Listen to the peopleThe newly elected government came to power campaigning primarily on stability and development. And its chief priority is to establish massive infrastructure projects, invite foreign investments and jumpstart economic growth.
The newly elected government came to power campaigning primarily on stability and development. And its chief priority is to establish massive infrastructure projects, invite foreign investments and jumpstart economic growth.
Still, there is a need for caution and sensitivity. Aggressive development pushed in a centralised and top-down manner cannot be a panacea for Nepal’s ills. Development has to serve the people and improve their livelihoods. The way that things are headed in Nepal today, much planned development activity seems destructive in nature.
A case in point can be seen in Khokana, an old Newari settlement in Lalitpur. There are currently five planned development projects in Khokana—an expressway, the Outer Ring Road Development Project, the Bagmati Corridor, a satellite city and a high-tension power line.
The residents of Khokana have been up in arms about these projects. They claim that these projects would take up over 60 percent of the land in Khokana. The projects would encroach upon archaeological sites, the local temple and the area where jatras are held. This would cause irreparable harm to the livelihoods of people in Khokana. It would shatter their social and cultural worlds, which have been cultivated so carefully for centuries.
While Khokana’s residents have been protesting against these projects for some time now, their ire has been roused most recently; the Nepal Army (NA) has now moved into the area to start building the Kathmandu-Tarai expressway.
The task of the government is to immediately withdraw the NA from the area and temporarily halt construction on the expressway. The grievances of the locals need to be heard.
There have been several occasions in the past when locals met with political leaders and the NA to resolve their concerns. A meeting held in August last year decided that land would be pooled between three projects—the Outer Ring Road, the high-tension power line and the Bagmati Corridor. Then, earlier this year, there was a decision to change the alignment of the Expressway project to prevent it from encroaching upon sites of historical and cultural value. Finally, there has also been an informal decision to re-survey the area and revise the compensation scheme to be provided to locals.
All these proposals need to be operationalised in a systematic manner. New plans and maps need to be prepared so as to assure locals of Khokana that their heritage sites will be left intact. An agreement on compensation rates acceptable to locals must be reached.
Only then should the infrastructure projects be allowed to proceed. Granted, these measures might be time consuming. But they are essential to prevent the state from riding roughshod over the land, livelihood and culture of local communities.