Experts doubt monuments to be rebuilt can withstand quakes

Published On: September 7, 2016 12:50 AM NPT By: Gyan P Neupane  | @GyaNeupane

-Suggest proper supervision to ensure originality, durability
KATHMANDU, Sept 7: As the Department of Archaeology (DoA) begins the reconstruction of some historical monuments in Kathmandu Valley, doubts have arisen if the new structures can withstand future sesimic jolts.

Experts have raised questions about the longevity of the structures once they are rebuilt mainly because government supervision as per the existing procedures is not sufficient to ensure quality. The experts have also raised questioned about the construction materials that the authorities plan to use.

So far the department has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with 11 national and international entities for the reconstruction of various monuments destroyed by earthquake last year. Similarly, the department is in the process of selecting contractors for rebuilding 49  of the monuments.

As of now, the department has begun work on rebuilding around a dozen monuments inside the Valley.

“Work on rebuilding destroyed monuments has already started in some areas of the Valley, but we are not so sure about the longevity of the structures once they are restored,” archaeologist Bishnuraj Karki told Republica. “Questions have been raised partly because we don't have proper supervision criteria to avoid technical faults during the reconstruction.”

 UNESCO also has been pressing the Ministry of Culture and Civil Aviation (MoCCA) and other stakeholders to change the bidding procedures when it comes to rebuilding heritage sites.

“Since the very beginning of the reconstruction, UNESCO has stressed in meetings and letters addressed to MoCCA and the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) the importance of changing the bidding procedures for historical monuments,” reads the statement released by the UNESCO office in Kathmandu on Thursday.

It has also warned that awarding the contract to the lowest bidder is inappropriate when it comes to rebuilding heritage, as there is a major risk of destroying the uniqueness of Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites.

“As a result, the cultural tourism potential of Nepal might be negatively affected,” the statement further reads.

Karki, who is also a former director general at DoA and is currently involved in the conservation of Panchamukhi Temple inside Hanumandhoka Durbar complex, has stressed that a proper supervision mechanism is the best way to ensure originality and longevity in the structures to be rebuilt. 

“We should focus on developing a mechanism that would avoid faults under the existing procurement procedures instated of thinking about other new procedures,” he said. “If we go for a new process, we will again face new complications that will eventually delay our entire reconstruction work.”

Reconstruction work on the Balgopaleshwar Temple in the middle of Ranipokhari has been suspended since a few weeks after Kathmandu Metropolitan City's plans to use modern building materials and techniques instead of adhering to traditional styles as per the archaeological norms drew widespread criticism. UNESCO and some experts have expressed serious concern over inappropriate rebuilding processes.

“The reconstruction of Balgopaleshwar temple is one recent example of poor supervision and monitoring,” said senior architect Sudarsanraj Tiwari, adding. “It shows that the current working style has become irrelevant."  He spoke of the need for a proper supervision mechanism to ensure longevity and originality of the heritage sites.

However, he said the government's procurement process should not be a big issue while ensuring the longevity and originality of new structures. “Procurement is not a big deal so far as we have already done several reconstructions applying the government's procuring processes,” Tiwari said. “But we need some changes in the bidding process as UNESCO also has requested the government for changes.”

Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesperson at DoA, said that if proper supervision is lacking during the reconstruction, the structures may not sustain future jolts.

“Ensuring quality from various perspectives is a very challenging issue as we are working on several monuments simultaneously,” he said. “This issue should be discussed at the policy and leadership levels.”

Kunwar admitted that the widespread criticism over inappropriate rebuilding at the Balgopaleshwar Temple has taught a lesson about the need of regular supervision.

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