Activists criticise City for covering Lainchaur ground with artificial turfKathmandu metropolis has tasked Ncell with developing a ‘park’ on the ground spread over 0.45 hectares from Dairy Development Corporation to Shanti Vidyagriha Secondary School.
Seventy-five years old Bhim Kumari Khatri of Sorhakhutte still remembers going to Lainchaur ground and soaking in the sun during the winter in her childhood days. She along with her family members and neighbours would spend most of their winter days on the ground chatting and playing.
“Now it’s fenced from all sides. Instead of plants and greenery they have converted it into an artificial park with synthetic turf. They say they are making a football ground and a basketball court here, ” said Khatri, who runs a small shop on the western edge of the ground.
“I don’t know if they will allow us to go inside. Initially I had thought they were going to make a natural park like the one at Narayanchaur in Naxal, but Lainchaur now looks like a cage,” said Khatri.
Lainchaur ground had given shelter to hundreds of families during the 2015 earthquakes. People pitched tents and lived on the ground for several weeks after the earthquake.
Another local from Samakhushi, Pavitra Bajracharya, 63, also expressed his unhappiness over the new look of the ground. “I grew up playing football here on the muddy ground. This was also the place for farmers to put their freshly harvested paddy to dry in the sun. Now that they have fenced it and laid a new turf, I doubt they will allow us in anymore,” said Bajracharya, a social worker.
Officials said over 80 percent of the Lainchaur ground will be a mini football ground and the remaining a basketball court. And they are also constructing a park for children and an open gym on the ground.
Locals, conservationists and environmentalists have termed the work myopic.
“The City should have taken a natural approach to beautify its public spaces,” said Ganapati Lal Shrestha, one of the campaigners of ‘Occupy Tundikhel’ campaign in 2019, which was launched to reclaim the vast encroached open public space in the heart of the city.
“This clearly shows the insensitivity of the City and its mayor [Bidya Sundar] Shakya,” added Shrestha, while urging everyone to protest against the City’s such moves.
According to City officials, they have given the ground spread over nine ropani [0.45 hectare] between the Dairy Development Corporation and Shanti Vidyagriha Secondary School to Ncell Axiata Limited for beautification under the latter’s corporate social responsibility.
Khem Raj Tiwari, chairman of the City’s Ward 26, where the ground is located, said Ncell has spent around Rs 50 million to convert the Lainchaur ground into a park. He said his ward has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ncell.
“For many years it was a neglected piece of land. Actually Mayor Shakya was planning to convert a part of the ground into an elevator parking lot, but we wanted to make it a better place,” said Tiwari.
“This space has remained a playground and we are just making it better,” added Tiwari.
A press statement on the Ncell website says they are beautifying the ground into a park under its corporate social responsibility initiative. Ncell has been maintaining greenery along the 10.5km stretch of the Koteshwar-Kalanki section of the Ring Road.
But not only the locals and heritage activists, environmentalists are also unhappy with the new look of the Launchaur ground. Bhusan Tuladhar, an environmentalist who closely follows urban issues including pollution called it unfortunate. “They should have promoted natural greenery, not artificial.”
“Kathmandu has already turned into a concrete city and natural spaces are shrinking by the day. Kathmandu’s bird habitats have almost disappeared so we should be working to create natural spaces.”
Nabin Adhikari, the owner of Ishara Services, the firm tasked by Ncell with beautifying the park said they have constructed 12 wells, each 12 feet deep, for recharging groundwater. He also said they have simply leveled the ground and laid artificial turf on it without using cement or concrete.
“We are going to plant over 40 plants of different varieties including trees and hedges,” said Adhikari.
Bajracharya, the local, meanwhile, worried whether the ground would remain open to commoners. “They have already deployed a guard and soon they might lock the gate and allow in only select people,” he said.