Kathmandu, September 16

The National Planning Commission (NPC) has sought permission to begin implementation of the project on development of integrated human settlements from Bajura district in the far-western region of the country.

The apex body that formulates the country’s development plans had selected Bajura for the pilot study because it is the most backward district in terms of human development in the country. “We have forwarded a proposal in this regard to the Cabinet. We hope to get a response soon,” NPC Joint Secretary Gopi Nath Mainali told The Himalayan Times.

The NPC is developing integrated human settlements in high-hill and mountainous districts to ensure unrestricted access to basic public services, and provide better social and economic opportunities.

It has been said time and again that the main causes for backwardness of districts in high-hill and mountainous regions are limited access to education services, weak social and economic structure, lack of jobs and job skills, over dependence on subsistence farming, lack of road networks and other physical infrastructure, and high population growth rate.

For instance, per capita income of Bajura stands at $523 (in terms of purchasing power parity), as against the national average of $1,160. But the average household size in the district has gone up to 5.42 from 5.34 over two decades ago, whereas the national average stands at less than five. This implies Bajura residents need to put more food on the table despite earning a meagre income.

Residents of this district also rely very much on subsistence farming. Here, only 11 per cent of the land is suitable for agriculture purpose and a mere 12 per cent of the arable land has been irrigated, but 96 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for a livelihood.

Similarly, the district needs to develop 15 different road segments to establish linkages with other markets. But tracks of only four roads have been opened so far. This has not only affected the movement of people but goods as well.

To address problems faced by districts like Bajura, schools and vocational training institutions have to be established in strategic locations, economic opportunities have to be created, basic services have to be delivered, road networks have to be expanded and adequate physical infrastructure has to be built.

But the problem with places located in high-hill and mountainous regions is that the settlements are small and scattered, and are located in difficult terrain. This makes it difficult for the government to cater basic and other necessary services.

The integrated human settlement project aims to address this problem by relocating families living in far-flung areas to existing or new settlements that are closer to transport nodes and marketplaces.

The project also intends to build at least one higher secondary school, a health post with birth centre and integrated service centre or an administrative office in integrated settlements. These settlements will have access to drinking water and sanitation services, irrigation facility, telecommunications and internet services, and ambulance and fire engine services, says a report on integrated settlements prepared by the NPC.

“Depending on the success of the pilot project that we have decided to launch in Bajura, we will replicate it in 16 other districts located in high-hill and mountainous regions,” said Mainali, referring to Taplejung, Sankhuwasabha, Solukhumbu, Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk, Rasuwa, Gorkha, Manang, Mustang, Dolpa, Mugu, Jumla, Kalikot, Humla, Bajhang and Darchula districts.

He further said: “Success of the project in Bajura will also pave the way for us to replicate it in districts hit by the devastating earthquakes of April and May.”

One of the objectives of the integrated human settlement project is to relocate settlements to areas that are less prone to natural disasters.

A recent study conducted by NPC had found that many people in Bajura were residing in villages not suitable for living. These villages include Bichhaiyan, Dahakot, Gotree, Manakot, Rugin and Sapata.

The study also found only 41 per cent of 229,700 hectares of land in Bajura was ideal for residential purpose.

“There is a need to conduct a similar study in other high-hill and mountainous districts so that land best for residential, agriculture, commercial, industrial and forestry purposes can be identified.”

Along with effective land use policy, the project also aims to create economic opportunities in high-hill and mountainous regions by exploiting the potential held by tourism and medicinal herb sectors.

“In this regard, tax holidays should be extended for at least five years and 50 per cent tax rebates should be offered in the next five years to those who generate jobs,” says the report, adding, “All these efforts

will reduce the poverty level, raise living standard of people, increase agricultural productivity, fulfil

basic needs of people, prevent migration to other districts and foreign countries and ensure overall human development.”