Wednesday, October 04, 2000

Valley might soon be listed as endangered heritage site

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Oct 3 - The recent visit of World Heritage Committee (WHC) officials left the indication that Kathmandu Valley would soon be in the list of endangered World Heritage Sites, conservation experts here said.

Keshab Raj Jha, the ex-ambassador to France and permanent delegate of Nepal to United Nation's Science, Education and Culture Organisation (UNESCO) said that the mission was not here, as it was considered, to negotiate but "only to console us before the real punch comes".

He said, "No matter what a handsome treatment the government and local officials offered to the delegates, only the announcement is awaited to be legalised".

Jha added,"I'm very much disappointed. WHC should not take such a step without Nepal's concordance or having applied to include the site in the list."

The visit of WHC officials was the result of Nepal's negligence toward conservation of the seven monument zones -- Swoyambhu, Pashupatinath, Bouddha, Changu Narayan and the historic palaces of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur -- which were enlisted as World Heritage Sites in 1979.

Right from 1993, WHC reminded Nepal of the deteriorating monuments. First, there was a 16-point notice and after five years, a joint mission of UNESCO handed Nepal another 55-point recommendation in 1998.

Since Nepal's performance was unsatisfactory, WHC decided last year to send this mission for soliciting a political commitment from the head of the state down to local mayors. It was understood that the mission's report in the coming session of WHC in Crains, Australia would determinate the fate of the Kathmandu Valley -- whether or not to put it on the infamous list of endangered monuments.

Presently, there are 27 properties included on the list of World Heritage in Danger, out of the total 630 monuments orldwide.

Chief Research Officer of Department of Archaeology (DoA) Chandra P Tripathi said nothing could be said before the formal announcement to be made in December. However, our representative will strongly protest such blemishing decision, if made, he said.

Still, he admitted that due to lack of coordination among the bodies concerned, the implementation of laws to protect ancient monuments was poor.

The mission remained tight-lipped during their five-day visit. Later, at a press meet last Thursday, the president of WHC Abdelaziz Touri appreciated the degree of awareness among the citizens but he warned Nepal of "serious loss of the authentic urban fabric" indicating rapid and haphazard urbanization which is against the norm of world heritage site.

In addition, they showed the benefits if Kathmandu would be included in the endangered list, arguing that it would open door to further technical assistance.

Kathmandu's Acting Mayor said that the delegates were here only for formality. He said, "Instead of demanding our commitment, they tried to convince us that they were not going to delist the Kathmandu Valley and being enrolled in the endangered list would draw assistance from the international concerned agencies."

He was specially annoyed that before receiving the delegates, the government bodies did not coordinate to present the whole country's voice to the mission.

Asking for anonymity, a DOA official said, "Some board members in WHC are trying to slap the endangered list on Nepal and make way for drawing international donations in the name of conservation to this third world country."

Till September 2000, a total of US dollars 240,374 has been provided as international assistance. Out of which US dollars 62,601 (26 percent) has been 'utilised' to undertake UNESCO expert missions to the Kathmandu Valley.

"This circumstance itself is an insult for the whole nation," said Cultural expert Satya Mohan Joshi. "We can't expect better future where the officials spend much of their time flying in foreign countries than taking the situation seriously."

Raju Rokka, the manager of Kathmadu Valley Preservation Trust, an INGO presently renovating ancient monuments, went to the extent of approving the WHC's probable step. He said, "The site should be kept in the endangered list for several years so as to teach the government officials a lesson."

On the other hand, Architect Dr Sudarshan Raj Tiwari said that WHC would not place Kathmandu Valley on the list before 2004. "They might include it but not immediately," he said.
[Kathmandu Wednesday October 04, 2000 Aswin 18 2057.]