It is rather shameful that nearly three years after the devastating earthquakes which killed around 9,000 people and destroyed public and private properties, including heritage buildings and infrastructures, the reconstruction works have been dismal. Sixty percent of the houses still await completion, forcing the occupants to still live under temporary shelters. More than one factor accounts for this delay. For one, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) became the avenue for the political parties to appoint their loyalists. In three years, we have had four CEOs in NRA. A number of anomalies—from technical staffs of NRA such as engineers and overseers demanding additional perks to work on the ground to reported cases of these staffs demanding kickbacks to certify housing construction—have surfaced. Furthermore, the government and NRA have been working at frustratingly slow pace to distribute the promised reconstruction grants and interest-free loans.
Of the 767,705 houses identified as eligible recipients for housing reconstruction aid, only 11 percent of private homes have been reconstructed so far. In many of the villages, the victims are still waiting for reconstruction grants—one of the main reasons for delay. Even those who have completed roofing level are still waiting for the money. Besides, government’s scheme of interest-free housing loan of up to Rs 300,000 has remained only a promise. Though the decision to provide an interest-free loan of Rs 300,000 was unveiled in the budget of fiscal year 2016/17, not a single victim has benefitted from this scheme. Ministry of Finance, that was tasked to set up a separate fund for this purpose, has not been able to do so. Political parties have made reconstruction grants a means to secure their vote banks. While the government of Pushpa Kamal Dahal raised housing grants from Rs 200,000 to Rs 300,000, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba recently announced additional Rs 100,000 to reconstruction aid, in what has been criticized as a thoughtless move that will add billions to the national exchequer.
Instead of increasing reconstruction grants every year, we need to first provide what has been promised. If the reconstruction grants had been distributed on time, most of the houses would have been completed by now. The first step of action should be to monitor the progress in reconstruction and provide the grants to those who have built the houses following NRA’s standards. Besides, if the interest-free loan process was made easy with a proper mechanism to ensure the loans would be repaid, earthquake victims would have completed reconstruction with ease. Three years feel like ages for the victims who are battling with heat, cold and rain. Reconstruction cannot wait, nor can the desperate victims. We urge the government and the NRA to expedite the work and fulfill the pledge they have made so far. Further delay will only worsen the condition of earthquake survivors.