February 18, 2019 08:00 AM NPT
Heritage site of Kamalpokhari in Thamel has become the representative case of how rich and powerful connive to get public land under their ownership. That this has happened under the nose of administration and justice delivery institutions in Kathmandu indicates that when it comes to justice, rich and powerful are more equal than others. This disturbing case, if justice system cannot correct, could set the worst precedence in public land grab for purely private and business purpose. According to the report prepared in collaboration with Free Press Nepal, over 12 ropanis of land belonging to heritage site of Kamalpokhari of Thamel has remained under influential business people. And over the land is being built Chhaya Center complex—a business tower—worth five billion. Apparently, big names such as Prithivi Bahadur Pande, chairman of Chhaya Center as well as chairman of Nepal Investment Bank Ltd, Saurabh Jyoti’s Syakar Trading Company Pvt Ltd, former army chief Prajwalla SJB Rana are into it.
It is worrying that the rich and powerful were trying to encroach upon the land of heritage site from as early as 1901 and yet administration and justice delivery institutions made no intervention. Right from around 1901, business people tried to take over this land. The locals protested and took the matter to the court. In 1988, the government registered the said land under its name but three years later one Ambika Rana registered it in her and her brother Shankar Prasad Shah’s names. Again the public protested forcing the Guthi Sansthan to rectify matters. Rana and Shah were called to take their money back and free the land. The two instead sued Guthi Sansthan, but they lost. Six years later, the court ruled in favor of Rana and Shah. Members of Shree Singhsartha Bahu Garun Bhagwan Guthi appealed at district court to free the land again. When Rana and Shah allegedly bribed these members, in 2008 the case ended in compromise paving the way for private possession of the land. There have been efforts to free the land but they have been met with resistance.
Now the case is sub-judice at the Supreme Court and locals of Thamel are awaiting verdict. They have looked up to Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher for justice. Likes of Prithivi Bahadur Pande have tried to dismiss the case by calling it a “fabricated” issue. But there is a consensus among cultural experts that taking over the land of heritage site is illegal. We believe that the Supreme Court will deliver justice. But the whole Kamalpokhari land saga has reinforced that influential people are doing everything they can to take the public land under their ownership. This revelation comes out at a time the provincial authorities in Gandaki Province are trying to free the encroached land of Fewa Lake from private ownership. In collusion with powerful politicians, the rich and powerful have always been encroaching upon the public land. Only way to discourage this trend is through effective punitive measures. Public lands belong to the public and it should be as such.