Hundreds of people gathered at Khula Manch of Kathmandu on Saturday to express solidarity with “Occupy Tudikhel” campaign. People from all walks of life joined the rally chanting ‘save Kathmandu’s lungs.’ It is particularly encouraging to see leaders from virtually all parties joining the bandwagon to save Tudikhel, the open ground at the heart of the city, which over the years has become the victim of encroachment both from the private actors as well as the public entities. Tudikhel, that originally spanned from Ranipokhari to Dasharath Stadium, has a historic importance for Nepal and it must be kept free from encroachment. Open spaces in Kathmandu Valley have shrunk in front of our own eyes over the years and the government authorities responsible for saving them have not been able to do much about it. Thus a campaign, or a pressure campaign to be more precise, to free the public lands from encroachment and prevent such encroachments in whatever remaining public lands we have today, was long overdue.
Of course, the current government alone is not responsible for rising cases of encroachment on public lands across the country, including in Kathmandu. The encroachment drive goes far back to the Panchayat era but no governments seem to have thought it necessary to punish the encroachers because most of them happen to be enjoying the protection from one or other political parties. To take the case of Tudikhel, it had emerged in April this year that a contractor had erected temporary structures inside Tudikhel and even rented the rooms to the small traders. Kathmandu Metropolitan City demolished these structures only after huge public outrage against the construction of those structures at Khula Manch for business purpose. As things stand, the public spaces of Kathmandu Valley are fast disappearing. Virtually every piece of public land—from the river bank land to roads and public trails—has been encroached upon. Land mafias have made the matters worse.
Thus the campaigners of Occupy Tudikhel would do well to expand their initiative to much larger areas. The land encroachment in Baluwatar areas and various such places inside the valley has yet to be resolved. Though the government has been expressing commitment to punish the encroachers and all those involved in illegal buying and selling of public land, it has not happened yet. The importance of saving public land from encroachment is obvious. Rising dust and air pollution has posed serious health hazards to people. Open space does not only bring fresh air but also help battle pollution. Its importance was starkly felt during the 2015 devastating earthquakes when the residents of Kathmandu all flocked to the open space to set up tents and create temporary shelters. Kathmandu, however, is not only the place where land encroachment is on the rise. The problem is rampant across the country. Thus the government should take initiative to free all open spaces from illegal occupation and encroachment. That would be in the best interest of all.