It appears that every public land of economic and historical values is for grab for the rich and powerful in Nepal. While Supreme Court recently asked the government to fortify the Fewa Lake and protect its area from encroachment from private landowners and hoteliers in Pokhara after series of reporting by Republica, more such stories are being reported in recent months. In February this year, we had reported how the land belonging to heritage site of Kamalpokhari inThamel was transferred to private individuals through series of collusion. Over 12 ropanis of land belonging to heritage site of Thamel is still under influential business people. As the case is yet to be settled, this land is yet to be freed from unscrupulous business people. Republica has uncovered another story of land grab of similar proportion. Around 114 ropanis of public land at Lalita Niwas in Baluwatar is under the control of private owner though the government had acquired this land back in 1964 and nationalized it by paying due compensation to the rightful owners. This proves that Nepali public land is not safe from powerful people—they grab it by hook or crook and hold it for personal use.
Like Kamalpokhari land of Thamel, land at Lalita Niwas has also been passed on to various individuals through collusion. It was captured by various people, including Rukma Shamsher Rana. It is good that the government has started investigation over the matter. A special team under Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police has intensified the documentation process and is tracking those involved in land grab. Various individuals are under scanner, including Bhim Prasad Gautam, who was land reforms minister in Baburam Bhattarai’s government. Preliminary report shows the thread of collusion can be traced to flawed decisions taken by successive governments headed by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Girija Prasad Koirala, Surya Bahadur Thapa, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai. That such negligence on state-owned land happens right under the nose of (perhaps also the involvement of) top leaders speaks volumes about how Nepali leaders care little about public land. It is troubling that case had been filed at CIAA to free the land when Lok Man Singh Karki was serving as its chief but it attracted no notice due to “political pressure.”
Reportedly, CIAA and CIB are actively working to book the guilty at the moment and they are carrying out investigations into former officials at the land revenue office. According to the CIB sources, they are also probing those who served as officers at the Land Revenue Office, Dillibazar between 1985 and 2017. That’s the right approach for the fraud of this proportion cannot have been carried out without the involvement of officials and political leaders in power. The CIB has already found that then chief of the Land and Revenue Office at Dillibazar and other officials were responsible for transferring the national property to private owners. CIB and CIAA should intensify investigation work and must not fall for pressure of any kind. Failing to book the guilty will further encourage those with connection with power centers to continue with grabbing the public land further. As we have maintained in this space before, every step should be taken to retain the state-owned land by the state.