Need To Ensure Balanced Development

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Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is fast growing as an urban centre. The city, which is also the seat of the Nepal Government, is attracting people from all over the country. As per the census of 2021, the population of Kathmandu stands at over two million. But the number of people living in Kathmandu may be far higher if those living as tenants is accounted for. In fact, the urban population in Nepal has been growing for the last few decades. As per the 2021 census, the urban population is 19.29 million as against the rural population of 9.86 million. Percentage-wise, the urban population constitutes 66.2 per cent as against just 17.1 per cent as per the 2021 census. 

The significant jump in the urban population in a matter of just one decade may be attributed to intense migration from rural to urban areas. On the other hand, the government added as many as 159 municipalities to the list of urban areas in the fiscal year 2014/15. As per the data released by the Ministry of Urban Development in 2017, 40 per cent of the population was living in 217 designated urban areas. However, only 17 per cent of the population was residing in 58 designated urban centres until 2013 (UNDESA, 2014). Among the 753 local units (six metropolises, 11 sub-metropolises and 276 municipalities), 56.5 per cent of the population lives in urban areas. 

Urban migration 

Urban areas contribute the largest mite to the national economy. The contribution of the Kathmandu Valley to the national economy is 23.4 per cent as estimated by the Nepal Rastra Bank (MoUD, 2017). This is because industries, businesses and other commercial activities are mainly concentrated in urban areas. Till the regime change in the 1990s, there was not so remarkable urbanisation in Kathmandu. After the Panchayat system was dissolved and the multiparty democratic system was ushered in, rural to urban migration began to pick up momentum. The migration was accelerated during the Maoist insurgency (1996 – 2006). 

As the situation turned inhospitable in rural areas and many people got displaced, they began migrating to Kathmandu and other urban areas. As many as 500,000 people are believed to have been displaced during the insurgency. The situation got worse when they did not return to their villages even after the Maoist insurgency had ended. Rather, the wave of migrations to urban centres and foreign countries has since been increasing so much so that rural areas have become devoid of youths; mostly the elderly and children are now living in rural areas. 

One of the reasons for migration to Kathmandu is that the capital city is far ahead in healthcare, education, transport and other facilities vis-à-vis rural areas. And development is usually concentrated in the capital city. Kathmandu-centric development at the cost of other areas, especially rural areas, is one of the factors responsible for attracting more and more people from rural areas. That is why when people from rural areas come to Kathmandu, they hardly go back to their villages. 

Kathmandu is the hub of industry, commerce, finance, tourism, transport, education, healthcare and what not. The capital city is also the seat of central administration and governance. Real estate business is also growing. As such, settlements are growing rapidly. But the government has no plan to stop the haphazard sprawling of settlements. This has also uglified the landscape and skyline of the city. Moreover, agriculturally productive peri-urban areas are making room for built-up areas.    

Burgeoning urbanisation in Kathmandu has several ramifications. Agricultural land and open spaces have been supplanted by built-up areas. The Kathmandu Metropolitan City has declared that there is no agricultural land in the metropolis. There are myriad problems in Kathmandu such as traffic woes, pollution - water, air and even noise-, loss of open spaces and environmental degradation. Ecological degradation has made Kathmandu vulnerable to several hazards and disasters. 

Unmanaged settlements

Rapid urbanisation together with unmanaged settlements in Kathmandu has given rise to socio-economic problems. Unmanaged settlements are a challenge to the land-use policy of the government. Further, rapid urbanisation taking place in the capital city has not been able to catch up with the infrastructure required to cope with the population growth. The question is, how long can Kathmandu sustain urban growth? The situation in Kathmandu may worsen further if appropriate steps are not taken immediately. So there is an acute need for formulating strategies for grappling with socioeconomic challenges, including boosting economic productivity, ameliorating infrastructure, improving the quality of life and bridging the urban-rural divide. 

The government should, therefore, take concrete steps to decentralise development works. For this, the government should launch the concept of balanced development, making an enabling environment for rural folks to live in their own districts rather than migrate to city areas and foreign countries. It may be noted that the Panchayat-era Back to Village Campaign and the CPN-UML’s Make Your Own Village campaign were aimed at accelerating rural development. But both of these campaigns miserably failed. However, the government can launch a similar campaign so that lopsided development, especially Kathmandu-centric development, can be minimised.  


(Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.)

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