Stand tough against land mafias

Published On: April 28, 2019 02:30 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

The glaring government apathy toward rising cases of public land grab and encroachment is deplorable. Such cases are being reported with troubling frequency. Republica reported about Lalita Niwas scandal. The 114 ropani land of Lalita Niwas has been sold out to various business and influential people in collusion with officials and politicians. The land mafia, it has been found, falsely undervalued the land at Rs 800,000 per ropani to evade taxes during registration.  Business people, including owner of Bhatbhateni Supermarket and politicians, including general secretary of ruling Nepal Communist Party Bishnu Paudel, have been accused of purchasing this public land. The party, so far, has not even questioned Paudel regarding his involvement in this case. This leaves a room to suspect government is indeed trying to protect him.

Equally disturbing is the apathy toward the actors who have illegally constructed 52-shutter room structure at the heart of Khula Manch for business purpose. What were the authorities, including Kathmandu Metropolitan City, doing when the construction was going on? At least one culprit has been identified in the case of Khula Manch case. It is Manoj Bhetwal, a controversial contractor who built overhead bridges with shop shutters at Kalanki. Activists of Livable Kathmandu campaign have submitted a memorandum to Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi of KMC and demanded early action. But no action has been initiated to punish Bhetwal and others involved in this illegal activity. We demand that the government take action against them and immediately demolish these illegally built structures. Besides, various public sector entities are also occupying Khula Manch space, threatening the very existence of the historic ground for public gatherings.

A recent report by Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) reveals how individuals and private business groups are involved in public land grab of massive scale. According to the report, a total of 1,800 ropanis of public land including those belonging to pond, monastery, river, temples, well, stone spouts and open space has been either encroached upon or registered in their names by around 5,000 individuals. And this happens in areas including Chabahil, Baneshwar, Boudha, Battisputali, Thapathali, Hadigaun and Budhanilakantha. In this context, the government must stand tough against land mafia. The government needs to bring to book those who are already identified as culprits. Then it should expand investigation outside the Valley as well. The recent reports indicate that land mafias must have usurped public land in many parts outside the Valley.  Understandably, not all of these wrongdoings happened under the nose of K P Sharma Oli government. Some cases of public land grab go as far back as 1956, others during the 1990s. But this does not give the current government any leeway not to investigate the cases and punish the guilty. The inaction on these cases has already added to public resentment against the government. People judge the government based on how effectively it deals with vital public concern. Encroaching on or grabbing public land has resulted in shrinking open space in the Valley—which stands prone to earthquake—in case of which people will need public space to save their lives. The government must show some spine to book the guilty, irrespective of their political affiliation or nexus with power centers.

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