Friday, December 05, 2003

KMC plans big budget without enough cash

Razen Manandhar

Kathmandu, December 5[2003]:
Five months after the beginning of the fiscal year 2003/04, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City is preparing to make public a budget, which, the insiders say, will be three times bigger than the previous one. The mega-budget will be made public within a week.

According to KMC officials, a Budget Preparatory Committee, led by deputy mayor Rajaram Shrestha, is preparing to present an annual budget of Rs 2.98 billion for this fiscal year. Last year, the KMC had approved a budget of Rs 808 million.

The KMC plans to spend a sum of Rs 2,985,544,633.22

this year. Out of it, Rs 2,189,579,863 (78.94 per cent) will be spent on improvement of urban infrastructure, while Rs 584,047,270 (21.06 per cent ) will be spent on administration.

According to an official, the KMC has committed to provide only Rs 1.45 billion from its resources. No one at the KMC knows from which source the rest of the money � Rs 1.35 billion � will come. �It is a dream project. Such a mega-budget, at a time when the roles to be played by the mayor and other representatives is quite unclear, is bound to raise controversies,� says an officer.

Some of the KMC officers maintain that the projects that were expected to be completed last year have not been completed yet because of political meddling and corruption controversies. That is why, there is no reason to come up with such a budget. The KMC administration should focus on completing the unfinished projects, they say.

�Last year, the KMC had estimated to have spent Rs 22.3 million management of land-fill site alone and Rs 2.5 million on heritage conservation. But it is yet to be examined whether the

KMC spent that money properly. Similarly, it also said that Rs 2.5 million will be spent on management of the City Hall, which is still a dream project,� another KMC officer says.

Amrit Man Shrestha, an adviser to the Budget Committee, said, �though the proposed budget is comparatively bigger, it can see the light of the day if government sanctions loans.�

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Govt, local bodies encroach ponds in Kirtipur

Razen Manandhar
Kirtipur, November 8

Dozens of ponds around the medieval hillock of Kirtipur, around 8 km south
west of Kathmandu, are being encroached by government and local

Strategically, Kirtipur is one of the well-designed settlements of the Malla
period. The hillock was surrounded by walls and there was a trench which
also served as a canal for irrigation. The trench later turned into ponds.

But due to rapid urbanisation, these ponds have been encroached. As a
result, hardly any of them have water and most of them have already been
turned into private buildings, campuses, libraries and health posts.

"We used to see fish in these ponds some 15 years ago and the water was also
used for farming. But God knows, what has happened to our town, nobody is
interested in its conservation," said Krishna Lal Maharjan, a farmer,
pointing towards a grassy patch of land near a swimming pool.

Local Nikhashi Pukhoo was turned into Shahid Campus, Bhni Pukhoo became
Ilaka Police Office, and one Palye Pukhoo has been turned into a Health
Clinic. Another Palye Pukhoo is on its way of being turned into a
multi-purpose building, under a controversial project of the Kirtipur

According to Shukra Sagar Shrestha of the Department of Archaeology, the
ponds one can find today used to serve the town as a security trench. "These
ponds are the evidence of urban planning of the medieval civilisation," he
said, adding that if the ponds cannot be revived then they should be
utilised as parks so that excavation projects can also be taken up.

The Palye Pukhoo of Ward No 4 on which the Kirtipur Municipality has decided
to construct a multi-purpose building, is an ancient one, which has a
special cultural purpose of offering lotus flowers to the Buddhist temple of

Gyan Ratna Bajracharya, a member of Chilanchwo Bhagwan Guthi said the trust
for the Chilanchwo had 60 ropanis of land, out of which 56 ropanis had been
acquired by the Tribhuwan University and the remaining four ropanis is being
targeted by the municipality.

"We had been offering lotus flowers to Chilanchwo for ages. But we later
stopped this practice as the government withdrew our facilities. Later on,
some social organisations started keeping fish in the pond, which also
disappeared," he said. He has been fighting alone to save the ponds. The
Guthi Sansthan has stated that the ponds have historic value and hence
should be conserved. However, the municipality has not give up the idea of
construction which has generated controversy in the past two weeks.

