Kathmandu, April 25
Thousands of Kathmandu denizens took refuge at Khulla Manch, the open space in the heart of the city, when the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal exactly four years ago.
Four years on, scores of activists and locals today gathered in Khulla Manch decrying illegal encroachment of the area by a private contractor, ‘with the tacit support of Kathmandu Metropolitan City’.
It is found that the builder who was provided the contract to build Kathmandu View Tower at the Old Bus Park, Ratna Park, had built as many as 52 stalls to rent them out to private vendors.
These stalls are built by encroaching 13.5 ropanis of the public land. KMC has done nothing to remove the encroachments.
Contractor Jaleshower Sochhanda Bkoi Builders Pvt Ltd was granted permission by KMC to build some fundamental structures at Khulla Manch, such as a restaurant, a health facility, couple of toilets and two bus stands there. It was a three year contract beginning 6 April 2017.
The contract was given for facilitating the builder who had secured a contract to build a view tower at the Old Bus Park on 6 March 2015, within five years.
While barely a year remains for the expiry of the contract to build the view tower, the contractor has illegally built stalls to be rented out to private vendors. Strangely, neither the ward chair nor KMC officials say they had any knowledge on the newly constructed stalls at the bus park.
Two dozens shops that include fancy store, groceries and restaurants are already operating from these stalls. However, there is no sign of a medical facility nor standard bus stands at the site as mentioned in the contract. The builder at the bus park has been charging money from commuters for using public toilets.
Many of the stall owners told THT that they had an agreement to pay Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 for each stall as monthly rent.
The owners, however, were reluctant to tell with whom the agreement was reached.
Multiple sources told THT that those shopkeepers in fact, have paid amounts ranging from Rs 500,000 to Rs 1.5 million to middlemen for securing the stalls.
Biraj Bhakta Shrestha, Provincial Assembly member of the area who initiated today’s protest, led a group of locals from Khulla Manch to KMC, where they staged a sit-in briefly. Deputy Mayor of KMC Hari Prabha Khadgi, who also heads a monitoring committee of the local government, then visited the site, along with locals.
Talking to mediapersons at the site, Deputy Mayor Khadgi gave an ultimatum of 10 days to the builders to remove all illegally erected stalls.
She also said that she was unaware that such activities were being carried in the area. “I believe that the contractor would not have the courage to build illegal structures at the historic site without the supports of a higher authority.”
Khulla Manch is famous for launching numerous political movements in the country. Provincial Assembly member Shrestha said, “Encroachment of Khulla Manch is just like a tip of the iceberg since the land mafias are operating similar scams across the country.”
Activist Ganapati Lal Shrestha, who led the activism, said, “History is witness to the fact that many revolutions in the country began at Khulla Manch. If the government fails to take timely action against illegal encroachment, it will face severe consequences.”
A version of this article appears in print on April 26, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.