KATHMANDU, Jan 29: The concept of simultaneously developing all the three districts of the Kathmandu Valley was documented for the first time in 1988 in the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority Act that was endorsed by the then National Panchayat and approved by the late King Birendra.
The act mandated the government to form a body to press ahead with the infrastructural development of the valley with respect to its socio, economic and cultural history.
The act reads thus: “It is expedient to establish and manage the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority in order to provide essential services and facilities to the public and maintain the health, convenience and economic interests of the common people by restructuring, expanding and developing existing towns as well as ensuring physical development in a planned manner in the context of growing population and urbanization of Kathmandu Valley.”
Unfortunately, it took 24 years for such an authority to be instituted. The government formed the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority (KVDA) on April 27, 2012, to give shape to the idea envisioned over two decades ago.
Road expansion underway. (Photo: Bijay Gajmer)
The cabinet decision to form the body was not a usual one as Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai had called an emergency meeting to appoint Keshav Sthapit, the last mayor of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), as the commissioner of the KVDA.
The KVDA not only has powers to impose ban on any type of physical change in any property, but also the authority to stop any action taken without its prior approval or in violation of its given terms and conditions. It also has been empowered to carry out land development programs for the purpose of arranging residential plots and other urban activities.
Right after assuming the post, Sthapit had declared that he would expedite the ongoing project to develop the Bagmati river system, which flows through Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur districts, in coordination with the existing Bagmati Action Plan.
Thus the authority plans to merge the efforts of separate agencies working on the project to avoid duplication, curb the misuse of budget and bring the valley development into a one-window system.
The authority can play a vital role to ensure collective reconstruction efforts in the recently expanded areas of Kathmandu and Lalitpur.
When Sthapit was elected the KMC mayor in July 1997, he had quickly earned a reputation as a man of action. He gave a visible makeover to the city and expanded services despite criticisms. Sky bridges were constructed at various places and roads at Kalanki, Chabahil, Ratnapark, Tundhikhel Trichandra and Tripureshwor were widened.
But Sthapit had to taste failure in one of the very first task as KVDA chief after efforts to resettle 259 families of squatters evacuated from the bank of Bagmati River in Thapathali by the High-Level Bagmati Civilization Integrated Development in March last year ended in fiasco.
Moreover, government staff assigned to the KVDA is unhappy that Sthapit has shown no urgency to find a new office from where they could work and are upset about having to carry out the authorities work from the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works and the Ministry of Urban of Urban Development.
“We are working under uncertainties. We don´t have money to pay for the bulldozers and sometimes even to pay salaries to the staff. The commissioner should have been bold enough to bring budgets to complete the pending works,” says Bhai Kaji Tiwari, chief of the Kathmandu Development Authority.
However, Sthapit claimed that the government was responsible for the failure as it did not allocate budget for staff´s salary and other activities of KVDA.
“I had proposed to the chief secretary Lila Mani Poudel and Kishor Thapa, secretary at the Ministry of Urban Development to institute a Rs 1 billion fund immediately to respond to the squatters´ problem,” claimed Sthapit, adding, “Bagmati area development and reconstruction works at demolished areas were also my top priorities but could not be completed due to budget deficit.”
A cabinet meeting on January 17 had sacked Sthapit from the post and appointed Engineer Yogeshwar Krishna Parajuli in his place. A high level committee formed by PM Bhattarai, who also heads the urban development ministry, had reported that the work done by Sthapit as the KVDA commissioner in the last 10 months was inadequate.
Following the sack, Sthapit filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court maintaining that he had done a lot in his capacity despite no cooperation from the government.
The Supreme Court issued an interim order on Friday against the decision to sack Sthapit from the post of commissioner of the KVDA. Besides, the court has also sought a written clarification from the government about the decision.
The court has also ordered the government not to appoint anyone on the post for the time being. As per the apex court, neither Sthapit nor Parajuli can claim the post until the case is settled at the judiciary.
Sthapit claimed that whoever holds the commissioner´s post would not be able to work in lack of budget and KVDA´s incomplete structure.
“Many government agencies, whose policies contradict each other´s, are involved for the same work,” he added.
Some government officials believe, if the government wins the case and succeeds in appointing Engineer Parajuli as KVDA commissioner, he can bring more clear visions to the authority.
Parajuli is a well-known name in the area of disaster risk reduction and earthquake safety in South Asia.