Thursday, June 10, 2004

Red tapism hindering conservation

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, June 9:


A recently published survey report has pointed out the lack of the coordination between the government agencies and local communities as the major cause of failure of conservation of monument zones of Kathmandu Valley, named as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. Kathmandu Valley was named as a World Heritage Site, with seven zones -- three Malla palaces, two stupas and two temples in 1979 but was put in the
list of Monuments in Danger in 2003 as the performance of the government was not satisfactory despite UNESCO's repeated requests and warnings.

'An independent survey and evaluation report on the present status of Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Site', prepared by the Planners' Alliance for the Himalayan Allied Regions (PAHAR) has criticised government bodies, local governments and communities for not being committed enough to conserve cultural heritage. The World Heritage Centre has received the report and and the same is expected to be the
basis of discussion of Kathmandu Valley issue in its 28th session to be started next month in Beijing. The report says, with the danger- listing of the valley, it has become clear that the present approach to conservation has not been successful.

The re-evaluation of the overall approach would allow us to prepare a system that would allow for better results, adding, "on the conceptual level, there are three main parameters that need to be considered � commitment, capacity and plan". Kai Waise, team leader of the study, said the policy of the government has been unable to win the hearts of locals insofar as conservation is concerned and thus they are indifferent to their own heritage that needs conserving. "If only 75 percent of the community is convinced, others will naturally come to support government," he added.

The German government-funded report pointed out the shortcomings of the performance of the government and stressed, "The commitment and will of the government to implement plans prepared for the monument zones needs to be revitalised" "The government needs to clearly define the priority they are willing to give to conservation vis-a-vis other urban development sectors. The judicial basis of
conservation, especially in the case of private property within the monument zones, would need to be reviewed and if necessary revised.
And each of the monument zones needs a conservation committee to help implement and monitor conservation efforts," according to the study.

The report also proposed a mechanism of regular meetings: local monthly meetings at each of the seven zones, national quarterly meetings and international annual meetings at central locations to coordinate with UNESCO and donors. Chandra Prasad Tripathi, chief of World Heritage Section at DoA said since the report was "individualized" the department was not obliged to accept it in totol.


Effective conservation The conservation of World Heritage Sites in
Kathmandu has constantly been in the news for nearly a year now. The
Sites are sometimes encroached upon by stubborn locals, while at
others, new concrete structures suddenly emerge in prohibited areas
such as Swayambhu � reportedly in connivance with the local
authorities. Though some of these illegal edifices have been pulled
down by the government in the past, this has not entirely dissuaded
the unscrupulous from trying to find an excuse to erect new ones all
over again. Then the Pratappur Temple at Swayambhu caught fire,
following which the temple collapsed a month or so later. All this
while, authorities and those representing the Temple squabbled over
when and how to begin restoration work. At the same time around
arrived the UNESCO's list of Monuments in Danger � another pointer
that all was not well with the historic monuments. A report now finds
the lack of coordination between government agencies and local
communities as the source of concern in preserving the Sites.

The report also points out that the present conservation efforts have
proved ineffective. There is a greater need than ever before to
evaluate the current approach adopted for the upkeep of these
edifices. Authorities adopting and implementing new strategies for
safeguarding the monuments must understand the inevitable that unless
local participation is encouraged, no amount of extraneous
interventions will yield the desired results. People must be made
aware of the benefit accruing from their involvement in protecting
the monuments. It is these structures that serve as eloquent
manifestation of Nepali culture. But as the trend goes, the locals
lend precious little towards the upkeep of the monuments in and
around the Heritage Sites. Red tapism and cumbersome bureaucratic
procedures which tend to deter the foreign conservation agencies as
well as the NGOs need to be eliminated right away. Unfortunate as it
is, petty interests of some of the stakeholders is also a major
handicap for whatever restoration projects are underway.

Judicial problems have been identified as another obstacle. The
government needs to be clear about the cases involving private
property alongside or within the precincts of the Heritage Sites. It
must define priority for conservation vis-�-vis other urban
development projects. Monitoring and implementing the devised
strategies on a regular basis is no doubt desirable. Those
participating in the deliberations on conservation in Beijing next
month will have to present a practical and acceptable solution to the
UN body concerned in order to give a new lease of life to the
conservation endeavour in Nepal.