Thursday, November 29, 2007

Making of a planned Kathmandu Valley

Razen Manandhar

kathmandu - The fertile green land of Kathmandu valley is turning into a concrete jungle so rapidly that, the planners estimate, after 25 years, Kathmandu Valley’s agricultural land will be at a zero.

The shortage of agricultural land in this legendary valley will not only distort its ecological balance but also destroy its livelihood and will create a huge crisis among the residents, a draft report states.

Is it possible to safeguard this "piece of heaven", this capital city, which has passed the limits of uncontrolled, unscientific and illegal development? One can hardly imagine making a healthy metropolis out of this valley which has called the haphazard construction of houses, urbanisation. Still, the urban planners are hopeful of bringing back a balanced and environment-friendly Valley.

The minister of works and physical planning, the minister of state, director-general, deputy director-generals, mayors, deputy mayors and other urban planners sat together for the umpteenth time two weeks ago to think seriously about finding ways to stop Kathmandu from further deterioration. (The minister Mahanta Thakur, however, left even before the resource person shed light on the objectives of the programme).

The Planning Team of Kathmandu Valley Urban Development Committee has developed the latest Kathmandu Valley Development Plan - 2020. This draft plan aims at reducing the external factors of population growth and assisting the government implement the programmes and projects as per the plan’s targets.

The making of a planned Kathmandu Valley has innumerable challenges. It is not that the government has done nothing in this field. But, the counter current is so strong and is coming en masse that it is beyond the reach of any law, by-laws or regulations. Those were the days when the valley was in the hands of the dwellers who lived to serve it, decorated it, made it even more beautiful. Now, the power of those who encroach, squat and ruin the beauty of the city is on the rise.

The present challenges:

Since it is the main valley, it obviously creates the most opportunities for starting a career and job hunting. So, the inflow of immigrants is natural. In 1950, the population of the valley was around 400,000 but now it is estimated to be over 1.5 million. During the 1981-91 period, out of the total population, 37.5 percent were found to be immigrants. In the same period, the urban population of the valley jumped to 61 percent from an earlier 56 percent.

Despite the present development trends, the Valley has made its identity as a place rich in cultural heritage. It was so inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1979 but the drastic urbanisation has increasingly threatened this age-long heritage. Encroachment onto public and religious lands and turning traditional buildings into concrete matchboxes has been the present tendency. This is the reason why the Valley was proposed to be included in the Heritage in Danger list.

Until 1981, 75 percent of the valley population depended on agriculture whereas in 1991, only one third are found engaged in any agro-profession. This change reflects the changing economic condition of the residents and this needs to be taken into consideration while introducing new plans for the valley. The increasing number of industries are encouraging signs but when we read that 40 percent of the polluting industries like kilns and carpet industries are in the valley, this definitely disheartens the planners. Three industrial estates cover 55 hectares of the valley.

The valley is occupied by a total of 943kms of road on which over a hundred thousand vehicles travel every day. And out of the total, 86 percent are found to be private ones, responsible for the present excessive number of vehicles in the valley — 60 percent of the country’s total vehicles use the Valley’s roads.

The legendary lake valley is in dire need of drinking water. The concerned body distributes only 80-115 million litres daily to meet the demand of 145 million litres. Only two thirds of the population depend on pipeline water and others make their own underground water source. The traditional sources of waterspouts are also drying up.

As a capital, the valley definitely houses the biggest number of institutions to provide different facilities to the citizens. There are over 2500 educational institutions, government and private, working in the valley. In the health sector also, there are 173 institutions with a bed capacity of around 4000. Out of around 300 standard hotels and resorts of the country, 87 percent are located in the valley alone. Despite the attempts and plans to promote decentralization, all the opportunities for a better life is congested in the valley but the actual capacity has never been calculated.

The rising population, industries, vehicles can be blamed for making the valley unsuitable to live in from the pollution point of view. Medium and big industries are responsible for 104 tonnes of dust particles with the smoke they jet out everyday. Lead particles found in the air around Bhotahity, Kalimati, Kingsway, Maharajgunj etc. can be held responsible for the growing cases of respiratory and reproductive illnesses.

Will this long-term plan for the coming two decades be strong enough to combat these challenges? In retrospect, we have already had several plans, which had in general little impact upon the random development in the valley. For the last 30 years, many steps have been taken in this regard: The plans of 1971, 1976, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1995 are either not finalised, not ratified, not implemented or not working forcefully enough.

Still, this is perhaps the last ray of hope to make this small valley really a model capital city — that respects both traditional traits and modern developments. The government is presently busy, discussing the draft of this long-term plan. There is hope that it can do something to put an end to the unwanted, abrupt and unsystematic development which makes many desperately wish for another tragic earthquake to level the mushrooming buildings and encroachments that stand against healthy urbanisation.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, April 15, 2001 Baishakh 02, 2058.]