Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Dharahara park being built despite SC fiat

Razen Manandhar
Kathmandu, December 12:

The re-construction of the historic site of Dharahara-Sundhara for commercial purposes, which halted after a Supreme Court verdict, has

Kathmandu Metropolitan City leased the 172-year-old site -- the tallest tower and the deepest waterspout in the country -- to a fresh
company called Side Walkers Traders Pvt. Ltd (SWT) for 20 years without inviting tenders. The contract, signed on May 13 by then
mayor Keshav Sthapit and promoter of SWT Sanjib Tuladhar, has left six spaces blank for witnesses' signatures.

The SWT will pay Rs 60,000 per month to KMC for using the spout and the tower, both constructed around 1832 AD, and over five ropani of
open space for commercial purposes.

The KMC had made similar contract with the SWT in June 11, 1998 to lease the area, but the Supreme Court on March 7 last year ordered a
stop to it after lengthy legal action and counter-action, saying that the KMC had no authority to do that. But, KMC again made new contract
with the same party seven months ago. The contract states that SWT would construct a series of shops along the wall and also construct a
garden, souvenir shop, flower shop, communication centre and a restaurant with a pubic toilet, including installing a statue of
Bhimsen Thapa. It will also hold the right to charge people a fee for observing the historic tower. In addition, if SWT gets embroiled in
any legal action again, KMC will compensate it.

Even the concerned department of KMC is ignorant of the "secret" contract. An official at Environment Department of KMC said he only
recently heard about the ongoing construction work. "I never heard about such a contract, though it happens to fall in my department. I
think it is too big an issue for me to talk about. I am surprised," the official said.

The contract paper claims: "The issue was repeatedly discussed in the KMC board and passed". A board member said he had never heard of the
matter in any of the board meetings. Ex-chairman of ward 22 Manik Ratna Sthapit said the issue was never discussed in the boards,
adding that he had refused to toe the line when the ex-mayor asked him to sign on the contract as a witness.

Gautam Dangol, general secretary of local Sankata Sports Club, said that the contract was a clear example of corruption at the top
political levels. "How can anyone so blatantly flout the SC verdict? I asked the ward 22 office about the construction but the office
secretary replied the office has no information about it," he said.
Dangol added the locals are committed to stop the construction at any cost.

The promoter of SWT, Sanjib Tuladhar, could not be reached for comments.

Advocate Bijaya Kumar Basnet said he would file a writ in the SC soon, adding the contract between the ex-mayor and Tuladhar violated
the rights provided by law to the KMC.