the reconstruction of our tangible heritage such as shrines, palaces, courtyards, museums and other structures. But so far very few models and drawings have been approved. Works on a large number of structures have not been decided as yet. Lately, PRC has been given responsibility to reconstruct the nine-storey Hanumandhoka Palace at Basantpur.
Compared to the urgent need of reconstruction this is a small beginning, if it begins at all. The donor agencies, foreign governments included, seem to be facing some kind of dilemma. They are monitoring the development at the reconstruction sector and hesitating to come forward with their already committed resources. When some artists can build a whole big village, or reach out to people with the urgently needed resources, the government’s preparation and actual presence seems weaker. This is one reason why donors are not trusting the government basket.
In few cases, the central government, the local government and the public confronted each other. The feud came out on the surface and made the watchers unhappy. Whether the Kasthamandap or the Matsyendranatha shrine of Bungmati, the locals showed not only their concerns and resents but their muscles as well (esp. in the case of the former). They fully neglected the authority of the local government and proposed their own plan for the reconstruction of the site. While the people’s interest and enthusiasm must be appreciated, it can also be considered that eveyone’s job will end up in ‘no man’s job’. So the local government, the Metropolitan city, is going to take the lead. When in cases like that the local governments come forward, a system can be visible in place.

Local authority
In fact, gradually a time will come when the local governments will play vital role in terms of ‘owning’ the heritages of the territory through a ‘system’. They will have to create a unit comprised of trained manpower to look after the sector. Only after the installation of a system one can see things rolling on as planned. Then cases like the hair raising fanfare at Ranipokhari or other places will not occur. Whose heart didn’t shed blood after watching a huge bulldozer going down to the indigenously prepared water supply and depository system and bulldozing around wildly?
Finally, a clear job description and a jurisdiction settlement is a must in the days to come. Did anyone ordering the bulldozer at Ranipolkhari think even for the slighest part of a second that the ‘kan cha’ working as the natural plaster on the surface of Ranopokhari would not stand the heavy pressure of the equipment and allow to disturb the system and create millions of poruses instead? The role of the people is vital in many such matters but the local authorities with proper technicians and plans in place will gradualy take the lead and preserve our heritage – tangible and intangible. This is tne need of the hour.

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