September 27: Kishore Thapa, an urban development expert and former government secretary, has said that Nepal's cities have turned into a dumping ground for low-quality goods produced in India, China and other countries.
In a conversation with New Business Age, Thapa said, “Nepal's cities are not financial hubs or production centers, they are just the dumping sites of poor-quality goods from India, China, and beyond. There is neither local nor domestic production here.”
According to Thapa, there should be a linkage between production in villages and consumption in cities, but the consumption of big cities of Nepal have linkage with Indian villages.
He said that the government has failed in systematic urbanization while protecting agricultural land and the policy of land classification has failed. He concluded that the government is to blame for this.
“The government made a plan and started classifying land, but the work did not go according to the plan. It was entrusted to the local level, they did not understand its importance," said Thapa, "The goal was to prevent fragmentation of the arable land. However, most of the local levels classified the agricultural land as residential land.''
Thapa says that Nepali politicians do not understand that food security is also related to the country’s sovereignty. "No matter how strong the country is in other areas, if there is no food security and if the country is dependent on food, it cannot be considered a sovereign country," he said.
He said that the main reason for this is that the value of residential land is higher than that of agriculture, and there is a compulsion to take loans from the government and financial institutions to acquire such high-value land. He thinks that the government's policy has failed.
Thapa argues that industrialization in other countries took place through agriculture and urbanization, but in Nepal, urbanization went directly from agriculture to disorganization. Looking at the global environment, 54 percent of the population lives in cities. However, our settlements have turned into unorganised urbanization because the government did not give proper instructions, argues Thapa.
Even though the government report says that 66 percent of the population lives in cities, that figure is wrong, argues Thapa. He says that this figure is only for those who live within the declared urban area, but the population living in the actual city is only 25 to 30 percent. He said that the cities of Nepal were built by the private sector and not by the government, and the cities that were built at the individual level were tailored to their small needs. According to Thapa, if the government creates policies and infrastructure, the private sector will create residential and commercial areas.
He pointed out the need to revise the urban policy formulated in 2064. According to Thapa, the systematic urbanization in each development area and corridor mentioned in the said policy should now be done at the state level.
He said that the population, which should be decentralized due to federalism, is more concentrated in the capital in Nepal and the main reasons for this include convenience and employment.
He said that wherever big plans are made, there will be an increase in economic activities and gradual urbanization, but in Nepal, it is like a city without a plan. People will be attracted to the city for better opportunities, employment, services and facilities.
He said that the government aims to raise taxes to cover the expenses of political parties and local governments. He said that many rural municipalities were declared as municipalities with the hope that the budget received after declaring them as cities would increase and services and facilities would be provided.
According to him, services and opportunities were not ready even when the agriculture-based lifestyle was displaced in the hill areas. Settlements increased in the Terai due to lack of opportunities and means of survival in the hill areas. Thapa said that this has led to disaster.
He said that the hill population can be stopped from out-bound migration, but for that the government has to come up with a policy. Thapa suggested that besides providing services, the government should build big plans, well-equipped hospitals, quality schools, universities and industries in the hill areas. This will bring employment opportunities and facilities there and the settlement will gradually return. “For this, the government should work by making a policy," he said, "Providing land to private hospitals and schools and giving tax exemptions can be a good start."
Thapa concluded that no one raised such matters because politics is concentrated where there is large population in Nepal.
He emphasized that the local and state governments should work together to manage the city in a strategic manner. Urban poverty is increasing in our cities. If it is not managed in time, there may be rebellion, warned Thapa.
“There have been many such incidents. The city is not only for the rich, but also for the poor. If the government does not look after them, who will look after them?'' he said, adding, “What has happened in Kathmandu is wrong. Management is not restriction.”
He suggested that the citizens should also be aware and cooperate with the government. He added, "While talking about rights, civic duty should not be forgotten.”
According to a study, 70 percent of the world's carbon emissions come from urban areas. Also, 58 percent of the emission is done by the construction sector. According to Thapa, transportation is the second major cause of carbon emission followed by industries. Referring to the fact that Bhutan has started calling itself 'carbon neutral', he said that we can become neutral in carbon emissions by 2045 if we go ahead with the plan now. He suggested that we should make the best use of our own forest for this. Thapa said it was wrong to say that the environment is damaged by cutting trees. He was of the view that old trees should be cut down while planting new ones.
He connected the Kagbeni flood and the inundation in Kathmandu with the climate change that was discussed among scientists a few years ago. However, he complains that this issue has not been raised in the forum of political parties. According to him, this is a topic that should be discussed at each and every home.