Kathmandu, Mar. 15: Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) is once again at loggerheads with the Department of Archaeology (DoA) and heritage conservation activists.
The metropolitan that had initially sought to concretise Rani Pokhari, is apparently concretising Kamal Pokhari, tried to demolish the historic Bag Durbar (its office building) and did little to preserve the centuries-old pond that Chhaya Centre covered and built or oppose the use of cement during the reconstruction of the Swayambhunath Stupa, is now allegedly building unauthorised structures within the Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square Protected Monument Zone.
The city has built concrete bases to erect eight 35-foot poles to display Nepal’s national flag. However, it has not obtained permission from the DoA, as required, while making such changes at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Archaeology Department had already, on February 18, asked the KMC to cease all construction in the area and consult with it before moving forward.
In a letter signed by Archaeology Officer Devendra Bhattarai, the Department had stated, “In the current context, when the World Heritage Committee has been repeatedly proposing to place the world heritage sites of the Kathmandu Valley in the danger list and the Government of Nepal has been refuting the proposal, such works carried out by the local government without any study go against the norms of protection and management of world heritages.”
The letter added, “So, we request to immediately cease all activities and coordinate with this Department.” Following the DoA’s call, the metropolis had seemed to halt work. However, in a video posted by heritage activist Ganapati Lal Shrestha on Facebook, the KMC seems to be carrying out the construction at night. Despite multiple attempts, Mayor Bidya Sunder Shakya and Spokesperson Ishwor Man Dongol could not be reached for comment.
As of the time of writing this, several concrete blocks constructed by the KMC stand at the raised platform Dabali at Basantapur. KMC has also been accused of insensitivity towards monuments at Chhusya Bahal where its Ward No. 27 is trying to build an office on land disputed with the more-than-300-year-old Gunakar Mahavihar.
An inscription dated Nepal Samvat 788 (1668 AD) present on the Mahavihar premises states that the monastery was built by a man named Gunajyoti Bajracharya of Dhwakhabahal who also built a rest house Phalcha in front of the monastery and donated a plot of land Lachhi for communal use, according to epigraphist Siddhi Ratna Shakya, who worked with DoA for more than two decades. The foundation plinths of the Phalcha still remain and the land is still called Baylachhi (open space belonging to the Mahavihar).
However, the Jyatha Youth and Community Development Club claims to own the land and showed The Rising Nepal a copy of the ownership certificate. The certificate states the club and Bouddhik Bikas Primary School, which has since moved out of the area, as the joint owners of the land. However, a survey sheet of KMC Ward No. 30, which was the ward number of the area before the federal restructuring of the state, presented by the Mahavihar members does not record any owner of the plot numbered 2131.
Nevertheless, the club and the ward office, who are coordinating with each other to construct the ward office, are adamant about their authority over the land. “Not only is the land under the Jyatha club’s name but it also had its old building there for years,” ward 27 chair Chiniya Man Bajracharya said. “The inscription has its value but we have to go by legal documents when working,” he added. The club members also stress that the inscription is not clear about where the Lachhi was. It only states that a plot was donated to the Mahavihar but does not mention exactly where that land was, they said. Rabindra Bajracharya of the Gunakar monastery, though, said that in Newa communities, the Lachhi always refers to the land in front of structures – in this case the Mahavihar.
There were once empty fields behind the Mahavihar and also a well, none of which exists today. Bajracharya acknowledged this and said that this should serve as a motivation, not an excuse. “Mistakes have been made in the past and we have lost a lot. Shouldn’t that now encourage us to protect what we have left or should it be used as an excuse to keep on destroying everything?” he questioned.
Upon the request of activists and Vihar members, the DoA began excavation in the area last week under expert Uddhav Acharya. Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesperson for the DoA, informed that the work was going on and that the Department would record and report any historical item it found.
Meanwhile, heritage activist Alok Siddhi Tuladhar claimed that the locals had heard of the discovery of some 88-year old bricks marked with the date and other archaeological artefacts and requested the DoA to undertake further excavation in the adjoining area that is also part of the Lachhi.
Chairman Bajracharya said that the ward would stop work if the discovery of any artefacts was confirmed in the area and stated that the local government was committed to heritage preservation, sharing that the ward provided Rs. 400,000 every year to maintain and renovate the Gunakar Mahavihar.