Thursday, 25 February, 2021

Freeing Khula Manch From Encroachment

It is a commendable move on the part of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) to demolish the unauthorising structures built in the Open Theatre of Kathmandu. The KMC has begun bulldosing such structures since Wednesday. A construction company, Jaleshwar Swochhanda Bikai Builders Pvt. Ltd., is reported to have constructed the structures by encroaching upon public land and then rented them out to others for running shops. A witness to mass meetings of all the major popular uprisings, the historic site holds a lot of significance. Political parties used to organise their mass meetings at this site. The democratic movements of 1990 and 2006 had started from Khula Manch. Politicians and citizens would use this space to gather together and speak out their feelings, thereby becoming a part of change.

Popularly known as 'Khula Manch', the Open Air Theatre had turned into a shelter for many victims of the 2015 devastating earthquake. But the open ground was later encroached upon massively in the name of using it as a temporary bus park. It also became an unmanaged parking area and a storage site for the construction materials used for building Bir Hospital. Contractors found it easy for them to keep the workers involved in the reconstruction of the Durbar High School and Dharahara in the area. As Khula Manch was losing its charm and essence as an open space, the KMC had called on the Bir Hospital and Durbar High School authorities to clear the ground when the construction of the hospital reached its final stage and reconstruction of the school was complete.

The KMC is planning to properly utilise the open ground, which is considered to be the largest in the heart of the city, and develop it into a public-friendly open theatre for mass gatherings and meetings. In the past, the space stretched over some 48 ropanis of land. Currently, half of the total area is being used as bus park. The KMC also aims to add greenery to the site by planting trees and grasses on the ground. It is also notable that the KMC is in the process of preparing a master plan to develop Khula Manch in a more systematic manner. The local government has taken the fresh step in the wake of public outrage and protests from locals and different other groups against the encroachment of the space. About two years ago, an initiative was taken to remove the unauthorised structures from the open theatre. But it could not be successful because of the blame game between KMC's Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya and the Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi.

However, the local authority has now taken a good initiative to manage this vital space in a desirable manner. The KMC should also intensify its efforts to deal with numerous other problems and issues associated with urban management under its jurisdiction. It needs to focus on preserving the heritage sites and keeping the city clean and beautiful. It must ensure that all the major heritage sites like the Kathmandu Durbar Square are a vehicle-free zone. It is equally essential to resolve the issue concerning footpath traders at the earliest. As for the Khula Manch, it should be utilised, through local authority permission, for public awareness talks, education exhibitions and mass yoga practice, among others. 

How do you feel after reading this news?