The conservation of World Heritage Sites in Kathmandu has constantly been in the news for nearly a year now. The Sites are sometimes encroached upon by stubborn locals, while at others, new concrete structures suddenly emerge in prohibited areas such as Swayambhu — reportedly in connivance with the local authorities. Though some of these illegal edifices have been pulled down by the government in the past, this has not entirely dissuaded the unscrupulous from trying to find an excuse to erect new ones all over again. Then the Pratappur Temple at Swayambhu caught fire, following which the temple collapsed a month or so later. All this while, authorities and those representing the Temple squabbled over when and how to begin restoration work. At the same time around arrived the UNESCO’s list of Monuments in Danger — another pointer that all was not well with the historic monuments. A report now finds the lack of coordination between government agencies and local communities as the source of concern in preserving the Sites.

The report also points out that the present conservation efforts have proved ineffective. There is a greater need than ever before to evaluate the current approach adopted for the upkeep of these edifices. Authorities adopting and implementing new strategies for safeguarding the monuments must understand the inevitable that unless local participation is encouraged, no amount of extraneous interventions will yield the desired results. People must be made aware of the benefit accruing from their involvement in protecting the monuments. It is these structures that serve as eloquent manifestation of Nepali culture. But as the trend goes, the locals lend precious little towards the upkeep of the monuments in and around the Heritage Sites. Red tapism and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures which tend to deter the foreign conservation agencies as well as the NGOs need to be eliminated right away. Unfortunate as it is, petty interests of some of the stakeholders is also a major handicap for whatever restoration projects are underway.

Judicial problems have been identified as another obstacle. The government needs to be clear about the cases involving private property alongside or within the precincts of the Heritage Sites. It must define priority for conservation vis-à-vis other urban development projects. Monitoring and implementing the devised strategies on a regular basis is no doubt desirable. Those participating in the deliberations on conservation in Beijing next month will have to present a practical and acceptable solution to the UN body concerned in order to give a new lease of life to the conservation endeavour in Nepal.