Landless squatters make a significant chunk of Nepal’s population; as of May, about 4, 00,000 people had applied for government recognition as landless squatters. A huge number of them have made Kathmandu their homes, living under the makeshift shed-like structures or poorly built houses in the slums on the bank of Bagmati and Bisnumai Rivers. The settlement area has poor sanitation and water supply services, thus making their lives even more unsafe and unhealthy. Therefore, when, Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority (KVDTA) and the High-powered Committee for Integrated Development of Bagmati Civilization (HCIDBC) used three bulldozers with massive security backup—around 1,800 Armed Police Force (APF) and Nepal Police personnel—last Tuesday to drive the squatters away from Thapathali areas, it was like pushing the unfortunate people from the frying pan into the fire. It was not only an act of cruelty but also a gross violation of a man’s right to live.
The evicted squatters have not found alternative accommodation since. Though (HCIDBC) had promised relocating the evicted families to Ichangunarayan of Bhaktapur, there is no progress on that front yet. A number of squatters are forced to sleep under trees or in tents in the UN park near Thapathali, vulnerable to mosquito bites that can cause diseases at night and the scorching May heat during the day. Their children cannot go to school anymore as the school has also been destroyed in eviction drive.
We are aware that not all those claiming squatters’ status are genuine. There may be a number of people, with their own houses and properties, residing along the river banks and demanding perks and pays at par with the genuine squatters. The government must identify genuine ones from among the lot and take legal action against the fake ones. But for the moment, it must reach out to those rendered homeless by Tuesday’s eviction.
It is heartening that Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai personally approached the evicted squatters on Sunday and apologized for lack of coordination between concerned authorities that led to eviction without proper homework. His commitment to build a home for them is welcome. But if Bhattarai and KVDTA head Keshav Staphit had made arrangements for relocating the squatters before forcing them out of their homes, they would not have had to bear the brunt of homelessness. The Thapathali case should thus be a lesson for the authorities to take adequate measures and exercise cautions before launching eviction drives elsewhere in the country. For now, Bhattarai has promised to locate them in Chobhar, besides assuring them of houses in the future. We hope this is not merely a statement made in the midst of emotions and that he will walk his talk. Landless squatters who have been rendered homeless deserve to be treated with dignity