The deputy mayor of Kirtipur Municipality Panna Ratna Bajracharya said that
the protests would not affect the municipality's decision. He did not
release the technical details and estimated budget of the building.

Meanwhile, the officers of Local Development Ministry said that the
municipality should not take up construction work on public land. "Specially
cultural properties like ponds are the local heritage. The municipalities
should conserve instead of destroying them," he said.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Government nod for Nepal Era, finally

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, October 26

The government today finally recognised the Nepal Era as the national calendar.

The movement started 24 years ago by the Nepalbhasa Mankaa Khalaa (NMK) to recognise the era was initiated by a Nepali, Sankhadhar Sakhwaa, the legend goes. The Nepal era follows the lunar system, by which most of Nepal's festivals are determined.

"The Nepal Era has got national recognition now, there is no doubt," Minister for Information and Communication Kamal Thapa said today, adding the Nepal Era should be used widely in public and ways to use it practically should be discussed.

Thapa was addressing a programme to launch a new postage stamp with the portrait of Sakhwaa who was recognised as the National Luminary by the government on November 18, 1999.

According to the legend, written in Bhasa Cronicle, Sakhwaa initiated the Nepal Era after he got citizens of Kathmandu out of their debts. That was possible as he got a huge treasure during the reign of King Raghav Dev. He had seen some porters bringing sacks of sand from the Bishnumati river on an auspicious day as per the king's order. Sakhwaa thought of it as extraordinary and bought the sand himself. On the next day, on October 20, 879 AD, the sand turned into gold powder with which he could let people be free of their debts and he, then, initiated the era.

Minister Thapa said all Nepali citizens are indebted to Sakhwaa, adding the contributions of "this great person" should not be confined to a small territory or any one community, but should be considered as national heritage.

Naresh Bir Shakya, secretary

of NMK, said though they have been raising the issue of recognising the Nepal Era by the state for the past 24 years, previous governments never acted. "I think it is a great achievement of the NMK movement. Now, people will be inspired to use the Nepal Era in public, too," he added.

In 1980, the NMK had started the movement to demand not only recognition from the state but also exchange New Year greetings. The movement also worked as a platform to protest against the Panchayati System before 1990, but later it turned into a cultural festival.

Nepal Era was the official calendar for over a thousand years in the history of the Kathmandu Valley and today it serves historians for study of historical documents all of which have dates from the ninth to the 19th century according to the Nepal Era.


Thursday, October 23, 2003

Stolen ancient idol on its way back

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, October 22[2003

The 400-year-old masterpiece from Patan, which was stolen 19 months ago
and was about to be sold to a museum in Austria, is to be returned to
Nepal, thanks to some Buddhist sympathisers and scholars of Austria.

The 1.2-metre tall gilded head of Dipankar Buddha was stolen on February
16, 2002 from its caretaker's house at Chibah Nani in Nag Bahal. The
trust members reported the theft to the

District Police Office but in vain. The idol was discovered later when a
German art dealer, Peter Hardt, tried to sell it to Dr Schicklgruber,
the curator for South Asian art of the Ethnographic Museum in Vienna, at
a price of $200,000 (Rs 16 million) in May 2002. When it was identified
as a stolen object by scholars of University of Vienna, with the help of
the Buddhist community of Lalitpur, the matter was reported to the
Interpol and the case taken to the court, which has now ordered to
return the image to Nepal.

"A series of lucky incidents led to the idol's discovery," Dr Alexander
v Rosatt, who had been involved in rescuing the stolen idol, told The
Himalayan Times today. He hoped that this particular incident would set
an example and it would make the smuggling of ancient art objects more
difficult in the future.

A special function is being organised on Friday in Kathmandu to hand
over the idol to the rightful owners. As Nepal does not have separate
Austrian ambassador to Nepal, the Austrian ambassador to India, Jutta
Setfan Bastl, is coming here with her credentials to hand over the idol
to the trust members through officials of Ministry of Culture, after
receiving credentials from King Gyanendra on the same day.

The idol would be flown free of cost courtesy Austrian Airlines and the
additional insurance and handling expenses will be met by local trust
members. Nepali government has not spent anything for the grand return.

It is the third instance when a stolen ancient idol is being returned to
Nepal, largely due to the efforts of the destination countries.

