Shopkeepers of Kathmandu Durbar Square decry City’s eviction planThey say they have been paying rent to Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Museum Development Committee.
When the workers of Kathmandu Metropolitan City made a loudspeaker announcement to vacate the shops north of Juddha Fire Brigade Office at Kathmandu Durbar Square recently, Bhim Nidhi Adhikari was shocked and confused.
The 39-year-old has been selling pashmina products from one of the shops in the area for the past 15 years. He said the City had not issued any formal notice to the local shop owners about its evacuation plan.
“The City workers arrived unannounced and told us to vacate our shops. We have been doing business here after fulfilling all legal parameters,” Adhikari said. How can the City order us to remove our shops without any justification?”
Adhikari said he has invested more than Rs4.5 million in his shop and he cannot just pack up and leave.
The City’s move followed a letter it had sent to the Department of Archaeology in the first week of March, notifying about its plan to remove the shops north of Juddha Fire Brigade Office as well as those next to the Taleju Temple within a week.
In the letter, the City said it holds the authority for the preservation, repair and restoration of Kathmandu Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it was exercising its authority to remove the “unauthorised shops” in the area.
The City said that it was acting as per the authority entrusted to it by the Local Governance Act-2017, Kathmandu Metropolitan City Building Code-2018, and Ancient Monument Preservation Act-1956.
The Department of Archaeology, however, claims that the management of Kathmandu Durbar Square falls under the jurisdiction of Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Museum Development Committee.
“I don’t understand why the City sent us that letter,” Damodar Gautam, chief of the department, told the Post.
The shops that the City plans to vacate were opened as per the agreement with Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Museum Development Committee.
“There are also shops in the area that pay their rents to the City,” said Gautam, expressing bewilderment why those shops were not told to vacate.
Manoj Chauguti, who runs a restaurant opposite the Judda Fire Brigade Office, said he would go bankrupt if the City forced him to shutter his business.
“I secured this space after going through a bidding process last year. I had only just opened the restaurant when the Covid-19 pandemic struck,” he told the Post. “The business was closed for most part of last year but I had to pay the rent regardless of the lockdown.”
Chauguti said he has a lease agreement with the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Museum Development Committee to use the space for five years at a monthly rent of Rs305,000.
“It’s been only three months since I’ve opened the restaurant after the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. Now the City workers are telling me to vacate the place,” Chauguti added. “I will leave this place only if the City is ready to compensate me for my loss.”
Rabi Shrestha, another shop owner in the area, has a similar concern. Like Chauguti, he too had secured the space for his Thangka shop through a competitive bidding process and he too suffered a financial loss due to the pandemic.
“The City has added more trouble for us,” the 57-year-old said.
Due to the dearth of tourists, several shops in the area have already folded due to the pandemic. Those businesses that are still holding on are now being harassed by the City office.
Sandeep Khanal, executive director of the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Museum Development Committee, said the City was being unjust and irrational.
“We raise around Rs30 million annually from these shops and we use that money for restoration and maintenance of the heritage site.” said Khanal. “We have informed the concerned ministry about the issue. The city is taking an unlawful step.”
Khanal also accused the City of not paying the committee the money raised through ticket sales.
“The City is supposed to give the committee 25 percent of the amount it earns from ticket sales, but it has not paid a single rupee till date. The City has to pay Rs30 million to us,” he said.
The City office, meanwhile, seems dead set on removing the shops.
“Those shops should not be running inside a heritage site. The City has already sent two letters to the Department of Archaeology to remove those shops. Since it didn't listen, we are taking the necessary steps,” Dhanapati Sapkota, chief of the implementation department of the City office, told the Post.
The shop owners say what the City is intending to do is outright unlawful.
“Look at the footpaths where people are encroaching on the roads and doing business. Instead of managing them, the City is trying to evict the businesses that were opened legally,” said Adhikari, the pashmina trader.