Sunday, February 17, 2002

Whose land? Kirtipur farmers don’t know, nor do authorities

By Razen Manandhar

KIRTIPUR, Feb 16[2002]: When the government acquired 4,500 ropanis of Chirrup farmland for setting up the Tribhuwan University three decades ago, the displaced farming families were handed out plots in the outskirts of Kirtipur village. But the distribution of this public land by the local authority, Gaun Sabha, was so arbitrary that the families are now caught in a legal wrangle to prove their ownership over the individual plots.

To complicate matters further, some of the owners of these plots which have no legal certificates, later sold them off to others without any legal basis whatsoever. The Gaun Sabha had also distributed lands to some University deans who later sold it off.

Matters came to a head recently when 95 Kirtipur residents filed a writ (on February 1) against five buyers of such plots, who are building houses there. Acting on the writ the Supreme Court on February 7 passed an interim order to stop construction work. The writ also addresses local authorities like the Municipality, the Chief District Office, the Land Revenue Department and the Land Reform Ministry as respondents.

"We have filed the writ not against those particular houses, but our aim is to save the whole of Kirtipur from such encroachers who have brought a bad name to the town," says Surendra Manandhar, claimant from the petitioners’ side.

Between 1968 and till around 1986, the Gaun Sabha’s Pradhan Panchas distributed innumerable public plots of size 24' x 36', to anybody who ever applied paying the stipulated Rs 100 fee to the village office. In return, the applicants received a chit in small-type, which gave them the right to ownership. There is no "complete" record of the number of plots distributed nor on who got them.

Manandhar says the court’s verdict will help in solving a problem that has vexed Kirtipur farming families for the last three decades.

The local residents say that some 150 houses have been built illegally in Kirtipur Nayabazaar alone, and over 400 more "illegal" houses have come up on the public land around the heart of Kirtipur town.

Seventy-one-year-old Dwarika Maharjan, former Pradhan Pancha, who initiated the illegal distribution, says that the step he took 30 years ago, was the need of the time.

"That was a necessary decision at that time when we saw hundreds of people being displaced from their homes," he says.

At that time, Maharjan even had to appear before the then prime minister, Kirtinidhi Bista, to explain his actions.

But locals say the Pradhan Pancha earned thousands from the whole deal.

The former Pradhan Pancha says his decision to hand out plots to three Tribhuvan University deans—Prachanda Pradhan, Upendra Man Malla and Shekhar Pradhan-was made so that the village would benefit from these educationists. It makes him furious that they sold off the plots. "We thought them to be Gods but they turned out to be demons," says Maharjan.

Maharjan adds that like him, the Pradhan Panchas of neighbouring villages such as Layaku, Paliphal, Bahiri Gaon, Panga, Chobhar and Macchhe Gaon, had also distributed public lands in the same way.

Amidst all this, the Kirtipur Municipality is caught in a dilemma-it can neither call these plots and houses legal or illegal, as the Municipality has to own up to the decisions taken by the earlier local authorities.

Says Kirtipur Mayor, Hira Kaji Maharjan: "We cannot say they are legal. And we have been trying to stop this as far as we can. We have been requesting the police force and the Chief District Officer from time to time that something has to be done to stop illegal construction. But they don’t act saying that it is a political problem."

He says the Municipality did now and again try to stop such constructions, even by seizing construction equipment, but they continued. Asks a helpless Mayor, "What more can we do?"
[Kathmandu Sunday February 17, 2002 Falgun 05, 2058.]