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Squatters don’t see benefits of moving into Govt apartments in Ichangunarayan

NIRJANA SHARMA

KATHMANDU, Dec 21

Government owned apartments being built in Ichangunarayan for urban poor. Photo- Urban Development and Building Code Division, Kathmandu

Cozy rooms with a balcony overlooking breathtaking scenery in a multi-storey apartment that also boast of a small kitchen and attached bathroom.

If everything works as planned, the squatters living on the banks of the Bagmati River in Thapathali will be living in the government-owned apartments with the features described above in a matter of few months.

Following repeated failure in its attempts to resettle the homeless, the Urban Development and Building Construction Division (UDBCD) Kathmandu has speeded up its apartment construction project to shift the squatters there.

In the first three months after Thapathali squatters were evicted in May 2012, the authorities tried to rehabilitate, unsuccessfully, the displaced families to Chovar and then to Sundarighat.

After the locals of Sundarighat protested the plan to settle the squatters in the area, the government decided to merge them with the homeless people living on the bank of the Manohara River and at Bansighat and Shankhamul.

Out of the total 251 families evicted from Thapathali, the government on July 29 last year decided to send 100 families to Manohara and 151 to Bansighat and Shankhamul. However, the refusal to accept newcomers by the squatters´ leaders there left the relocation plan in limbo.

Thus, when the government decided to build homes for the squatters at Ichangunarayan, the authority thought it best not to inform the locals about the motive behind the construction.

“People turn negative after they hear the word squatter,” said Meena Shrestha, senior divisional engineer at the Division. She added that the government has introduced a policy recently to call homeless people living in cities as urban poor instead of squatters.

The construction, estimated at Rs 140 million, will be completed in two phases, with the first phase to be concluded by April and the second by September next year. The apartments have been designed for a total of 233 families. However, the flat is not free of cost. The office would determine the rent once the construction work is accomplished. Similarly, the authority would require the tenants to renew the contract after 10 years.

Meanwhile, the squatters of Thapathali say that they would not move to the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley. Hari Maya Jimba, who has been staying in the hut reconstructed at UN Park after the demolition of settlement, said that her five-member family would not be able to afford the apartment.

Jimba argues that most of the people who live in the settlement are daily wage earners and they would not go to live in the apartment paying rent.

“The government can´t guarantee us the job around Ichangunarayan and it´s our helplessness that we can´t travel every day paying Rs 50 to search work in the city,” she argued.
While around 40,000 squatters are estimated to be living encroaching riverbanks of the Valley, Jimba questions the government´s wisdom of targeting only them but not other riverside encroachers.

“Why can´t the people show some sympathy towards homeless? Why is the government quiet when we face accusations of being a menace to the society?” asked Jimba.
Fearing social rejection in the new locality, Suman Chaudhary, secretary of the squatters´ struggle committee, said that the community has faced baseless allegations, and the government must assure that the locals do not victimize them when they shift to the new place.

In a mixed frustration toward both the media and government, Chaudhary said, “The media support on the government´s move to evict squatters backed the authority irresponsible towards us in the beginning.”

The displaced group does not have further program to pressurize the government and are waiting for the formation of the new CA to put forward their demand before the elected representatives. “Before the poll, Nepali Congress Leader Prakash Man Singh had promised to solve our problem,” added Chaudhary.

Meena Shrestha
Meena Shrestha
Senior Divisional Engineer, Urban Development and Building Code Division

Why did the government demolish squatters´ settlement without a plan to resettle them?
Some of the government´s plan to relocate the squatters failed as a concrete policy was lacking to intervene permanently. However, those evicted from Thapathali are first on our priority for a resettlement to government-owned apartments.

Nevertheless, the status of all of them would be crosschecked to allow them to shift to Ichangunarayan. The policy on urban poor has been recently introduced which addresses most of the issues related with squatters relocation.

Despite the lingering doubts over the legitimacy of many squatters settled along the riverside, why hasn´t the government thought it necessary to investigate the matter?
The Department of Urban Development and Building Code had called on the squatters to register their names if they claim they are genuine. Only 58 families came forward for the registration. The office had granted them Rs 15,000 as rental cost for three months.

Had the families cooperated with the government from the beginning, we would not have been suffering this huge problem today. Still, the urban poor targeted policy can determine on what basis the homeless should be treated. Not only the Thapathali squatters but also all the homeless in the city areas and emerging town are covered under this guideline.

Published on 2013-12-21 04:44:14
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About nirjanasharma

Journalist.

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