By Razen Manandhar
KATHMANDU, Aug 17 – Despite the strong protest of the local businessmen and tourism trade organizations, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) today placed its collection booths at three entry points to slap "Service Charge" from tourists entering the ancient Hanumandhoka Durbar Square of the capital.
Three of city policemen were injured and around a dozen protesters arrested in a scuffle followed by the lathi-charge in the morning, the witnesses said.
From Friday, each tourist shall have to pay Rs. 200 to enter the square from any side. And the tourists from the SAARC countries will be required to pay Rs. 25 per head. On the first day KMC earned total Rs 24,950 from 124 foreign and 6 from SAARC country tourists, a KMC official said.
Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square was the only place among the seven zones that make the Kathmandu Valley a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, where the tourists could enter free.
This decision is sure to lower the number of the tourists visiting the area that will leave a bruising effect on the already declining tourism industry, tourism related businessmen claim.
Ramesh Shakya, the chairperson of the newly formed Durbar Square Tourism Promotion Action Committee said the mayor’s greed could be harmful to 500 to 600 curio keepers, restaurant owners, hoteliers and their families.
"The KMC has done nothing to improve the situation of the monument area, so he has no right to levy service charge from the tourists," he said.
Barun Manandhar, whose Sugat Hotel lies in the monument area, when the KMC staff would require paying Rs 200 at each entry.
Shashi Bhandary, the secretary of Nepal Association of Travel Agents said the KMC’s approach to earn money out of the historic monument before providing any facilities to them is neither practical nor scientific.
"We can’t stop KMC from levying money. But it should understand how we suffer from that beggar-like approach to draw some more coins from our guests, whom we call idiomatically gods."
But mayor of Kathmandu metropolis, Keshav Sthapit said the project is a step to uplift the monument zone and the Core City as a whole.
"The money we collect from this zone will be spent on conservation of the area itself and to provide basic facilities for the tourists visiting the area," he added.
However, the conservation experts said that KMC has no rights to conserve the area even if it wants to for the ownership of the temples and other monuments located around the area since it has been shared by the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, Department of Archaeology and Guthi Sansthan.
Dr Chundar Bajracharya of Tribhuwan Universty said, "The responsibility of renovation is shared among the institutions that lack co-ordination. KMC sells dream of renovating the temples that are beyond the reach of common institutions."
[Kathmandu Saturday August 18, 2001 Bhadra 02, 2058.]