No one can accuse Keshav Sthapit, the head of the Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority (KVTDA) which has the mandate to expand roads inside the Valley, of lack of ambition. If he had it his way, he would build ‘lover’s parks’, start a thriving settlement of squatters evicted from the banks of Bagmati, and make Kathmandu a dream city in Asia by the end of his five-year term. Under him, KVTDA has just started the road expansion drive in Lazimpat area which had been stalled owing to mounting public pressure. On assuming office, Sthapit had made public elaborate compensation schemes for those whose lands are confiscated during the drive. It is not entirely clear if it was greater government resolve or the acceptance of the inevitable by Lazimpat locals that has now allowed bulldozers into the area. Besides the agony of having to witness the abodes they have lived all their lives crumble like houses of cards, another of their major concerns has been what happens next.
If the reconstruction effort on expanded roads in rest of the capital is any indication, it will be a long time before Lazimpat will witness smooth traffic and residents are freed from hassles of traversing potholed, muddy roads—the reconstruction phase is to begin only at the end of monsoon, sometime in September. The comment of Dr Bhaikaji Tiwari, district commissioner of KVTDA, that “it’s a tragedy…other government bodies, which are responsible for reconstructing…have failed to catch up our speed at which we are now removing illegally-constructed structures” would be amusing were the issue not so serious. It’s no rocket science: It is always harder to build something worthwhile than to destroy it. This, once again, suggests a glaring lack of coordination between government agencies. It is unacceptable to make people suffer—from having them to travel on muddy, potholed roads to putting them at heightened risk of water-borne communicable diseases at the height of monsoon.
At a minimum, the government must speed up its efforts to clear the debris from roadside, even if it cannot start blacktopping right away. Nearly six months after the demolition of roadside structures, huge swathes of the Valley continue to wear a desolate look, “reminiscent of Dresden
[the German city that witnessed widespread destruction] during the Second World War” in the words of one German tourist. The widened roads are truly ugly with stray telephone cables, twisted electricity pylons and water-filled potholes. Blaming bandas and fuel shortage for the delay in reconstruction, as government officials are doing, is a cheap cop out.
The authorities had people believe that debris would be cleared and reconstruction started within a few months when the expansion started more than seven months ago. With Sthapit’s appointment as KVTDA chief, great hopes were pinned on the man often regarded as the best mayor Kathmandu has had. It is up to Sthapit and his colleagues as well as other government bodies they are working in concert with to convince Kathmandu denizens that their heart is in right place and no effort would be spared to expedite reconstruction efforts. Perhaps Sthapit understands that as hard it is to build reputation, a small brick at a time, it is as easy for it to come crashing down in no time at all.