Fast track alignment should be changed: AHRC

Kathmandu, March 24

The Asian Human Rights Commission today said it was deeply concerned by the foreseeable displacement of Khokana residents due to Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track Project, one of Nepal’s ‘national pride’ projects.

The 76-km long fast track is proposed along the Bagmati River corridor and is expected to considerably reduce travel time and distance from Kathmandu to the south of the country. The fast track is also expected to serve Nepal’s proposed second international airport in Nijgadh.

The fast track originates at Sano Khokana in Lalitpur district and reaches Nijgadh in Bara district of the Tarai.

While the Nijgadh communities are strongly pushing for the quick construction of the expressway, expecting great economic opportunities, the indigenous Newar communities of Khokana and Bungamati in southern Lalitpur are concerned about violations of their property, land and cultural rights.

“Although the government has changed the alignment of the fast track to be along the east bank of the river from its earlier plans to construct through the settlement areas, the land of more than 200 families will still be affected, including religious trust and communal land,” said a press released issued by the AHRC.

When the land acquisition notice for the project was published in March 2016, Khokana representatives, including local political leaders, immediately submitted a complaint to the Ministry of Home Affairs, citing an absence of consultation with affected communities about the project design and impact.

With no response to their complaint, they then submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission in September 2017, demanding respect and protection of their rights. That is also yet to bear fruit, the AHRC statement said.

According to the AHRC, Nepal has ratified the ILO convention 169 in 2007. Forceful development without discussion violates the Rights of Indigenous People, essentially Articles 7 and Articles 13-19 of ILO 169.

The AHRC demanded that the government reconsider the demand for changing the expressway alignment along the west bank of the Bagmati River to preserve arable lands and cultural sites.

“Considerable efforts must be made to ensure that the local community is not displaced in the name of fast-track development. The affected locals are not demanding compensation, but preservation of their land and heritage,” the rights watchdog said in the statement.