Kathmandu, November 9
Hundreds of children, elderly, activists, leaders and journalists today joined ‘Occupy Tundikhel’, a civil society-led campaign, organised in a bid to exert pressure on the government to vacate Khula Manch, a part of Tundikhel, and spread awareness about the importance of open spaces in urban areas.
Hundreds of people gathered around the iconic Khula Manch platform, the likes of which has not happened since 2015. Tundhikhel and Khula Manch area had provided refuge to thousands of people during the 2015-earthquakes. Located at the heart of Kathmandu, Khula Manch area once used to be a major venue for holding all kinds of political movements. However, after 2015-earthquakes the area was leased out to private vendors.
Khula Manch or the open theatre, is not open to general public anymore. More than two-thirds of the area has been occupied as storage area by various development projects like Dharahara while it has also been serving as bus park and parking lot, leaving no space for the public.
Khula Manch area was converted into bus park after the government in March 2015 handed over a contract to build a view tower at the Old Bus Park site. Construction of the view tower was expected to be over within five years, but considering the snail-paced construction work it is likely to take a few more years. This means the bus park is likely to be there until the government comes up with other plans.
Khula Manch is a part of Tundikhel, which before 1950s used to spread from Dashrath Stadium in the south to Rani Pokhari in the north, approximately the length of four kilometres, according to various historians.
Nepali Army’s headquarters, which stretches from Dashrath Stadium to Sahidgate used to be a part of the larger Tundikhel until 1967, according to lawmaker Bhimsen Das Pradhan, who was elected from the area. But Tundikhel these days is generally understood as the area of Nepali Army Pavilion adjoining Khula Manch, which is off limits to the public.
‘Occupy Tundikhel’ organisers have demanded that the government free the occupied Tundhikhel, including the NA’s pavilion and half of the NA headquarters area. Alok Siddhi Tuladhar, heritage activist and one of the organisers, said historical documents prove that the larger area of Tundikhel was occupied by the NA and some of it for commercial purpose. “Our message is that the NA’s pavilion and more than half of the NA headquarters area, where the NA has built a banquet hall and other structures for commercial purpose, be returned to the public.” Tuladhar added the area had always been public property, handed down by ancestors, and that it never belonged to any government in the past.
Today’s event was attended by former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, lawmaker Pradhan, former minister Hisila Yami, former minister Gagan Thapa and Deputy Mayor of Kathmandu metropolis Hari Prabha Khadgi, among other activists, artists and members of civil society. People of the Newar community donned traditional attire and gathered there with musical instruments. They formed a human chain and walked around Khula Manch platform.
Speaking at the programme, former prime minister Bhattarai said urban areas needed at least 40 to 50 per cent open spaces as per international practice. “But open spaces in cities that play the role of lungs for city dwellers have been encroached day by day,” he said. Bhattarai also said the NA’s pavilion could be relocated elsewhere.
Lawmaker Gagan Thapa said apart from the authorities, it is each individual’s duty to not occupy public places. He pledged he would raise the issue in the Parliament.
‘Occupy Tundikhel’ campaign was launched on the occasion of the World Freedom Day. Activist and one of the organisers of today’s event, Ganapati Lal Shrestha said they would continue the campaign for three months. “We will work to educate people on importance of open spaces and remind the government to clear the occupied area .”
A version of this article appears in print on November 10, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.