Reconstruction of a 251-year-old hiti and falcha upsets activistsHeritage activists claim the reconstruction work, carried out under the leadership of mayor Madan Sundar Shrestha, is disrespectful of people’s cultural sentiments.
There were talks that the location of the hiti and the falcha would be shifted a little, but the mayor rubbished the rumours, say activists.
“Relocating the hiti and falcha elsewhere will ruin our heritage,” mayor Shrestha can be seen saying on a video where he is speaking to locals and activists. “We have already allocated the budget. We will not let the contractors build the road until this hiti is rebuilt,” he says.
Today, the work on the hiti is complete and work on the falcha is almost complete too. But heritage activists are saying that the mayor has not kept his promise: while the hiti has been made in the exact same manner, the falcha hasn’t, which resulted in a heated tussle between them and the user committee responsible for the restoration project on Saturday.
Heritage activist Anish Baidhya says that they had to intervene and stop the user committee from making the falcha, as the location was changed. “This is a place which is 251 years old. It holds cultural significance for the Awale guthi. When the mayor told us he’d make it exactly the same way as it was before, we applauded him. We now realise those were just lies,” says Baidhya.
After realising the falcha wasn’t being built in the same place, Baidhya along with other activists filed a complaint at the Department of Archeology, in August. The Supreme Court also granted them a request which asked the municipality to stop the construction until the issue was resolved.
“But they didn’t heed to any of the orders. They built the place during the prohibitory orders when no one was around. And now they don't even want to face our questions,” says Baidhya.
The group of conservationists say that when they tried to hold a discussion with the user committee incharge of the project, the committee’s members told them that the mayor had given them the green light to continue the project.
“Not once did he try to hold an official discussion to explain his actions. We cannot trust the words of someone who we voted to be in power,” says Baidhya.
Meanwhile, mayor Shrestha asserts that he said nothing about the falcha being built in the same place and instead insists that the falcha had to be relocated as it was on the ‘right of way’ on the construction project.
“If you watch the video, I’ve told them that I’d not let the contractors destroy the hiti as it was not in the ‘right of way’. The falcha, however, was, which is why the committee decided to shift it and put it behind the hiti,” says Shrestha, who adds that Saturday’s unrest is part of a propaganda to defame him in the community. Constructing the falcha behind the hiti has not been traditionally practised.
He also says that the municipality has received no document yet asking them to stop the construction. However, Ram Kunwar, spokesperson at the Department of Archeology, says that they have sent an official letter to the Thimi Municipality asking them to stop the construction of the falcha, as it did not meet heritage guidelines.
“Yes, we did get a letter from the DOA and the Bhaktapur Durbar Herchaha Adda telling us not to do it. But I replied with a letter of my own questioning what they were doing when the falcha and hiti were being destroyed and left in a sorry state. I'm yet to receive a reply,” says Shrestha.
Baidhya also said that the municipality didn’t even adhere to an order given by the Supreme Court asking the municipality to stop construction work until discussions were held.
“We filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court stating the falcha was being made wrongly. The court even gave a statement asking the municipality to stop construction until the issue was discussed in court. But they didn't respect the court statements which is why we have formally asked the court to send them an interim order,” says Baidhya.
The mayor denies getting any such order officially from the court. “They say that they have orders from the court asking us not to construct the falcha. But the order is neither at the district administration office nor at the municipality office. We cannot stop work just because they say they have one,” says mayor Shrestha.
The mayor further added that most of the activists were there just to create nuisance as part of a propaganda to defame him. He said he’s seen most of them in all the protest against the decisions he has made since being mayor. “Whenever we are doing something for the community, the same guys come up and tell us what wrong we are doing. It’s like they are habituated to doing this,” says Shrestha.
He even said that the activists might have been deployed by the ward office to defame him.
But Baidhya says such claims are baseless and that all they care about is to restore the monuments in the right manner. He adds that even for the hiti, the committee and the municipality hasn’t followed the heritage conservation frameworks
“They have shifted the hiti too, but we didn’t say much in that regard, as it was only by a few feet. But something more problematic is that if you look at the hiti carefully, at the top left corner of the hiti, you’ll see that there is a sewage cover. There is a gutter flowing below the hiti. How can we call such acts respectful of heritage and conservation?” questions Baidhya.
Mayor Shrestha acknowledges that the committee made a mistake by building the hiti over a sewer and said they will be addressing the issue. But he adds that the work that’s been completed under his leadership is still a successful “heritage restoration” project.
“As far as the hiti is concerned it is heritage restoration. There are no two ways about it. If a place can be called a heritage monument when left in ruins, why can't it be called when it looks like what it does right now?” says Shrestha.
But activists like Baidhya aren't happy with such answers.
“I know he’s done good work when it comes to heritage restoration but this is unacceptable. He knows what is restoration and what isn’t. It's evident that he feels that he can do whatever he wants. But we will not let this issue go away easily,” says Baidhya.