Elusive government grantsA high-level team of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) toured the districts of Ramechhap, Dolakha and Sindhupalchok last January to check the status of reconstruction activities since the 2015 earthquake.
A high-level team of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) toured the districts of Ramechhap, Dolakha and Sindhupalchok last January to check the status of reconstruction activities since the 2015 earthquake. They interacted with the district headquarters and communities in remote areas. During the field visit, local elected representatives and community members complained that the NRA district offices only acted as ‘post offices’. They confined themselves to forwarding letters or grievances to the Kathmandu office without addressing them locally even though they were authorised to do so.
During the community visits, earthquake victims and beneficiaries expressed the following grievances. One, a shortage of skilled masons has pushed up wages beyond what poor families can afford. Two, the supply of timber is inadequate and it is very expensive. Three, prices of cement and other construction materials have jumped as all quake survivors started rebuilding their homes at the same time. Four, homeowners lack land ownership documents as some of them still live in joint families. For this reason, they have not been able to get the second instalment of the government grant. Five, if no road access to the property is shown in the cadastral map, the engineer does not issue a recommendation for a government grant. Six, in some rural areas, there is no water to construct houses. In parts of Ramechhap, people have to buy drinking water. Seven, even though some houses have been completed, the engineer does not issue a recommendation because it does not adhere to the reconstruction manual. Eight, even if the engineer issues a recommendation for the next instalment, it takes a long time to get the money from the bank because they are not very cooperative and people have to make several trips.
Similarly, people in Sigati, Bigu Rural Municipality of Dolakha complained that they have to make a three-day trip to Manthali, Ramechhap to get the government grant. Travel expenses come to Rs3,000-5,000. Besides, there is the danger of robbers, so they have to disguise themselves as a wedding party in order to avoid hassles.
Maze full of obstacles
During the interaction at district level, elected ward members, chairpersons, deputy mayors and mayors presented a list of complaints. Firstly, the engineers do not remain in the community for more than a month. Second, building houses according to the manual is difficult. In addition, the NRA has announced that bank loans will be issued, but the local NRA office does not know anything about this. Four, the NRA does not address grievances even after making repeated requests.
Five, the local indigenous people have a tradition of dividing the family property after four to five generations, but the NRA has asked them to produce separate land ownership documents from before April 2015—which is not possible. As a result, they cannot get the government grants. Six, the NRA has asked homeowners to prepare a building plan, obtain approval from the local government, construct the house as per the NRA manual, build a pit latrine and install solar panels, all of which cost a lot of money, but they cannot get bank loans.
Seven, some people rebuilt their homes after the quake, but the NRA said that it was not consistent with the guidelines and consequently was not safe. Eight, people have to make several trips to the bank to get their money. Nine, the policy of collective loan is not practical because banks do not provide loans against collective collateral.
Meanwhile, district line agencies complained to the NRA that, first of all, local elected bodies did not deal with people’s grievances at the local level and issued recommendations for government grants to unlisted households. In addition, homeowners are required to submit a cadastral map, but the survey office in Ramechhap lacks staff to provide these maps. Likewise, due to the reconstruction deadline, most of the earthquake victims started to construct their houses and prices of building materials went up. Registered tenants have received the first instalment of the government grant, but due to lack of land ownership documents and cadastral maps, they have not been able to get the second instalment even though they completed their houses. Finally, the NRA has announced that home builders will be provided bank loans, but the district level banks are not aware of this.
Basnet is a PhD researcher on the de-peasantisation process in Nepal, Rhodes University, South Africa