Weekly Musings Give Due Thought : Shyam K.C.

A large number (the exact number will forever remain unknown) of people were killed when the tallest structure in the Kathmandu Valley was turned into rubble by the April 25 earthquake. The unfortunate event, including other destruction and resultant fatalities in other parts of the capital as well as elsewhere in the country, shocked and horrified the whole country and indeed many parts of the world. The government, private enterprises, individuals both at home and abroad, and many international agencies were liberal in trying to pour in generous donations for the rebuilding of homes and hearth destroyed by the quake. Such gestures are indeed heart touching and will long be remembered.

Compensation

But the destructive events of April 25 and May 12 have also brought to the fore the need for the government and other concerned legal authorities to safeguard the interests of the people at all times without falling prey to various pressure groups. The prime example is the Dharahara deaths. The people who entered Dharahara did so by paying, and it is the duty of the government, the Kathmandu Municipality (who claim to control the site) as well as the private enterprise that had obtained the site on lease to ensure that the victims were fully compensated.

The government under a blanket declaration immediately after the earthquake promised compensation for all victims. But the victims who paid for entry into Dharahara need to get more than what the government promised to all victims. The point is that the private lessee who made money by charging entrance fees need to do something for the victims as it is the duty of the Kathmandu Municipality (the lessor) that obtains money from the lessee - even without adequately supervising the site from time to time and ensuring that the lessee is not crossing its limits - to help the families of the Dharahara victims. The government alone should not undertake all relief and rehabilitation activities. The local bodies and private firms that cater to the public are equally responsible for undertaking such activities.

The point is that what happened at Dharahara can happen in any other public place where entrance fees are levied or where people can sit back and relax at a price such as restaurants, cinema halls, night clubs and bars and even a public park, like the Ratna Park in Kathmandu where an entrance fee is levied. In all these places, those who run them make money from their customers, but do they also ensure their safety? This is why the events of 25th April should be an eye opener, and we need all to work together to prepare for future contingencies.

It ought to be remembered that even though we are located on a seismic zone and could face a major earthquake at any time without warning, contingencies can come in different forms such as a fire, stampede or any other form that could have devastating effect on the people who pay to enter these places. Not everything can be done immediately, but due thought must be given to enact legislation that will make those who run such establishments more responsible to their customers and to the neighbourhood, and have adequate contingency funds to meet any unwanted and unforeseen contingencies.

Those who earn money by levying entrance fees must be made to pay the victims or their families whenever man-made or natural disasters occur and their customers suffer as a result. This may be seen as a farfetched dream, but it is a dream worth striving for.

Without adding to the burden of customers, those who collect money from their customers might do well to spend a fraction of their income on buying insurance cover for their customers. The insurance companies that have mushroomed in this country in the recent years should be able to help the government agencies and private enterprises in adequately covering the people who pay to visit such places. Such insurance, as far as many of us know, is similar to vehicle insurance where accidents are covered.

Proper legislation

Accidents do not happen by intent but can happen anytime anywhere and for no apparent reasonable reason. Proper legislation will be needed to make such schemes effective. But our legislators are too busy with the constitution of the country to bother about small matters like these and may not be possible until a new legislature is elected. The life of any citizen is very valuable to the country, and he or she must be given full protection by law and by those who honestly enforce the laws. It will be worthwhile for the country if due thought is given in this direction and ensure that the future of the young and old alike in this country is bright.

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