Heritage politics of Kathmandu: Special laws needed to save Valley

Therefore, it is in the best interest of the government to play a crucial role in heritage conservation by making laws that will pacify the religious and cultural voters

Kathmandu is a historical cosmopolitan city that is converting into a concrete jungle where history and heritage are slowly disappearing. The Kathmandu Valley is a centre for cultural tourism and maintains the national identity of Nepal, such as being the home for the Ranjana script, Pagoda architecture and many invaluable temples worshipped by the Shaivites, Vaishnavs, Buddhists and Shakta sects.

The disappearance of cultural heritage is a national loss, and citizens and politics play a key role in it.

Parliamentarians propose and push for bills, but it seems they are rarely interested in bills dedicated to heritage conservation, partly because the main heritage area of Kathmandu via the central city is divided into various constituencies, but these constituencies are predominantly dependent on voters from new settlements. As a result, these MPs lack any incentive to push extensively for the rights of the historic landmark.

The constituencies are meant to reflect the views of a particular region, such as the core historic city may have drinking and sanitation problems while the regions beyond the Ring Road may have urgent needs for paved roads. But if the two different constituencies are mixed, then the MPs may have to look at the voter percentage before making priorities.

In the case of the Provincial Assembly, parliamentarians from Kathmandu’s constituencies such as 8(1), 9(1) and some additional constituencies depend on votes from the historic spaces. So they are comparatively more favourable towards preservation of the script and heritage.

The constitution has declared that Nepal would eradicate “all forms of discrimination and oppression by the feudalistic, autocratic, centralised, unitary system of governance”.

The constitution has, thus, dedicated itself to decentralise Nepal as it understands that if a large amount of government expenditure is spent inside Kathmandu,then the provinces would remain impoverished while Kathmandu continues to turn into a concrete jungle.

Nepal continues to be deeply centralised partly because the bureaucrats dislike being posted to the provinces, and Nepali laws have to be re-written to adopt the federal values by transferring the rights and power to the provinces.

The Kathmandu Valley Development Authority still falls under the central government while the region is simply a part of Bagmati Province. The key problem with the central government is that it has representatives from all over the country while they maintain their real loyalty to their constituency where they need to be re-elected.

People from Kavre, Dhading and Nuwakot have a direct interest in the Kathmandu Valley because they depend on it for all forms of economic activities.

But again their core loyalty does not remain with the Kathmandu Valley.

Many people in the valley are aware that each district has its own District Police Office while Lalitpur and Bhaktapur do not have their own separate district police but are a part of a single Metropolitan Police Office.

Water distribution is also governed by the same authority, and so it may be efficient if the valley is under a single executive body and not divided into various municipalities. The necessity to have meetings with various mayors even to make a simple policy in the valley has only made the process slower, while the people from the three districts can move to any part of the valley and even up to Dhulikhel.

By creating faster metro services connecting Dhulikhel, Panauti and other areas with the core city, it would be very efficient for the employees to travel quickly to the main city, which would also ease the housing cost everywhere.

There is an assumption that absorbing all the cultural areas into a single city would be extremely impractical, but the London Metropolitan Area is 8,382 square kilometres with a population of around 14.5 million, while Kathmandu Valley has a population of 2.5 million spread over 665 square kilometres. The government by studying other major historical cities could implement a similar heritage conservation strategy and heritage conservation laws to benefit the entire country.

It is impossible to restructure the Nepali federal structure, but it is important to keep the monumental areas under the same administrative authority, which will follow a special law for heritage sites.

The government needs to create a special cultural autonomous area as mentioned in Article 56 (5) of Nepal’s constitution to maintain the right of autonomy and self-rule.

The government has been defamed following the Guthi crisis and been accused of its pro-Christian programmes. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the government to play a crucial role in heritage conservation by making laws that will pacify the religious and cultural voters.

In reality, the government will have to make some adjustment regulations as per the constitution, but once our heritage is lost, it can’t be recovered.

Therefore, the government should not stay trapped in other petty issues but make suitable regulations to transfer the autonomy to the native community.

There are three issues the government needs to tend to quickly. First, the central government should reshape the constituencies to be represented in the Federal Parliament so that heritage spaces could be kept in a single constituency and ensure that these spaces are firmly represented while creating bills.

Second, all the heritage spaces should be kept under the same executive branch so that they share the same administrative, cultural and philosophical interest.

Third, the government needs to enforce Article 56 (5) to create a special autonomous area so as to create special laws for the Kathmandu Valley as the rules needed for the World Heritage Sites would remain different from the rules needed for other urban spaces.

Amatya is an artist, social activist and writer

The government has been defamed following the Guthi crisis and been accused of its pro-Christian programmes.