KATHMANDU: As the new constitution is being prepared and adopted, pangs of anguish are creeping in. The final scurry has ensued to garner pole position in the new Nepal; but at what cost? The discussions on dividing up the country into federal provinces are fascinating. Will there be seven, 10, 12 or 14 provinces? The main criteria that are being considered seem to be identity and viability. The consideration of identity demands many provinces while the latter requires as few as possible.
When cultural issues — such as ethnicity, language and religion — permeate politics, it can lead to volatile conditions. Throughout history, lines have been drawn on maps, often without understanding the full impact of this simple act. In dividing up the country, it is not the majorities that need to be considered, but the minorities that are being created. There is a bottom line to this process. Cultures need to be preserved in spite of politics. Governance must fun-ction in spite of cultural diversity.
The news that was as breathtaking as the constantly morphing maps on the front pages of newspapers was the establishment of the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority (KVDA). The sincerity of this
decision was made clear by appointing Keshav Sthapit the new Valley Commissioner. Sthapit has been quoted to have said that people will notice change in the valley soon. However, the mandate of the authority has not yet been fully clarified. It is critical that the mandate of the KVDA is determined to ensure its effectiveness in guiding the sustainable development of the valley without getting caught up in wrangling for power with the local government.
After years of talking about decentralisation and not seeing much happening, a brilliant step was taken by passing the Local Self Governance Act in 1999. This Act provided a clear mandate for the lowest tier of government to determine a wide spectrum of issues. It was only implemented for a few years, since the elected representatives of local government resigned in 2004 — which included Sthapit, who was the mayor of Kathmandu at the time. How will the KVDA address and complement the Local Self Governance Act?
The first question is to define the Kathmandu Valley. Would it include the entire area of the three districts of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur or only the five municipalities and 98 VDCs considered inside the valley? KVDA should not dabble in what the local government can implement. There are, however, numerous sectors which require overall coordination in the valley. Controlling pollution would be an important mandate which includes cleaning up the rivers. In Madhyapur Thimi, great effort was taken to keep the Manohara river clean, but on the opposite bank in Kathmandu, major construction projects were allowed. Uncontrolled urban sprawl has wreaked havoc in the valley.
The KVDA must be involved in ensuring a suitable ratio between urban areas, agricultural land and forests. A further critical sector that the KVDA could get involved in would be the management of the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage property.
If this model works out, it might be possible to set up the Historic Buddhist Region Development Authority in the three districts around Lumbini. We, however, need to wait and see how the country is divided and where the province boundaries are drawn.
(The author is an architect and can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org)