Tuesday, 6 December, 2022

Relocating The Capital?

Uttam Maharjan


Kathmandu has been the capital of Nepal since 1825 B.S., when King Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the then Kathmandu principality. Prithvi Narayan Shah chose Kathmandu over Gorkha, from where he hailed, due to the fertile land and other comparatively better amenities available in the former. So it has been 250 years since Kathmandu maintained its status as the capital of the country. The importance of Kathmandu has not diminished for years as is evident from the fact that in the days of yore Kathmandu would not only denote a capital city but also Nepal itself.
The Constitution of Nepal has fixed Kathmandu as the capital of the country. But this does not necessarily mean that Kathmandu will be the capital of the country forever. Sometimes, the talk about relocating the capital to some other city comes up. In a span of 100 years, around 30 countries have relocated their capitals. The relocation of the capital of a country depends on several factors such as geographical, economic, strategic, demographic and even ethnic factors.

Lack of amenities
Kathmandu is now facing a myriad of problems. In a sense, the capital city has been a melting pot. Kathmandu has people from all other districts. The people living in the rural and remote areas are often attracted to the so-called glitter of the capital city. They are under the illusion that once they land in Kathmandu, their life will change for the better. The migration to Kathmandu from other districts rose drastically during the decade-long Maoist insurgency due especially to the state of insecurity unleashed by the insurgency. And this this trend has continued to this day. In fact, the insufficiency of basic amenities like health, education and transport in the districts outside the Kathmandu valley has also spurred a growing migration to Kathmandu. Haphazard urbanisation, construction of unplanned settlements, environmental pollution, poor sanitation, unmanaged traffic systems and the like have virtually made the capital city an unlivable city. Therefore, the idea of relocating the capital of the country is not unreasonable.
Abuja has replaced Lagos as the capital of Nigeria since 1991. The erstwhile capital of Lagos was unplanned and so Abuja was chosen as the prospective capital in 1976. Moreover, Abuja is a neural land for various ethnic and religious groups and has a central location. So the construction of infrastructure was started in the 1980s, which was completed in a decade. Central location and ethnic and religious neutrality played a pivotal role in relocating the capital from Lagos to Abuja in Nigeria. Almaty was the capital of Kazakhstan when it gained independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991. The city was congested with very little room for expansion, prone to earthquakes and too close to the Chinese border, inconveniencing the Kazakhs. So the country relocated its capital to Astana, which is now called Nur-Sultan, in 1997.
Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil till 1960. The city was overcrowded. There were traffic jams everywhere. And the government buildings were far apart. So the country relocated its capital to Brasilia. Myanmar relocated its capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw in 2006. However, there was no proper justification for relocating the capital. The city of Naypyidaw has a central and strategic location but there are limited facilities. However, the city has a supply of 24 hours of electricity and even boasts a 20-lane road. The density of population is very low and it is often called a ghost city. It is said that the capital was relocated to Naypyidaw to defend the country from foreign attacks.
Similarly, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced in August that the Indonesian capital would be relocated from Jakarta to East Kalimantan on Borneo. Various presidents of Indonesia have planned to relocate the capital. To materialise the plan of relocation, the government has conducted in-depth studies for the last three years. Jakarta is a congested city. It is home to ten million people, with thirty million people living in the surrounding areas. The need for relocating the capital seems to have been driven by the fact that Jakarta is in danger of sinking in the sea. The new city to be developed in East Kalimantan will be centrally located. The government also aims at mitigating development inequality between the island of Java, where Jakarta is situated, and other islands and also at reducing Jakarta's burden in terms of economic activity and population density. Jakarta is home to 60 per cent of the country's population and half the economic activity of the country takes place in the capital.
It follows that the relocation of the capital of a country is influenced by many factors. Congestion, location, strategic interests, haphazard urbanisation and unplanned settlements, development inequality and so on constitute prominent factors that may force the government of a country to relocate its capital.

Need of relocation
The time has come for relocating the capital of the country from Kathmandu to some other city. There are development anomalies in the country due to the so-called Kathmandu-centric development model. Kathmandu has become an ill-managed city due to ever-growing urbanisation and unplanned settlements. Due to the high population density and encroachment on land, open spaces are shrinking day by day. There is pollution here, there and everywhere. Traffic jams are now a common sight. It is exigent to save Kathmandu. All this has made it imperative to relocate the capital to some other city. However, even if the capital is relocated, Kathmandu will continue to remain as a commercial, financial and cultural hub.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. He can be reached at uttam.maharjan1964@gmail.com)