This monsoon, precipitation has not been particularly heavy over Nepal. In fact, total rainfall so far has been below the seasonal average in most places. Yet, floods have ravaged the Central Tarai, landslides and rockfalls have blocked most major highways, bridges have been wrecked, nearly 100 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of people forced to live in higher ground.
Floods may be natural, but the destruction they cause is manmade. Inundation is mostly the result of flood control levees themselves trapping water, embankments blocking drainage paths, and built-up floodplains constricting the flow of rivers. The good news is that Nepal’s decision-makers seem to have belatedly understood this cause-effect. The bad news is: they are doing absolutely nothing about it.
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In fact, instead of arresting the building spree, all three levels of government allow riverbeds to be gouged out for sand and boulders, increasing the velocity of the water. Elected local leaders we thought would be more accountable turned out to be middlemen hurriedly awarding contracts to themselves a few days before the the end of the fiscal year so their excavators could claw away fragile slopes to build ruinous roads no one needs. Most of these have been already washed away in the past two weeks, causing damage to terrace farms and endangering settlements.
If all this was not bad enough, megalomaniacs in federal, provincial and local governments are wasting hard-earned tax payer’s money erecting utterly useless view towers on any mountain top they can find. Their slogan ‘One Hill Station, One View Tower’ would be hilarious if it was not such a tragic waste of money.
Limchubung Municipality in Udaypur district, with a population of just 12,000, is building a view tower costing Rs10 million for no other reason than to spend the cash. Province 2 has allotted Rs10 million to build a view tower in Sarlahi, where thousands of people are still living on roof terraces because of submergence. And the Far-Western Province is building a tower in Kailali district because everyone else is doing it.
But Province 3 is way ahead of the others, earmarking Rs180 million to build towers on 12 mountain tops. Not to be outdone, Province 1 has plans to erect view towers costing Rs80 million along mountain tops in Ilam. The example has been set by Kathmandu itself, which five years ago decided to turn the old bus park in Tundikhel into a 27-floor ‘view tower-cum-business complex’. The bus terminal was relocated, but construction of the Rs5 billion tower never got off the ground. The entire project appears to have been kickback driven, and an elaborate ruse by tycoons in collusion with corrupt officials to usurp the prime real estate.
Nepal’s mountains are already the highest in the world. The view from their summits is naturally stunning. Adding another 20m to the view does not make any sense. Instead, why not build proper facilities, public toilets, comfortable guest houses, and a waste-disposal system on these mountain tops?
Biratnagar Municipality got Province 2 Federal Minister Lalbabu Pandit to lay the foundation stone for a 110m commercial tower in ward 3, but after much criticism the height of the edifice was reduced to 45m.
None other than Prime Minister Oli himself launched a pet project to build a view tower in his native district of Jhapa for Rs2.5 billion. Oli has also commanded that a 150m high statue of the Buddha be put up in Damak. The local government in Morang is installing the world’s biggest statue of a cow. Why such erections are even necessary when the roads leading to them are decrepit, bridges have been washed away and cities wallow in squalour, no one can explain.
There is more: a 20m statue of ‘Mother Nepal’ is being built in Mahendranagar. Tanahu plans a 30m figure of the saint, Vyas. Province 5 is putting up huge statues of Kanakmuni and Kakasanda Buddhas in Kapilbastu. But for the most meaningless project so far, the grand prize goes to Mayor Nima Gyalzen Sherpa of Helambu, who is starting on a 60km ‘Great Wall’ inspired by one he saw in China. He thinks it will be a tourist attraction, and will bring more visitors to his district. Someone please tell him tourists do not come to Nepal to look at concrete towers, statues of mythical figures or stone walls.
What we really need are more health posts, better equipped rural hospitals, affordable health care and quality schools that are accessible to the poor. It is much more necessary to control corruption and improve accountability. Wish we had leaders with more common sense and integrity.