Tundikhel in its entirety should be open for public useThe city's open spaces should be given back to the people.
Tundikhel has been described by the public, particularly in recent months, as the ‘lungs of Kathmandu’. This perhaps alludes less to the fact that it produces a lot of oxygen—it doesn’t have that many trees—and more to the idea that it is a large open space that people for centuries have used for recreation, theatre, religious events, and even protests. But for years, the space has been encroached upon and divided. Some of these divisions in the past have actually added value to Tundikhel. Some ideas, like handing over the southern portion of the grounds to the army, along with nearly half of the main ground, has shown to be not the best of ideas over the years. However, making use of Khula Manch—what can be described as the platform that propelled democracy in the country—as parking space and a temporary bus park has been disastrous. Kathmandu is seriously lacking in public open spaces. The authorities need to do everything in their power to protect spaces like Tundikhel and open them up for the benefit of the people.
Tundikhel once constituted one large ground nearly 4 kilometres long, from Rani Pokhari to Dashrath Stadium. Over the years, successive governments divided the ground into small parts. King Pratap Malla directed for Rani Pokhari to be built in 1671. Beginning in the 1960s, Ratna Park and Khula Manch were separated, as was Dashrath Stadium. But throughout all of this, consultations with city residents were negligible. Most often, they didn’t occur at all. Nevertheless, whatever the original motive, all of these developments gave something back to the people; the park added to the aesthetics, and the stadium brought formalised sports closer to the heart of the city.
From the beginning of the 19th century, the ground began to be used for military parades, as an attempt to project institutional power. These actions brought the army closer to Tundikhel. By the late 20th century, the Nepal Army had not only cordoned off most of the main field (to be used for parades exclusively) but had also encroached upon the portion south of Shahid Gate. Embarrassingly, what started off as an army officer’s recreational area would for years be used as a banquet hall for private events. Against all protests, the army continues to build new structures on the field, even as the general public is not allowed to use them.
More recently, the Khula Manch portion has been misused and abused by private parties and the land mafia. In 2016, the government handed over a contract to build a new bus terminal and viewing tower at Old Bus Park to Jaleshwor Swachhanda Bkoi Builders. The constructors ended up illegally constructing and renting out over 40 commercial units to shopkeepers. Three years on, construction work at Old Bus Park remains slow, even as Khula Manch remains encroached upon. Half of the main ground of Tundikhel remains inaccessible to the public.
Following popular protests over controversial actions taken over guthis, medical education and free speech, among others, the people finally seem to have had enough of the misuse of the open space at Tundikhel. Next Saturday, November 9, the local-led Occupy Tundikhel movement aims to highlight ever-shrinking open space issue by surrounding Tundikhel. This peaceful protest should be lauded and commended. While open spaces are usually used for recreation, cultural activities and for an escape to breathe freely—away from cramped urban living—they are also useful during emergencies. Tundikhel was used during both the 1934 and 2015 earthquakes as temporary shelter by the survivors who had nowhere else to reside. The authorities at all levels need to understand that open spaces are necessary for all urban dwellers. They should be given back to the people.
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