Safeguarding property rights of citizens is fundamental requirement for economic prosperity under the free market system. One of the reasons for the economic backwardness of Nepal is the failure to protect such rights. Unfortunately, one major violator of property rights of the people in Nepal is the government itself. One more instance the government as violator of property rights has emerged in the form of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC). Recent activities of KMC in its drive to clear the public places and remove the encroachers are increasingly going to the direction of breaching such rights of the people, particularly after the KMC began opening some 500 metre cover over the nearly 6 kilometre Tukucha, which for some is a drain and for others a rivulet.
What started soon after the new leadership was elected in Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) was very encouraging and garnering popular praise. But three months down the line, the KMC administration led by the newly elected youths seems to be doing not only some commendable jobs, but also setting some uncomfortable examples in property rights violation. This deviation needs to be corrected in time. Otherwise, the youth leadership in the KMC may lose that initial popular faith in no time and put the entire society in the same mood of hopelessness as it was some months ago.
Dismantling illegal constructions and enforcing the building codes that was started immediately after the new team came to the power in KMC was welcomed by all. Livecasting the council meeting procedures was hailed as a step towards transparency. Removing shops that were occupying public places and blocking pedestrian movement was greeted as an action against encroachers. Similarly, dismantling houses and other structures that were erected on public land and without proper approvals were cheered with hope that the city will finally have its open spaces back. It is quite right to remove illegal constructions and to force people to use their constructions for strictly the very purpose for which the construction permits were issued. But the property rights of the people cannot be ignored in the process.
Property rights are granted by the state under specified laws and not taken back until the holders of such rights don’t commit serious breach of the terms and conditions under which such rights are granted. Land title documents as recorded in the Land Administration Office and Houses constructed on such lands with prior approval of the designs from the municipal authorities are examples of such rights. But in its ongoing drive, the KMC has bulldozed or threatened to bulldoze even those houses for which the occupants or owners are holding proper title documents. The KMC staff assigned with the task of bulldozing down illegal constructions are refusing to see those documents.
Some of such aggrieved persons and firms have now filed cases with court asking for protection and the court in turn has issued show cause notices to the KMC. As the courts are expected to deliberate on various aspects of the case ranging from archaeological importance of the constructions planned to be dismantled to the decision making procedure of the KMC, the decision in these cases may take not only weeks, but also months. In the meanwhile, KMC should limit itself in clearing those places for which there are strong official documents with it.
Tukucha is one of the most polluted water course inside Kathmandu. The polluted Tukucha thus increases pollution in Bagmati river. Therefore, cleaning the Tukucha should clearly be a priority of KMC. But in this process, KMC must not encroach on the private property rights of the people.