By Binu Shrestha
Kathmandu, Mar. 7: It has been six years since the devastating 2015 Earthquake rocked Nepal — killing about 9,000 people and flattening over 600,000 structures in its wake. Today, many of those damaged houses and monuments stand erect and restored back to their former glory while several others are under reconstruction.
At Kathmandu or Basantapur Durbar Square, reconstruction and restoration work have been moving at an encouraging pace. The iconic Gaddi Baithak has been fully rebuilt and has come into operation. Work on the nine-storeyed palace is in its final stage. Kasthamandap is also gradually taking shape. Most monuments in and around Hanumandhoka Durbar Square have at least got off the ground.
However, amidst all the ‘build back better’ construction going on all over Kathmandu Valley, a significant building at the heart of Basantapur still remains in shambles. The liaison office of the Nepal Sanskrit University (NSU), formerly Mahendra Sanskrit University, leans against wooden struts, bearing the scars of that faithful afternoon on April 25, 2015 — longingly waiting for reconstruction.
It looks over menacingly in its damaged form from the southern part of the Square – an eyesore and a safety hazard to the hundreds of people who visit the world heritage site every day.
The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), Department of Archaeology (DoA), Kathmandu Valley Development Trust (KVDT) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), among others, are all active in the reconstruction and restoration of other heritage structures in the area but none have taken the responsibility of the NSU building.
Why has this historical building not beeing repaired even more than half a decade since the earthquake? Why is this four-and-a-half-storey structure still forced to lean on 14 logs for support? Why have the authorities not taken any step despite the building being utterly unsafe and at risk of crumbling?
To get the answers to these questions, we must take a look at the building’s past. Before the ratification of the NSU Act in 1986, the building was under the ownership of Tribhuvan University (TU). After the act, TU handed over the building to the newly-established NSU, which has its central office in Beljhundi, Dang, Province 5, to use as its liaison office in Kathmandu and a research centre.
However, according to the Sanskrit University, TU only handed over the ownership orally and not legally. This means that even though NSU has been using the building for the past 35 years, the land is registered under TU’s name.
NSU says it can’t move forward with reconstruction because of this issue of legality of ownership while TU says that NSU is solely responsible for the building and its renovation because it has been using it since the 1980s.
And because of this dispute, neither university has taken any initiative to begin rebuilding the severely cracked building nor have they made any effort to manage funds for it.
“After the earthquake caused extensive damage to the building, TU had sent letters to the NRA and the University Grants Commission asking for the reconstruction of the structure. There were also talks about the University bringing in a Korean company for the job but no decision was ever made on the matter,” Madhav Adhikari, registrar of NSU, said.
On the 73rd convocation day of TU on December 28, 2020, the Vice-Chancellor made an oral commitment that the ownership of the land would be duly transferred to NSU. “This oral commitment has not yet materialised in a written form though,” Adhikari added.
Raju Shakya, chief of General Administration Division at TU, said that the Basantapur-based building had been handed over to NSU at the time of Vice-Chancellor Mahesh Kumar Upadhaya and the responsibility for its preservation, care and reconstruction fell on the shoulders of Nepal Sanskrit University.
Meanwhile, Registrar Adhikari said that discussions had been held with DoA officials about the reconstruction and the management of the required funds. They responded that the building would be included in the projects of the next fiscal year.
DoA’s Acting Director General Damodar Gautam said that the Department would rebuild the building in the coming fiscal year. He shared that they had recently talked with the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) for the same.
However, KMC Information Officer Ishwor Man Dangol said that the metropolis currently had no plans for the building.
The main stakeholder, Nepal Sanskrit University, does not seem to adequately care for its liaison office. A source at the University’s main office told The Rising Nepal that no discussions had been held for the reconstruction or renovation of the building and no initiative had been taken for the same.
In fact, the University has been padlocked by the students for the last six months and there has been no activity from the authorities.
This neglect by the relevant institutions and stakeholders has come at the expense of those working nearby. Owners of the curio and other shops open in the area live in constant fear, worried that even a mild tremor might topple the building.
– The Rising Nepal