Amid protest and praise, road expansion drive continues
KATHMANDU, Aug 29: A campaign that once began with demolition of mere traffic island in few places in the Capital was never expected to turn into a national drive.
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai was often criticized by opposition leaders who said, “Bhattarai is much like the Kathmandu Mayor rather than the PM.” But strong political backing for government officials helped repossess much land along the 104 km of roads in the Capital within a year.
Right after holding the position, Bhattarai directed the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (MTPD) to manage the valley traffic in response to the numbers of calls received in his Hello Sarkar campaign on traffic jam complaints. To manage traffic congestion under the existing road conditions was difficult for the traffic police. Thus, the MTPD collaborated with Kathmandu Valley Town Development Committee (KVTDC) to expand roads on either side of the roads and sub-roads, thus reclaiming public land.
Amid much controversy and praise, the road expansion drive continues to bulldoze illegal construction up to 25 metres on either side of the road as per the building code 1975.
The case of demolition of the boundary wall of Hotel Everest, New Baneshwar in November was taken to the Supreme Court by the hotel owners claiming that the authority could expand only 25 feet on either side of the road. Nevertheless, the Everest Hotel case gave momentum to the demolition drive as the apex court order appeared in favor of the KVTDC.
But furios locals of Maharajgunj, Baluwatar, Lazimpat, Kamalpokari and Tahachal area staged a phase-wise protest terming the government’s attitude as “Osama Bin Laden terror”.
“The way government is destroying private property reminds us of Laden’s attack on the Twin tower in the US,” said Dipak KC, coordinator of Road Victim’s struggle committee. He claimed that there has been a loss of Rs 4.25 billion property due to expansion till date.
In response to KC, officials say that the government connot provide compensation for the houses constructed on public land and made profit over the years. “The law mandates us to fine the encroachers upto Rs 100,000 but we have been flexible enough and no one has been fined till date,” said Bhai Kaji Tiwari, chief of the then KVTDC which has currently transformed into Kathmandu Town Development Authority after the formation of Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority in April.
“Only three houses demolished till now were found to have been constructed by following set legal criteria. They have been reimbursed,” Tiwari said.
Contrary to KC’s view, Bina Shrestha, resident of Lazimpat area feels that the drive would leave a positive impact on the long run. “Roads are narrow as so many people have captured public land, it is wise to follow the law while construction,” said Shrestha.
The campaign also faced barrier in other districts as well. But, the directive from the top executive had to be followed by local officials despite obstructions from the local leaders, says Mahendra Subba chief of the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction (DUDBC).
As a result, the expansion campaign spread to four sub-metropolitan cities - Lalitpur, Birgunj, Pokhara and Biratnagar in February and March. Similarly, Makawanpur, Chitwan, Tanahun and Butwal were among other municipalities to follow the campaign.
The DUDBC has not collected the data of the expanded roads and expenditure across the country. But the Kathmandu Valley data shows Rs 30 million was spent last year on bulldozing the illegal structures. “The biggest achievement of this campaign is a change in public attitude,” said Tiwari adding, “Now, there is a fear that houses will be domilished if they are built on public land.”
As many as 425 houses were partially demolished in the capital whereas 100 others were completely taken out.
But bringing corrupt officials who granted illegal permit for construction over the years still remains. The PM himself has said that those officials should be brought to justice.
“It is the turn of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority to book the corrupt officials who deliberately granted fake permit to public for construction,” Tiwari said.
According to him, the government action against those ‘crooked’ former and current officials would give a psychological relief to the owners whose houses were recently demolished. Meanwhile, the criticism regarding the construction of roads in demolished area has also minimized as the Department of Road has already begun its project worth Rs 450 million for construction in different cities.