Rani Pokhari used to be a rare place to ponder and marvel at its beauty in Kathmandu, a major attraction for visitors—foreign and native alike. The fact that it was built by king Pratap Malla some 400 years ago to console his queen who was distraught after their son was killed by an elephant, as the belief goes, and he had collected waters from various holy places and river confluences from Nepal and India such as Gosaikunda, Muktinath, Badrinath, Kedarnath to sanctify the pond has added religious, cultural and historical importance to the pond. This pond and the temple inside it, which were damaged by earthquakes in 2015, should have been restored to previous form already. Instead of doing so, the actors responsible for its speedy reconstruction are disputing how to do so. Bidya Sundar Shakya and Hari Prabha Khadgi, Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, are currently engaged in a row over Rani Pokhari reconstruction.
Two years have passed since President Bidya Devi Bhandari inaugurated the reconstruction project, which was supposed to be completed last December. The new elected heads represent a classic failure of our local governance system: lofty promises and almost zero delivery. Rani Pokhari reconstruction fiasco is only the symptom of deeper structural problems with the smooth functioning of our government systems. How is it possible for Kathmandu municipality to award contracts to rebuild Rani Pokhari without proper consultation with the Department of Archeology? Before jumping off to award contract, KMC should have discussed the project with heritage experts and also the public to get a better sense of the rebuilding process. KMC mayor Shakya is nowhere to be seen. He rarely interacts with the public, and seems full of himself. Judging from his conduct of the last six plus months, Shakya is least bothered about the smooth functioning of the city, forget about list of 101 things he promised to do in the first 100 days in office.
Hundreds of heritages were destroyed during the earthquake, and many remain under woeful condition waiting to be rebuilt. The massive mismanagement of resources and overlap of responsibilities among different government agencies have complicated already snail-paced reconstruction. People are forced to spend three consecutive winters under make-shift tents. Their stories have become regular affairs, nothing that arouses a sense of urgency to the people at the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). About $4.4 billion was pledged at the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction in June 2015. Our government has not received a majority of that amount. NRA is still struggling to distribute second and third tranches of the grant to the people across 14 districts. Many have given up hope on NRA. Engineers deployed on the ground to aid reconstruction were even found asking for bribes to certify houses for next tranche of grants money. Be it Rani Pokhari or individual houses, our government has failed miserably to capitalize on international attention and willingness to help rebuild. We are at a point where things have gotten messy and people have lost hope. Now that we already have elected local bodies in place, there is no way we can justify the delays in reconstruction, whether of heritages or people’s houses.