EDITORIAL: Don’t miss deadline

The RNA should fully utilise its remaining five months in rebuilding the monuments that hold historical significance

Although the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has claimed that it has made significant progress in rebuilding the cultural and archeological sites damaged or destroyed by the 2015 earthquake, the data provided by the authority itself show that only 50 per cent of the work has been completed in five years. The government has decided to extend the RNA’s tenure by one more year till December-end of this year. But it has to complete all the reconstruction work within the next five months. A recent report released by the RNA has stated that out of the total 920 cultural and archeological sites, reconstruction of 465 of them has been completed, and others are in the final stage of reconstruction. The Gorkha Durbar, Nuwakot Durbar and seven other archeological sites, which were also damaged in the earthquake, are still in the approval stage. These sites will start rebuilding only after their reconstruction approval is finalised.

The reconstruction of the Ranipokhari has already been completed, and work on the 22-storey Darahara is in progress. The reconstruction of Durbar High School and Basantpur-based Gaddi Baithak were rebuilt with support from China and the USA respectively.

The main administrative building of Singha Durbar is also being renovated, and the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers will be shifted there by mid-February.

Despite the fact that the RNA has enough money to rebuild the damaged historical buildings, cultural heritages and archeological sites, it took time for their reconstruction due to the nature of their complex process, unavailability of skilled human resources and building materials, necessity of preserving their religious and cultural aspects, reaching agreements with the local communities and maintaining the universal standard on heritages. It took several months or even years to reach agreements with the local communities about their design and usage of materials while rebuilding the Ranipokhari, Dharahara and Kasthamandap. Retrofitting of Babarmahal, Keshar Mahal, Balmandir and Ranoddwip Durbar and other buildings of archeological significance along with the Narayanhiti Museum area are in full swing.

Out of the 1,320 monasteries damaged by the quake, 895 need to be reconstructed while 402 need to be repaired.

The NRA has already spent Rs 339 billion for the reconstruction of private houses, public schools, health posts, historical monuments and other infrastructure damaged by the quake. Most progress has been made in rebuilding the private houses. Out of 796,245 beneficiaries, who had signed agreements with the NRA, 556,487 (over 70 per cent) beneficiaries have already rebuilt their houses. Similarly, more than 80 per cent of the public schools have also been completed while the rest are in the process of completion.

In spite of facing so many hurdles, including the border blockade and COVID-19 pandemic and the last elections, the progress made by the reconstruction authority is satisfactory. The reconstruction process would have completed within the set deadline of five years were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the government to impose a lockdown for seven months. The should not miss the deadline this time anymore.

Solar power

Nepal holds tremendous potential for generating clean energy. However, most of the clean energy produced so far has been hydropower, that too only a fraction of its total known capacity. It is only in recent years that some small-scale solar power plants have been built through both government and private initiative.

Now Nepal’s largest solar power plant is being built in Jhapa district in eastern Nepal with a capacity for generating 10 MW of power. To be built at a whopping cost of Rs 790 million, the power plant will spread over 22 bighas of land. It is slated to come into operation by January next year.

There are at least two reasons why solar power plants have not taken off in Nepal. One is the cost of producing a unit of electricity and the other is the non-availability of large tracts of land. Since the construction of solar power plants on arable land could disturb the cultivation of crops, especially in the Tarai belt, it is advisable to build them on hill slopes where nothing grows. Also, storage batteries used for storing solar power are expensive, and the government will need to work out ways through tax exemption on their import to make solar power more attractive to the entrepreneur.