After the April 2015 earthquakes, the home ministry had labeled 475 settlements across 18 districts landslide-prone during the monsoons. After that, another survey of the Department of Mines and Geology had identified 117 settlements in 11 districts as the most vulnerable. But the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), as it found itself mired in an endless sequence of controversies, was unable to relocate vulnerable households in these communities on time. This is why thousands of families were left to fend for themselves last monsoon as the rains battered down on their flimsy makeshift homes. Many of these houses were washed away. Now the new chief executive officer of the NRA, Govinda Raj Pokharel, has come up with a new plan to relocate quake-hit settlements before the onset of the next monsoon in four-month’s time. He has proposed providing Rs 100,000 to each household to shift to a safer spot in settlements that have no more than 10 households. For those in settlements of more than 10 households, the NRA will carry out resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation on its own. Coming on the eve of the second anniversary of the earthquakes, these plans give the 600,000 quake-affected people some hope.
The NRA also plans to provide a lump sum of Rs 100,000 for each landless household so that it can buy a piece of land to a build new home. This is a wonderful initiative considering that these people are not entitled to the Rs 300,000 in post-quake housing grant, as they don’t have land registration certificates. But although the prime minister is said to be positive on these ideas, there is still a lot of suspicion among quake-affected families that the government will follow through on these promises. After all, right after assuming office, the previous NRA chief, Sushil Gyewali, had also made many promises, including on quick resettlement of quake victims. But when he was forced out of office after a year Gyewali had little to show for his time at NRA. Pokharel has a strong record of delivering during his long tenure at different government bodies, and this was why he reportedly got the NRA job. We hope that he won’t disappoint this time as well. He can’t afford to, with hundreds of thousands of lives on the line.
A lot will depend on what kind of support he gets from Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the next few months, as the prime minister is sure to be occupied with laying the ground for the three sets of elections planned for the next 11 months. As the country goes into election mode, the government’s priority is bound to shift. It will be up to NRA and its new chief to not let the executive forget the sorry plight of earthquake victims. Next few months before the election provides a narrow window of opportunity to do something meaningful for quake victims. This opportunity must not be missed. Ideally, the 600,000 quake-affected people should be able to vote in these elections with unencumbered minds.