KATHMANDU, Feb 11: Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has directed all the three major government agencies -- which are at the helm of the ongoing road expansion drive in the Kathmandu valley -- to not demolish any of the illegally-built physical structures along the Lainchaur-Narayangopal chowk road before drawing a detailed map.
At a recent meeting attended by officials from the Kathmandu Valley Town Development Committee (KVTDC), the Department of Roads (DoR) and the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Division (KMTPD), Bhattarai also instructed them to propose a plan for categorizing houses -- which may be demolished while expanding the Lainchaur-Narayangopal chowk stretch by 11 meters on either side -- to provide compensation.
A technical team of KVTDC is all set to start a comprehensive survey for drawing the detailed map of the Lainchaur-Narayangopal chowk stretch -- which runs through Lazimpat and Maharajgunj area -- from February 12. If everything goes as planned, the team is likely to finish its work within the next two weeks.
According to Dr Bhaikaji Tiwari, Chief Urban Planner at the KVTDC -- which is overseeing the demolition of illegal structures -- the survey map will be full of details like exact lengths and breadths of the road and pavement, total number of houses, including those built without the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC)-approved designs and all physical structures that encroach the road area.
“In essence, when the map is finalized, we will know how many houses will have to be bulldozed,” says Dr Tiwari, adding, “We will also know which houses will be demolished partly and which houses fully.”
Last Saturday, as part of widening the Lainchaur-Narayangopal chowk road, compound walls of Standard Chartered Bank, Department of Mines and Geology and Shankar Hotel were bulldozed. The expansion work has not progressed along this road since.
“It was a symbolic beginning,” says Dr Tiwari. “Some people suspected that we would not enter into Lazimpat-Maharajgunj area where most influential people live. The demolition of three compound walls was a message to them that we will not back off under pressure. Sooner or later, we will definitely widen this road.”
KVTDC says it has expanded altogether 18 km roads in the valley as of now. The widening of the Lainchaur-Maharajgunj road may not be very important in terms of kilometres as the KVDC needs to expand about 400 km roads to ease the valley’s traffic problems.
However, it will definitely boost the confidence of the officials in the face of PM Bhattarai -- who once publicly backed them -- showing signs of wavering by ordering them to prepare a map of a particular area.
Even if KVTDC comes up with a detailed plan, the issue of compensation to those whose houses will be bulldozed while widening the Lainchaur-Narayangopal chowk road will still remain unsettled.
There is no doubt that the government will provide compensation to those whose houses will be demolished. However, questions over whether all or only those who built houses with the KMC-approved designs will receive compensation will definitely be raised.
“Only those who built their houses before 2033 BS -- the year when the government first introduced the standards about the valley roads -- will be entitled to compensation,” says Tulasi Sitaula, secretary of the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works (MoPPW).
“Those who built their houses after 2033 BS will not be compensated even if they have the KMC-approved designs. Instead, those government officials who approved the designs of houses -- which have been built against the valley road standards -- will be punished.”
However, locals have demanded more. They say the money for rebuilding the demolished houses is not the only thing they are seeking. “We need compensation for our land as well,” says Dipak KC, coordinator of a struggle committee formed by locals from Lazimpat-Maharajgunj area. “Our forefathers have provided lands to the government time and again in the past. We can no longer give our land without compensation.”
Dr Tiwari says the compensation for land is simply not possible. “The price of erstwhile cheap lands hit the ceiling after the government built roads,” says Dr Tiwari.
Locals in Lazimpat-Maharajgunj area are now referring to the concept of row housing to argue that their houses have not been built illegally.
The concept of row housing has now left even the government officials baffled. “The concept of row housing may be a legal provision now,” says Sitaula. “But, it was a fraud by erstwhile officials on policy level.”