Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Adopt Common Approach To Development

Kushal Pokharel

In a fresh round of tension between the local authority and the community people, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC)’s master plan of reconstructing Kamalpokhari has become controversial. The KMC, once again, has hit news headlines for its debatable decision. The authorities, however, deny it.
Key elements of the master plan involve building a park, a play area, toilets, walkaway area, concrete flower in the middle and other amenities around the pond. The local community has gone berserk over the recent construction activities that intend to convert the iconic pond into a recreational space. What is more concerning for the heritage conservationists is the blatant attack on the pond’s historic glory. The matter has further aggravated the KMC’s attempt to excavate soil from the pond area and transport to other places with a profit motive.
Harmful impact
While the KMC is hell-bent on implementing the beautification plan which involves the establishment of commercial zone with concrete structures, the citizens’ group and heritage champions are wary of the ecological imbalance provided that the KMC’s current design of the site is implemented. Equally concerning is the harmful impact of this plan on the groundwater recharge capacity of the pond.
Examining the recent scuffle between the two parties in the light of the notion of development warrants considerable attention. To the local authorities, development means establishing modern structures with the adoption of the latest technologies, offering a plenty of facilities and the like. However, the idea of development from the point of view of the local residents should involve the promotion of indigenous knowledge systems, social norms and values and historicity. Variations in perceived interests and values have thus resulted in a conflicting situation.
Similar conflicts have frequently surfaced in the immediate past as well. Whether we refer to the reconstruction plan of Rani Pokhari or the Pashupati Area Development Plan, such attempts have received a cold response from the locals. The historic Rani Pokhari was devastated by the April 2015 earthquake. In all the above instances, a widening rift between the citizens and authority has become evident. Accusing each other of creating a mess, both parties seem to have stuck to their polemical stances in these cases. Despite the disliking of the community, the concerned authorities have been pushing forward their development agenda.
The extractive nature of the authority and its insistence on imposing development has remained a major impediment in promoting locally contextual development. In fact, the governing authority seems largely uninterested in listening to the aspirations of the locals, let alone addressing their concerns. No matter how strong the community resistance is, the authorities are primarily interested in implementing decisions single handedly to establish their supremacy. Consequently, the development interventions so far have either remained short-lived or unsuccessful in most cases. Viewing each other as development adversary, both parties often involve themselves in mutual scuffle further impeding the process of expediting the real development process in the spirit of the general public welfare. More often than not, techno-bureaucratic knowledge of the state administration and policymakers tend to deliberatively undermine the native knowledge system thereby failing to acknowledge the rich community experiences and insights on critical development issues. In this sense, deficit of trust and lack of ownership have adversely affected the development endeavours.
Against this backdrop, the current model of development is characterised by centralised, non-responsive and exclusionary approach. A blanket approach to the implementation of development plans and programmes continues to serve the interests of the privileged few. Development at the cost of cultural and ecological harms needs some serious rethinking.

Proactive role
Finding a fine balance between the locals’ concerns and the authorities’ genuine plans can lead to a win-win situation. This demands a proactive role particularly from the authorities who are at the drivers’ seat of planning and implementation. Respecting the ethos and pathos of common people, the authorities can plan for development by incorporating their concerns. In that scenario, the locals would also lend their support for the completion of development activities on time. Inviting the concerned stakeholders for discussions beforehand could be a welcoming gesture to accommodate the concerns of the people and mainstream them in the development process. Equally crucial will be to envisage a plan to foster their indigenous knowledge, skills and values. Adopting the practice of transparent and accountable governance system ensuring corruption-free system will be crucial to restore the waning faith of the public towards their authorities.

(The author is an independent researcher and social science faculty.