The town planning system should bring an entire gamut of the local governments, both rural and urban, within a spatial planning framework for directing and managing development activities towards the desired directions
Local governments (LGs), as the third tier of federal governance, as enshrined in Nepal’s Constitution 2015, hold the potential of playing a unique and powerful role in bringing about socio-economic and physical transformation in the country’s towns and villages. The constitutional recognition of the local government is a bold step in providing constitutional protection to the local government’s status and powers.
There are in all 753 LGs, comprising 293 urban and 460 rural bodies. However, the designation of a large number of municipal urban LGs, which presents a distorted view of urbanisation, coming to around 62 per cent, is a quantum jump from 17 per cent in 2011. With an enlarged geographical coverage of a majority of the LGs, those LGs can be expected to be economically sustainable, functionally efficient and administratively feasible. There are plenty of opportunities as well as challenges for the LGs, which are ill equipped in terms of human, material and institutional resources. The hastily drafted Local Government Operations Act, 2074 (LGOA, 74) promulgated in 2017, the successor of the Local Self Governance Act (LSGA) 1999, and its provisions reflects the multi-dimensional roles and responsibilities assigned to the LGs. Most of the sectoral services so far rendered by the federal government (FG) are being entrusted to the LGs, such as local taxation, health, education, local roads, agriculture, land registration and management, heritage conservation, alternative energy and forestry. However, there is a very cursory treatment of planning and development aspects related to shelter, human settlements and urbanisation.
A cursory review of the LGOA, 2074 indicates that the focus is more on the formulation and execution of the sectoral programmes and projects without consideration of their spatial consequences. Hence, the overall development approach as envisaged by it would be piece-meal and project-oriented, lacking spatial integration within the geographical boundary of a particular LG. The desired integration would only be possible only through the design of the spatial planning framework brought through reforms in the existing town planning legislation.
Presently, the Town Development Act, 1988 and Amendments, and the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority Act, 1988 provide a legislative framework for town planning in Nepal. Seeing the inadequacy of those acts, which are not in tune with the constitutional provisions and the adopted three-tier federalism model, the government felt a need for reviewing those prevalent acts, and is in the process of finalising the draft of a new act – Urban Development Act, 2074.
Two important policy documents of the government – Nepal Urban Development Strategy, 2017 (NUDS) and the ‘New Urban Agenda’ presented to UN Habitat III in 2016 — have broadly indicated a need for reforms in town planning legislation to improve urban governance and service delivery.
Despite a half a century of planning activities, an appropriate planning system could not be established in the country. Hence, the prime focus of the new legislation should be on establishing a town planning system (TPS) for Nepal, implying a need for physical development plans at the various levels, including basic infrastructure along with the regulatory mechanism for guiding the urban growth process within a LG. This would mean bringing an entire gamut of the LGs, both rural and urban, within a spatial planning framework for directing and managing development activities towards the desired directions. This would imply planned urban expansion, effective services delivery and management along with due attention to ecological conservation and to disaster risks like floods and earthquakes.
Adoption of the TPS would enable proper selection and execution of the development plans and projects through effective mobilisation and utilisation of financial, material and human resources. The TPS needs to incorporate both the developmental and regulatory regimes. The developmental aspects need to cover: plan formulation at the various levels, from local community to urban/metropolitan scale, and from rural/natural resources to sub-regional scale; and the infrastructure components – road and drainage, water and sanitation, solid waste management. The regulatory regime covers regulations like land use zoning, building and sub-division regulations.
The new legislation should be viewed as only the umbrella (or model) town planning act, as the 753 LGs encompass a wide variety of geographical locations and ecological/ethnic diversities, different levels of development and urbanisation, ranging from rural service centres and market towns to metropolitan regions. Hence, individual LGs needs to be assisted to frame their own town planning legislation as per their needs, which should complement the provisions of Local Government Operations Act, 2074. Adoption of the Model Urban and Regional Planning Law by the Government of India in 1992, which suggested reforms in urban and regional planning systems, and which also obligated the state governments to amend their own planning laws, provides a useful model to emulate for the Nepal’s LGs and provincial governments.
Malla is an urban planner
A version of this article appears in print on April 01, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.