The construction of public housing is critical for urban development anywhere, but Kathmandu Valley´s limited experience in this area is not very encouraging.
In 1977, the Nepali Government chose two sites west of the Bishnumati River to develop as housing projects. One was the locality of Kuleshwor near Kalimati, and the other was Dallu near the temple complex at Swayambhu.
The work at Kuleshwor, which was the first housing venture in the country to provide “site and services” proceeded as planned. The Kathmandu Valley ToWn Development Committee (KVTDC)acquired521ropanis (26.5 hectares) of land and prepared 810 housing plots with basic services like access roads, water drainage and electricity. All the plots were sold to civil servants and the scheme was declared completed in 1990.
Dallu was to be developed next, or so everyone thought. Without giving any explanation or warning, however, the KVTDC shifted its attention to a site 10 km to the north, in Golfutar, near Bansbari. “Vested interests” had apparently got interested.
An influential power broker holding alarge chunk of real estate in Golfutar found KVTDC officials as willing allies in a plan to neutralise tenants with whom he had been engaged in legal wrangling for years. A Government-sponsored housing development boondoggle was the best way to get the tenants off his back, and he got what he wanted. The KVTDC authorities turned out to be only too eager, in the heyday of the Panchay at, to oblige. They shifted all the resources at their command to Golfutar.
The Government used the principle of eminent domain to acquire 213 ropanis (10.85 ha) of Golfutar land. Altogether 581 housing plots were created and sold on first-come first-served basis, as a result of which most plots landed in the hands of speculators rather than genuine householders. KVTDC also established, for the first time, a policy of exchanging developed land for undeveloped properly, as a mode of compensation. This was done basically to please the Golfutar power broker, who reaped huge adv an t age. All the Go If u tar p!o ts were sold within a mere three days, and the project, financially in the red, was officially terminated in 1990. According to residents, the promised facilities such as proper roads have not been provided and, lately, commercial activity, including carpetmaking, has begun in this exclusively residential zone.
Dallu´s tale, on the other hand, has been replete with sorrow. Originally envisaged as a site and services project, the Government-imposed moratorium on the sale and construction ofany sort is still inplaceinDallu today. In 1977, when the KVTDC used its eminent domain prerogatives and acquired 352 ropanis (17,90 ha), the property owners had beenoffered official rates which were far below the prevailing market price, as is usually the case with Government compensation. The alienated landowners, who had not wanted the project in the first place, refused to accept any form of compensation for the expropriated land. Only about 20 per cent of them took compensation, much to their subsequent chagrin .The deadlock has continued. Successive administrations adopted a policy of wait-and-see over the ten years.
When the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning was established in 1988, the Government turned its attention once again to Dallu — “more out of compulsion than interest, as there were no other designated housing areas within the Valley,” according to Hemant Ariyal, current Project Chief for Dallu housing. Tomake up with the residents, the Government tried to raise the acquisition rates fixed in 1977, but it was stymied by the regulations which state that the price of acquired land, once fixed, cannot be changed later. The Government decided to move ahead anyway, and awarded contracts to begin work. On 25 November 1989, there was a violent confrontation between the Dallu residents and labourers, A nervous and. weakened Panchayat Government that was soon to fall immediately halted all construction activity.
Dallu residents held discussions with the Interim Government and reached agreement with the KVTDC on “land pooling” in the project area. The property owners have agreed to donate a part (40 per cent) of their holdings for building roads, open spaces and school areas. Under the deal, the remaining 60 per cent of land is returned back to the original owners in the form of prepared housing plots. The majority of the landowners were thus placated, but this leaves out in the cold those who had accepted compensation from the Government back in the late 1970s. They claim to have been unjustly victimised by the Government´s decision to return land only to those who had originally refused compensation. With the firstlocal election after thepolitical change coming up, the question of “land policy” has now become an election issue in Dallu. The dispute for and against the project is bound to grow more heated as the date approaches. Either way, the future of this venture remains quite uncertain.
PRIVATE SECTOR, PUBLIC SECTOR
The Tashi Nepal Company, a Bhutanese group, initiated the first private sector housing project in the Valley. It acquired five ropanis (0.25 ha) of agricultural land near Baudha and proposed to build apartment blocks — 64 units of various sizes. Only a part of the projecthas been completed owing to land title disputes, unclear laws and regulations, lack of coordination among government departments and reluctance of the authorities to provide sanction for the necessary materials. Tashi Nepal´s experience has proven to the private sector that the housing sector is still not ripe to invest in.
It is not that the Government is entirely without plans. Anew approach was initiated by the newly-formed Ministry of Housing and Physical Planning in 1988 to make more land available for housing; The guided land development (GLD) programme sought the active involvement of the public at the ward level, from the planning phase to completion. GLD has been successful in opening large chunks of land in the urban fringe, which otherwise would have had no access at all.
The focus of GLD has been to widen existing access roads and to plan and provide new access where it is possible and desired Voluntary contribution of land by owners is crucial to this programme, which creates its own limitations. In return for the cooperative gesture of residents of a locality, the Government undertakes to give priority in surfacing the road surface and providing drain sewers in the area.
Guided land development, for all its promise, has not been successful in curbing land speculation. It seems to work best in neighbourhoods where community leadership and a cooperative spirit exists. It could be seen as the middle way between the two extremes of rampant, unplanned development, and totally planned package projects, which have so far proved unworkable. There is clearly a need for the GLD process to spread — and quickly — throughout the Valley if housing development is not to continue in a haphazard and, ultimately, self-defeating manner.
N.Niraula is an urban planner