How the government implements the recommendations will determine if it can tame the land mafia and the nefarious activities in the land revenue offices
With even a small plot of land in Kathmandu and other urban centres commanding prohibitive prices, land grab has become a lucrative business across the country. And this business would not have flourished without the collusion of the Land Revenue Office (LRO). Small local land grabs normally don’t make big news, but a recent government report on embezzlement of 113 ropanis at Baluwatar, right under the nose of the Prime Minister’s residence, has sparked a furore. The government had formed a committee in June last year to probe land grab cases at Baluwatar, following complaints by the general public. The government has now taken a laudable decision, in line with the committee’s recommendations, to investigate such cases of theft in other parts of the country as well.
The genesis of the land grab case at Baluwatar goes back to the period immediately after multiparty democracy was ushered in the country in 1990. The interim government had decided to return land that had been acquired without paying due compensation. In 1964, King Mahendra’s government had acquired the Rana-era palace, Lalita Niwas, spread over 299 ropanis, at Baluwatar. Of this, compensation was not paid for only about 14 ropanis. Of the 284 ropanis of land, the official residences of the heads of the three branches of government and the official building of Nepal Rastra Bank sprawl over 172 ropanis. The remaining 112 ropanis were returned by the LRO, Dillibazaar, although the government had acquired them by paying due compensation. Over a period of time, these huge plots of land have been divided and sold to many private individuals. The Cabinet decision of Madhav Kumar-led government in May 2010 had facilitated the transfer of the land to private individuals.
The probe committee’s report implicates a number of staffers from the Land Revenue Office at Dillibazaar as well as people in the Ministry of Land Reform Management in the Baluwatar land embezzlement. What’s more, highly influential people, including from the ruling party, now occupy the land which the government had duly acquired by providing compensation. How the government goes about with the report’s recommendations will decide if it can tame the land mafia and the nefarious activities taking place in the land revenue offices across the country. In the southern plains of Nepal, land grabs run into much larger plots, called bighas. A land grab in Siraha in south east Nepal has involved 28 bighas of land, while the mafia have captured 230 bighas of unclaimed public land on an island formed by the Koshi River in Sunsari, to cite just a few cases. One reason why cases of illegal transfer of public lands are on the rise is because the government is probably ignorant about the amount of public and government land there is in the country. Hence, digital mapping of all public land and community forests is necessary to protect them from the clutches of the land mafia. And the government must scrap the erroneous decision taken by the Nepal-led government in 2010 so as not to allow the malicious transfer of ownership of public land to individuals in the future.
The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has formed a four-member panel, led by Rajesh Raj Dali, former director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), to probe Sunday’s crash of a Summit Air aircraft at Lukla. Summit Air’s co-pilot Sujit Dhungana, Sub-Inspector Rudra Bahadur Shrestha and Assistant Sub-Inspector of the Nepal Police, who were stationed at Lukla for airport security, were killed after the aircraft collided with two choppers parked at the airport. The aircraft was heading towards Manthali Airport when it skidded off the runway. An airport authority said there was no foul weather at the time of the accident.
Air accidents, especially in the hilly areas, have become a major concern for all. The air accident in Lukla, which remains busy during the spring, will severely affect hundreds of expeditions and their support staff heading towards Everest base camp. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has time and again raised serious concerns over the poor air safety in Nepal. Nepal’s airworthiness cannot improve for the better unless bold steps are taken by CAAN to implement the recommendations made by a probe panel formed every time an air accident occurs.
A version of this article appears in print on April 16, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.