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A year on, squatters still await relocation

NIRJANA SHARMA

KATHMANDU, June 20

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Bimala Tamang, 38, has been thinking of getting the roof of her hut repaired as it leaks when it rains just as it did on Wednesday morning.

She bought some plastic sacks to cover the roof with a hope that her four-member family will have some relief during night.
Staring at the sky, she murmured, “The trouble is mounting every day and night at our home.”

While her husband Harka Bahadur Tamang, 50, has got a fractured leg and cannot walk without a support and her 13-year-old daughter Meena goes to residential areas in Thapathali and Buddhanagar to wash clothes and clean utensils.

It was she who brought home the paper carton cover used to pack televisions and refrigerators which they have been using in their kitchen so that they don´t have to stand in mud while cooking meal.

Not only Bimala´s family but around 200 families have been living in miserable conditions as the government has failed to provide them an alternative even though a year has passed since the squatters´ settlement was evicted from the banks of the Bagmati River in Thapathali.

The government had demolished 258 huts, including one school building in Thapathali. As many as 2,200 security personnel were deployed to clear the settlement. The eviction left 1,250 squatters homeless.

Though the government provided Rs 15,000 each to 67 “genuine” landless families for three months for temporary lodging, they have been receiving no support now. “The government has completely forgotten us since then,” said Suman Chaudhary, secretary of Landless Squatters´ Struggle Committee.

Following a widespread criticism, the Baburam Bhattarai-led government assigned Keshav Sthapit, commissioner of the Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority (KVTDA), to relocate the homeless. KVTDA tried to shift the squatters three times but all its attempts failed.

Right after the demolition, the authorities attempted to rehabilitate the displaced families at Chovar and Sundarighat. But the plan could not materialize after the locals in those areas came out in protest of the move. Out of the total of 251 families displaced from Thapathali, the government on July 29 decided to send 100 families to Manohara and 151 to Bansighat and Shankhamul respectively.

However, the process was halted right after the authorities sent 10 families to those settlements as the Manohara squatters recalled an incident three years back when Madhyapur Thimi Municipality, Bhaktapur had refused to register their identities for the purpose of electricity supply.

“Many blamed us that we have been encroaching the public land due to strong political backing. But the reality is not hidden to anyone now,” says Kamala Chaudhary, who lives in the settlement. Only a handful of people left the settlement after demolition but most of the families have stayed back despite all odds. Some 178 families are still residing in the area in sorry state.

Kamala added that most of the women and children in the settlement are suffering from common cold, fever and diarrhea due to unfavorable weather. “Nobody has come to offer us medicines or any sort of help,” she said.

Kamala runs a childcare center in the settlement and has been looking after nine children. Both parents of the children below five years age go to work and they did not want to quit their jobs because it would hamper their earning.

The government record shows that there are around 1,40,000 squatters in the Kathmandu Valley, but they claim the number is around 23,000.
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New work-plan in the offing
Keshav Sthapit, Commissioner
Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority (KVTDA)

Around half a dozen government authorities have to coordinate on the squatters´ issue. But the problem is that none of them have been assigned the role to lead the effort. Thus the squatters´ problem has remained unaddressed due to lack of coordination. But recently, the Office of the Prime Minister decided that KVTDA would be the leading agency to look after the problem.
I am currently holding discussions with all stakeholders.

Within a week, KVTDA will forward a comprehensive document to the cabinet that will offer a better alternative to the squatters´ issue. If everything works as planned, the KVTDA´s planning would be executed with the beginning of the new fiscal year from mid-July.
The KVTDA plans to construct concrete block houses in Shankhamul for their temporary settlement as it would still take some time to relocate them permanently. There are more than a dozen areas were squatters reside and we plan to restrict the settlements to three but they would be well managed.

 

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We don´t believe in government or parties
Suman Chaudhary
Secretary of Landless Squatters´ Struggle Committee

Whatever Keshav Sthapit, government or any political parties say we can´t believe anyone unless they do something to prove their words. I don´t think he has any plan as it´s been a long time since he took on the job. Though Sthapit is in an important position, it is a political appointment and he always tries use our issue to win favors for NGOs. But we are against that. We landless people have understood that we are the government´s responsibility and it must address our problems sooner or later. We don´t want any NGO or INGO to get rich by selling our woes.
More than a year has passed, but no one has visited us to understand our problem. The first visit of the former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has also became the last one.

Squatters had organized a program inviting the representatives of all the political parties but not a single leader attended the program. I think they were ashamed to face us as they don´t have appropriate answers to our questions.
But we have not lost hope. As the CA election date has already been announced, we are looking forward to pressurize political parties to relocate us.

Source: Repblica Daily

Link: http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=56486

Published on 2013-06-20 05:36:01
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About nirjanasharma

Journalist.

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