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Road expansion (Sept 2011- Aug 2012): Amid protest and praise, road expansion drive continues

NIRJANA SHARMA

KATHMANDU, Aug 28

A campaign that once began with demolition of mere traffic island in few places in the Capital was never expected to turn into a national drive. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai was often criticized by opposition leaders who said, “Bhattarai is much like the Kathmandu Mayor rather than the PM.” But strong political backing for government officials helped repossess much land along the 104 km of roads in the Capital within a year.

Right after holding the position, Bhattarai directed the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) to manage the valley traffic in response to the numbers of calls received in his Hello Sarkar campaign on traffic jam complaints. To manage traffic congestion under the existing road conditions was difficult for the traffic police. Thus, the MTPD collaborated with Kathmandu Valley Town Development Committee (KVTDC) to expand roads on either side of the roads and sub-roads, thus reclaiming public land.

Amid much controversy and praise, the road expansion drive continues to bulldoze illegal construction up to 25 metres on either side of the road as per the building code 1975.

The case of demolition of the boundary wall of Hotel Everest, New Baneshwar in November was taken to the Supreme Court by the hotel owners claiming that the authority could expand only 25 feet on either side of the road. Nevertheless, the Everest Hotel case gave momentum to the demolition drive as the apex court order appeared in favor of the KVTDC.

Dozer being used to demolish the Everest Hotel wall built encroaching the public land on November 19, 2011.

But furios locals of Maharajgunj, Baluwatar, Lazimpat, Kamalpokari and Tahachal area staged a phase-wise protest terming the government’s attitude as “Osama Bin Laden terror”.

“The way government is destroying private property reminds us of Laden’s attack on the Twin tower in the US,” said Dipak KC, coordinator of Road Victim’s struggle committee. He claimed that there has been a loss of Rs 4.25 billion property due to expansion till date.
In response to KC, officials say that the government connot provide compensation for the houses constructed on public land and made profit over the years. “The law mandates us to fine the encroachers upto Rs 100,000 but we have been flexible enough and no one has been fined till date,” said Bhai Kaji Tiwari, chief of the then KVTDC which has currently transformed into Kathmandu Town Development Authority after the formation of Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority in April.

“Only three houses demolished till now were found to have been constructed by following set legal criteria. They have been reimbursed,” Tiwari said.
Contrary to KC’s view, Bina Shrestha, resident of Lazimpat area feels that the drive would leave a positive impact on the long run. “Roads are narrow as so many people have captured public land, it is wise to follow the law while construction,” said Shrestha.

The campaign also faced barrier in other districts as well. But, the directive from the top executive had to be followed by local officials despite obstructions from the local leaders, says Mahendra Subba chief of the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC).

As a result, the expansion campaign spread to four sub-metropolitan cities – Lalitpur, Birgunj, Pokhara and Biratnagar in February and March. Similarly, Makawanpur, Chitwan, Tanahun and Butwal were among other municipalities to follow the campaign.

The DUDBC has not collected the data of the expanded roads and expenditure across the country. But the Kathmandu Valley data shows Rs 30 million was spent last year on bulldozing the illegal structures. “The biggest achievement of this campaign is a change in public attitude,” said Tiwari adding, “Now, there is a fear that houses will be domilished if they are built on public land.”

As many as 425 houses were partially demolished in the capital whereas 100 others were completely taken out.

But bringing corrupt officials who granted illegal permit for construction over the years still remains. The PM himself has said that those officials should be brought to justice.

“It is the turn of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority to book the corrupt officials who deliberately granted fake permit to public for construction,” Tiwari said.

According to him, the government action against those ‘crooked’ former and current officials would give a psychological relief to the owners whose houses were recently demolished. Meanwhile, the criticism regarding the construction of roads in demolished area has also minimized as the Department of Road has already begun its project worth Rs 450 million for construction in different cities.

 Source: My Republica DailyLink: http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=40694
Published on 2012-08-29 06:23:16
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Squatter rehabilitation gets thornier

NIRJANA SHARMAKATHMANDU, Aug 14

In another blow to the government´s plan to resettle the squatters displaced from Thapathali, squatters already residing on the bank of the Manohara river and at Bansighat and Shankhamul have refused to accept the newcomers unless the government ensures drinking water, health facilities and electricity for the area.With this, the Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority (KVTDA)´s decision to resettle the squatters in other squatter settlements has run into difficulties also.

Earlier, over the last three months, the authorities had to remain helpless in their attempt to rehabilitate the displaced families at Chovar and then at Sundarighat.According to Padam Sijapati, management committee chairman of the Manohora squatters´ settlement, a group from his community has obstructed the process of accomodating the Thapathali squatters, demanding basic services first and that too free of cost.

“Some friends from our community have refused to accept more families as we are already struggling for the essentials,” Sijapati said.

Out of the total of 251 families displaced on May 8 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 three families to those settlemens. 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.

“Despite an initiative by Nepal Electricity Authority, Bhaktapur, the municipality rejected our plea, citing a legal provision prohibiting the landless from getting electricity that the government supplies to those possessing land ownership certificates,” said Sijapati.

He claimed that people from his community spent Rs 463, 000 for installing the electricity supply and that went in vain following the municipality´s refusal to register identities. Around 800 families are said to be living in the area with poor hygiene and drinking water quality.

Similarly, the squatters at Bansighat and Shankhamul have also come forward with their own demands. Indra Tamang, chief of Nepal Settlement Protection Society (NSPS), said he has failed to establish communications jointly with KVTDA chief Keshav Sthapit and leaders from the three squatter settlements.

“Though Sthapit has assured us of speedy rehabilitation, he has declined to sit for talks jointly with all the stakeholders following objections from our own community,” said Tamang, adding, “It´s hard to say when the issue will be resolved”.

Meanwhile, Sthapit has said he won´t speak about the squatters. “I´ll speak once I have done the preparatory work.”

 Source: My Republica Daily
Published on 2012-08-14 06:00:23