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In search of a capital

world Updated: Dec 20, 2008 22:43 IST
Anirban Roy
Anirban Roy
Hindustan Times
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After Nepal’s political transformation as a democratic republic, people in the Himalayan nation are now keen to have a new capital and dream of a bright future.

Amongst the South Asian national capitals, Kathmandu does not give the impression of a planned metropolitan. Narrow roads, serpentine by-lanes, unplanned growth, pollution and traffic congestion have made lives of people in the city extremely difficult.

“We always feel embarrassed as infrastructure in Kathmandu is the poorest in comparison to the other capitals in South Asia,” Hari Prasad Adhikary, a social worker associated with an NGO said.

People blame the Shah Dynasty’s “misrule” for 240 years as the main reason for Kathmandu’s poor growth as a national capital. “They (kings) never wanted Kathamndu to grow as a modern city,” Adhikary said. The Rana oligarchy is also being equally blamed for the capital’s woes.

Historically, Kathmandu has always been a very important city, both politically and economically. It was also the gateway to Tibet. The city is also proud to have four monuments which feature in UNESCO’s world heritage sites.

“Now, when you see commuters on top of buses and motor-cycles plying on footpaths because of traffic congestion, we feel shy,” Pradip Khanal, general secretary of Kathmandu-based International Friendship Society said.

In addition to the poor infrastructure, large-scale migration to Kathmandu has added to the problem. “It looks that Kathmandu cannot accommodate the ever-growing load of population,” Khanal said.

Decade-long insurgency in Nepal resulted in a huge internal displacement and also resulted in migration to cities, and mainly to Kathmandu.

Panic-stricken people from the villages from across the country migrated to Kathmandu to ensure safety of lives and also in search of a source of livelihood. The capital city’s population multiplied over the years.

Knowing well that there is little scope to develop Kathmandu as a modern city, people have now started feeling the government should look for a new capital.

“A new capital in newly-transformed Nepal can be the best for the people,” Dasarath Neupane, a shoe-importer said, adding that Nepal should follow the Chinese model of urban infrastructure development.

While the vox-populi is united on having a new capital for Nepal, finalising a location would be the biggest challenge for the government. Idyllically, people believe that location of the new capital could be in either in Chitwan or Nawalparasi districts.

Both the districts are central points of Nepal, accessible, and have enough scope to grow as a national capital. “Let us hope that the government would be brave enough to take the crucial decision,” Neupane said.