Mayor Shakya, Ensure KMC Honors Agreement with 'Rebuild Kasthamandap'
In the final week of June 2017, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) unilaterally violated the four-party agreement it had reached the previous month with 'Campaign to Rebuild Kasthamandap' a community-led social-service organization and two government bodies -- the post-2015 earthquake 'National Reconstruction Authority' and the Department of Archaeology under the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Aviation -- that granted the Campaign two years to rebuild Kasthamandap through mobilization of community expertise and resources.
Kasthamandap is a centuries-old wooden pavilion whose foundations were laid in the 7th century (Coningham et. al. 2016). It stood in the heart of old Kathmandu until the 2015 Gorkha earthquake, and a subsequent archaeological study found mistakes had been made during conservation works in the past few decades. The word 'Kasthamandap' can be loosely translated as 'wooden platform'. It is the source of the city's name, and therefore, the monument's symbolic significance for the cultural pride of the city and country cannot be underestimated. Its location lies in one of the seven monument zones of the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the last days of June, Metropolitan officials first took away the key to the fenced Kasthamandap premises. Then, they dismantled the canopy scaffolding that had been erected by the Campaign workers with the help of experts from the Dept. of Archaeology, and covered the foundations with plastic sheets, a method the Campaign team had already experimented with without success for protection from rain in the past month.
If the agreement is terminated, it most likely means a tender process will ensue following which the contract to rebuild the monument is awarded to the most reasonable lowest-bidding firm. I would like to add here that the Metropolitan office had already informed the Department of Archaeology and other concerned bodies in previous months that it did not have the resources to rebuild the earthquake-destroyed monuments on its own. The tender process was its only option. The Rebuild Campaign was initiated after the 2015 Gorkha earthquake in order to prevent the rebuilding of Kasthamandap through tender since in a lowest-bid contract system, the quality of the monument cannot be guaranteed. Further, the tender process is considered by many to be inefficient and even corrupt as kickbacks are said to be a normal part of it. Finally, the Campaign is also an effort to allow community engineers, architects and urban planners to learn about traditional architectural know-how while helping retain it among the traditional masonry and woodworking castes whose ancestors have built Kathmandu Valley's monuments for millennia.
Now that the Rebuild Kasthamandap project has brought together a strong technical team that has been moving forward with research and design, the unilateral interference and vandalism carried out by the local KMC officials at the site have hindered the team's preparatory work on the site. In terms of the overall goal of the project, the obstruction is detrimental to community efforts to rebuild Nepal's most important architectural icon and learn about traditional Nepalese building techniques for the sake of posterity. As Kasthamandap is a UNESCO World Heritage monument, the government of Nepal as a State Party and signatory to the World Heritage Convention is exhorted to integrate conservation and rebuilding processes into community life (Article 5.a).
The four-party agreement was signed by a senior KMC official when the newly-elected mayor had not assumed office. Today, I petition Mayor Shakya to lend his support to the agreement and ensure KMC stands behind this community-led endeavor to the fullest extent possible.
I request you to sign this petition so that we may inform the Mayor that community-led conservation and re-building endeavors are the right way forward. Let us persuade his office to honor the agreement KMC made with the Campaign and the other two government bodies. We look up to him for institutional stability in the city administration. I hope he will understand a political office bearer's legacy is defined not just by what he initiates and implements but also his efforts to rise above party politics and personal ambition to provide sustainability to community cultural life.
We, citizens, national and global, and the local community shall not sit idly by as political issues and bureaucratic bottlenecks stand poised to destroy the community-led building process initiated in the heart of historical Kathmandu.
Power to the People!
Coningham, R.A.E., K.P. Acharya, C.E. Davis, R.B. Kunwar, I.A. Simpson, A. Schmidt and J.C. Tremblay. 2016. "Preliminary Results of Post-Disaster Archaeological Investigations at the Kasthamandap and within Hanuman Dhoka, Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Property (Nepal)." Ancient Nepal. 191-192:28-52.
'The Market-Place, Kathmandu' (facing p. 106) from
Oldfield, Henry Ambrose. 1880. Sketches from Nipal: Historical and Descriptive Vol. 1. London: W.H. Allen and Co.
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