A local heritage lover said before the stolen object ended up with a
western art dealer, it was burgled by locals, sold by Nepali middlemen
and exported with the connivance of Nepali government officials.
According to him, it was officially exported with the proper
documentation of the Department of Archaeology.

"Unfortunately the western art dealer preferred to keep mum and the
Nepalis, including the government officials, involved in the smuggling
have escaped the net," said another expert on cultural heritage.
[The Himalayan Times (Kathmandu), October 23, 2003]

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Lakhe culture in jeopardy

Razen Manandhar

Kathmandu, September 13[2003]:
The tradition of dance of the red-haired `demon' Lakhe, a popular
emblem advertised for attracting tourists to Nepal, now faces a
crisis of existence as the government hardly shows any interest in
conserving the age-old cultural heritage.

The Lakhe is taken around Kathmandu streets during the eight-day
Indrajatra that ends on Sunday from Lakhenani in Mazipat. The Newar
families of Ranjitkars, the traditional dyers, have kept the
tradition of Lakhe alive, though hardly any of them are now involved
with dyeing.

According to historians, the tradition began as early as in the
seventh century, though opinions vary about the exact date. A popular
legend has it that a man-eating demon fell in love with a local
farmer girl and married her on the condition that he would protect
the city and stop eating human flesh. The dance is to honour the
Lakhe's keeping of its pledge.

Today, people worship the masked dancer as a God and offer coins.
However, the rich culture is on the verge of extinction as the
government's annual contribution of Rs 7,000 to a trust meant to keep
the tradition alive is insufficient to carry out the rituals even for
a day. The trust has to manage lunch for 20 persons and dinner for
around a hundred guests each day, resulting, obviously, in financial

"Problems? The arrival of Indrajatra itself is a problem for us,"
Binod Ranjit, the chief of Sri Lakhe Aju Guthi, the organising trust,
said. He joined the trust as a three-year-old boy, playing the role
of Jhyalincha, the naughty teaser of the demon. And after dancing as
a Lakhe for almost a decade, he is now head of the management team.
However, for livelihood, he has to work as an electrician and sell
wares on the streets at Sundhara in the evenings.

The trust does not have any money to pay the dancers and other
volunteers, who contribute their time and energy. Still, to keep the
tradition of Lakhe alive, the trust members shell out money from
their own pockets to accrue around Rs 50,000 every year. "But how
long can it go on like this? With the changing times, one day you
might hear that the Lakhe could not come out on the streets for that
year because of lack of funds," Ranjit said.

With the government showing no interest in providing security for the
Lakhe dance troupe, they often have to face gangsters and looters on
the streets, particularly at night. Ram Ranjit, a volunteer, said
while the tradition of Lakhe itself faces extinction, a large number
of `fake' Lakhe dancers are earning moolah in hotels and other
cultural programmes by exploiting the tradition.
[Kathmandu, 24, September, 2003]

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Lessons Learnt

When the Yetkha Bahal was chosen for conservation by the UNESC and LVPT, little did the conservations know of the challenges that lay ahead.

Razen Manandhar

Kathmandu is beautiful not just because of the seven monument zones that have been recognized by the government as well as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). But besides these too there are innumerable temples, stupas, monasteries and other heritages that are equally elegant and have cultural significance.

A notable example is Yetkha Bahal. Located at the core of old Kathmandu, is about a five minute-walk from the Hanumandhoka Durbar Square. If you walk from Maju Dewal of Hanumandhoka to Naradevi, a small lane on your left will take you to a open quadrangle.

The courtyard
it is big quadrangle – bigger than a football ground – with a giant while Buddhist stupa at the centre. Around 80 residential buildings, sporadically reconstructed, surround the brick-paved square. Originally, such quadrangles are meant to be shrines or monasteries. There must have been a temple like construction, called Dyo-chhen, and the rest of the surrounding two-floor buildings used to be classrooms, meditation halls or dormitory for the celibate monks.

There are around three dozen such monasteries, categorized as 'Bahals' or Bahils', in Kathmandu alone but none of them today has monks studying Buddhism. By 18th century, the Bajracharyas and Shakyas, "the masters of thunderbolt" and "venerable ones", who are said to be the rightful residents, forgot the essence of what they were.   They got rid of monkhood and so, their titles, these days, have become mere surnames. They not only started claiming the shrine as their own property, but also have dismantled the fabric of monastery and replaced them with new constructions, throwing all the elaborate pieces away.

