EDITORIAL: Hear them out

The state must pay heed to locals and conservationists and exercise restraint while dealing with peaceful protests

Police on Wednesday used tear gas, water cannon and batons to disperse protesters who were marching in the Capital with the demand that destruction of heritage sites and displacement of ancient communities in the name of development and road expansion drive be stopped. Thousands of people – locals of Kathmandu and representatives of organisations such as Road Expansion Affected Struggle Committee, Nepal Youth Organisation, Nepal Cultural Restoration Campaign, Save Nepal Valley Campaign and Fast Track Victims – had gathered at Maitighar Mandala to protest against the ongoing road expansion drive and other road and development projects. According to police, four of the protesters and two security personnel were injured in the clash between demonstrators and police. Three people were arrested.

The then government led by Baburam Bhattarai had first launched the road expansion drive in 2011 “to ease Capital city’s traffic jams”. The campaign has continued and in some of the areas in the Valley, some heritage sites have been lost to the drive. Hence, heritage conservationists too are now standing with those locals who have lost or could lose their ancestral property and towns to the ongoing development works. Heritage conservationists while have been claiming that the government is razing heritage sites in the name of development, locals are demanding adequate compensation and preservation of their ancient towns. The Khokana locals, for example, have objected to the Kathmandu-Tarai fast track, saying this will destroy their cultural heritage. The outer ring road expansion poses a threat of displacement to communities.

There have been some arguments that development is not possible without destruction. But conservationists argue that tearing through ancient heritage sites and monuments in the name of development is not a sustainable solution. Road projects, no doubt, are an integral part of the development process. But development should not be viewed merely as building of infrastructure. Preservation of traditional homes, squares, streets and cultural landscape are also part of development. Locals and conservationists have argued that there is a lack of transparency in the government’s road-widening campaign, as locals have hardly been consulted or involved. They say it’s the government’s duty to make them aware of what it plans to do with their towns. In some cases, there are compensation issues. The authorities must sit down with the locals and chalk out a concrete plan before sending bulldozers to tear through houses and heritage structures. Locals hold their ancient houses, towns and streets close to their hearts as all these carry the cultural values and memories, which they inherit from their ancestors. Heritage sites are our connection to the past. When families and communities are displaced, they run the risk of losing all those. These are part of people’s lives. The government hence should maintain transparency and take locals and conservationists into confidence before carrying out development projects where people are likely to be affected. Besides that, the authorities need to exercise restraint when it comes to dealing with peaceful protests. People have the right to organise peaceful protests to make their voice heard. The state should show its big heart.

Crisis resolved 

The government is all set to deploy as many as 57,000 civil servants in all local level units to make them fully functional. A Cabinet meeting on Wednesday decided to deploy the government employees after endorsing the local level operation directive and organisational structure of the civil servants. Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota said more civil servants will be deployed in the densely populated areas.

Local level units have not been able to deliver services to the people due to shortage of human resources though it has been almost a year since the local level election was held. But the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration has expected that more than 80 per cent civil servants would report to their duties by first week of April. Most of the government employees serving in regional and district offices will be transferred to the local level units. The government will also finalise the organisational structure of the civil servants within a week. The Cabinet decision will address the problem of human resource crisis faced by the local level units.