Thapathali Landless Lot Gasping for Roofs over their Heads
Bhinod Ghimere, E-kantipur.com
KATHMANDU—While many Kathmanduites might have been waiting desperately for pre-monsoon rains, squatters living on the Bagmati river banks at Thapathali have been longing for a dry climate.
The incessant rains in the past four days brought misery to around 100 landless families, soaking their clothes and food items. A change in the weather like rain, storm, cold and heat compounds the woes of the squatters who always lack access to safe drinking water, electricity and toilets. Common cold, diarrhoea, dysentery and asthma are common in the settlement dwelled by around 1,000 squatters in tiny plastic shacks since May 8 last year after the government bulldozed their huts.
Even one year after their settlement demolition the squatters feel despondent about ever having proper roofs over heads. “We are living in the hell,” lamented Bimala Rai. “Why were our houses bulldozed if the government had no plan to relocate us?”
She has been waiting to see the commitment of former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai getting implemented for the past one year. Bhattarai on May 13 had met them and promised a new settlement. He had regretted that their huts were demolished without any alternative. “It was all crocodile tears. He did nothing for our welfare,” she said. “Either give back our houses or relocate us. We don’t want to live in misery any more.”
Claiming that squatters should be evicted to shape up the Bagmati clean plan, the government, one year ago, had demolished 258 huts, including one school building in Thapathali. All the houses were razed to the ground with the help of 2,200 security personnel, making 1,250 people living in hovels, huts and some concrete buildings in the 400-metre area from the Bagmati Bridge in Thapathali to Buddhanagar homeless. While some of the hapless moved elsewhere, 178 families are residing in the area in a pathetic condition.
Though the government provided Rs 15,000 each to 67 ‘genuine’ landless families for three months of temporary lodging, they have received no support now. “There has been no concern from the government side since then,” said Suman Chaudhary, secretary of Landless Scatters’ Struggle Committee.
After mounting criticisms, the Bhattarai-led government had tasked Keshav Sthapit, commissioner of the Kathmandu Valley Town Development Authority (KVTDA), to resettle the squatters , which he failed to make any progress.
Earlier, efforts many by the KVTDA to relocate them on the premises of Himal Cement Factory and later at Sudharighat in Lalitpur came a cropper after stern protests from local residents. The move to shift them to Manohara and Bansighat also failed after locals in those areas were up in arms. According to Sthapit, the relocation plan could not materialise due to the tussle between the KVTDA, Department of Urban Development Building Construction and Committee for Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilisation. “We hope that the problem will be sorted out very soon,” he said.
He claimed that concrete block houses will be built in Shankhamul for their temporary settlement before shifting them to a permanent place. Sthapit also said the Ministry of Finance has assured of Rs 20 million budget to that effect.
The government record shows that there are around 14,000 squatters in the Kathmandu Valley, but squatters claim the number is around 23,000.