100-year-old-picture shows that a homogeneous row of two-story buildings, all with slopped, tied roofs, stood there at Yetkha Bahal. But most of the buildings today are no more than 40 feet tall – all made of concrete with contrasting colours and designs.

The Dyo-chhen
Just opposite the entrance, across the stupa, there lies an old three-storied building – Dyo-chhen, or the "home of the god". There is an idol of Akshyabhya Buddha on the ground floor and the upper floor contains a secret chamber where only the initiated Bajracharya priests can worship.  Only a few are aware today that it is the only reminder of the original feature of the courtyard. This is a piece of architecture that has few comparisons in the whole Kathmandu Valley.
"It is unique from every angle. You can say that it is a jewel of the Newar civilization that flourished in the Kathmandu Valley from the fifth century," says Dr. Rohit Ranjitkar, an architect and expert of the valley monuments, Kathmandu Valley Conservation Trust (KVPT).

It's "torana" and struts are something you cannot find elsewhere in the valley. Experts claim that parts of the original building could be seven to eight hundred years old. The undated "torana" has a motif similar to those of cave art of India. Similarly, the struts with images of Yakshinis are also equally antique. Only in Itumbahal, Okubahal and the temple of Indreshwor (Panauti) possess such struts. The gloomy sanctum of the ground floor contains a small and ordinary looking idol, recently installed after the original one was stolen decades back.

The Dyo-chhen originally belonged to a guthi (trust) of the Tamrakars, the traditional coppersmiths. It was intact till 1968, as shows a picture taken around that time. In around 1980, the guthi members, instead of carrying on the legacy, hired on Bajracharya (priest) who performed daily rituals at the shrine daily and in return, got to live in the temple. Time passed, and the priest was found with an crafted land ownership certificate. Still, he never took pain to conserve the monument. So much so, they did not repair the shrine when the five-faced window fell to the ground in 1985. And the dilapidated condition did not bother the Tamrakars either.


After over four years, the restoration of Yetkha Bahal Dyo-chhen has been completed. It was a project jointly carried out by the KVPT, an NGO working in the restoration sector for the past one decade, and the UNESCO.

According to the project officials, the venture cost around 2.7 million for restoration. For this the Sumitomo Foundation provided $ 23,000 while KVPT collected a fun of Rs. 12,500 from various sources. The project began in April 2002 though the paperwork and preparation began as early as 1998.


It is a success story, if we look at it superficially. But one wonders that the 'guthi' members not only refused to help but also kept hindering the process. The officials from UNESCO and KVPT selected the Dyo-chhen looking at the beauty and antiquity of the monument. But they were unaware of the problems that lay behind the beautifully carved doors. Before the project ended, the technicians expressed: "It was a mistake. A bad choice, indeed."

The trust members did not disclose the ownership problem earlier, but as everything was ready, the fake owner refused to have the monument resorted. Finally, the project had to decide that it would buy back the monument for the restoration's sake. Still, the guthi members provided only less than half of the total amount to buy building for themselves, while KVPT and Katmandu Metropolitan City jointly provided the rest of the amount.

The owner just turned their back on the project and after it was completed some weeks ago, the owners went to the project office and demanded modern electric fittings be provided and the walls be painted, etc, which are against the norms of conservation. In addition, some even asked that a party be organized for the guthi members and the neighbours, and refused to take the key of the moment until their demands were fulfilled.

This is a ridiculous incident in the history of foreign assistance for conservation. Due to similar attitude of Nepali owners, either private or the government, donors have shows little interest in providing financial assistance to us.

Undoubtedly, the sole responsibility of restoring the monument falls on the shoulders of the locals who are proud of their heritage. It the government is found indifferent in this regard, the locals should come forward as most of them belong to well-to-do families.

There are hundreds of monuments awaiting conservation but there is little hope from the owners that they would conserve their legacy. Is the Yetkha Bahal conservation project putting a full stop on future possibilities of foreign donation for conservation programmes in collaboration with the local owners?