National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) had announced in November last year that it would train additional 54,000 masons to build earthquake-resilient structures by mid-January. The government has expressed commitment for expediting reconstruction of heritage sites destroyed by 2015 devastating earthquakes a number of times. A number of NGOs and INGOs have also spent huge amount of money in the name of training masons. But if we go by the reports on the ground, we neither have the required number of trained masons nor the much-needed materials for timely reconstruction of heritage sites. Take the case of Basantapur Durbar Square, a UNESCO world heritage site. The work has been hampered due to acute shortage of traditional construction materials and skilled manpower. Hanuman Dhoka and Gaddi Baithak—being reconstructed with financial and technical assistance from Chinese government and USAID respectively—have faced the same fate. The Department of Forest has failed to supply enough wood required for the reconstruction. Malla-era structures at Hanuman Dhoka require bricks and woodcrafts as used in the mid-sixteenth century. But this is in short supply.
Understandably, procuring such materials and training people to restore heritage sites to the original state is hard. It is a time-taking exercise as well. But given the time and resources we have spent for this cause over the last three years, these excuses are hard to justify. Thus the Department of Archeology should coordinate with related ministries and other bodies to ensure enough supply of traditional construction materials and also train new manpower to meet the reconstruction demand without delays. NRA should also make it a top priority. This, however, is not to suggest that NRA is sitting idle. Over the past few months, reconstruction of private homes has gained momentum though many more houses are yet to be built. It should have worked for reconstruction of historical sites at the same speed.
The slow pace of reconstruction of heritage sites has cost us a lot. Tourism has been the first casualty. In the last three years visiting tourists have nothing more to see in Kathmandu than those beautiful Malla era places and other historical sites lying in ruins. If the process of procuring traditional materials is slow, we must speed up the process. If there are bureaucratic hurdles, they must be removed. With the powerful government in place, lack of materials and trained manpower must not be allowed to become yet another excuse for slow reconstruction. Nepal’s heritage sites are proud symbols of our rich history and culture. They must be brought back to their earlier shape without any delay. Perhaps Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation should take up the matter. In three years, we should have been able to restore all damaged structures. But it has not happened despite all the talks and ample time. Further neglect and delay will be a shame.