Concern grows over reconstruction authority taking charge of Ghantaghar projectConservationists say the job of retrofitting the clock tower should be given to local government as the National Reconstruction Authority’s term is expiring in three months.
Finance Minister Janardan Sharma in the revised budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 presented on September 10 announced a plan to renovate the country’s oldest Tri-Chandra College building and retrofit the Ghantaghar clock tower.
In line with the government plan, the National Reconstruction Authority has taken charge of the project. The authority has announced that it has already prepared a detailed project report (DPR) to retrofit Ghantaghar, and is working out a plan to renovate the Tri-Chandra College. However, the Department of Archaeology says it has not received any formal letter from the reconstruction authority about the Ghantaghar retrofitting plan.
Heritage activists, meanwhile, have criticised the authority taking charge of the project when its term is nearing end. The term of the NRA is set to expire in mid-December. Also, they have accused the NRA of taking the decision unilaterally.
Before carrying out reconstruction, renovation or any task in the existing historical monuments, the authorities must obtain permission from the Department of Archaeology.
“I have not received any formal letter from the authority until now and have not been informed about it,” said Damodar Gautam, director general of the department.
Sushil Gyewali, chief executive officer of the authority, however, claimed that his office prepared the DPR to retrofit Ghantaghar after consulting the Department of Archeology.
“Last year we didn’t have the budget needed for Ghantaghar restoration. We have estimated that the work will require around Rs400 million and have requested the Ministry of Finance for the funds,” said Gyewali.
He said the authority will start the bidding process for the work once their request is approved by the Finance Ministry and the National Planning Commission.
“Retrofitting the monument means everything will remain intact. And if it needs renovation, there will be no distortion to its original structure,” said Gyewali.
He said the project will be completed in a year and a half.
Ghantaghar, which literally translates into ‘bell tower,’ stands on the eastern part of the Rani Pokhari pond and on the premises of the Tri-Chandra Campus. The ‘bell tower’ situated in the heart of Kathmandu was built in 1894 by Rana Prime Minister Bir Shumsher. Ghantaghar that stands today was rebuilt after it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1990 BS.
“It has both historical and archeological significance. We can retrofit it only after its structural assessment. However, there has not been any consultation on the matter,” said Gautam, the director general at the Department of Archaeology.
Conservationists and heritage activists, meanwhile, are opposed to NRA’s involvement in the project.
“How can the NRA, whose term is expiring in a few months, can be assigned such a project? Instead this project should have been assigned to the local government,” said Alok Siddhi Tuladhar, a heritage conservationist.
Conservationists have also demanded that the Ancient Monument Preservation Act 2013 should dictate the way Ghantaghar is retrofitted or renovated.
The act states that structures over a hundred years old must be preserved in their original design.
“We have already seen how the reconstructions of Rani Pokhari and Dharahara were carried out. Those who plan to renovate Ghantaghar should know that they are dealing with a historical monument,” said Tuladhar.
He said the public should not be kept in the dark when it comes to the renovation or reconstruction of a cultural heritage.
It’s not only conservationists who have shown their concerns, former prime minister and leader of opposition CPN-UML KP Oli has time and again accused the incumbent government of ‘trying to demolish Ghantaghar, after seeing the Dharahara tower rebuilt by his government’.
Speaking at a function on Thursday, Oli had accused the present government of trying to demolish Ghantaghar. “They can’t restore Ghantaghar, the only thing they can do is to destroy it, I can directly challenge that they can’t build Ghantaghar, so they should not destroy it,” said Oli.
Conservationist Tuladhar, who has long been fighting to preserve the heritage sites, accused the Oli government of erecting a ‘duplicate Dharahara’. “During Oli’s tenure, both Rani Pokhari and Dharahara were constructed in haste and inaugurated before completion just to take the credit,” said Tuladhar.