Jeewan Shrestha had an appointment with a doctor at Bir Hospital on January 22 at 3 PM. He was getting ready when he got a call from a friend asking him to take a different route as traffic during the day, especially around that area, was chaotic.
Reason for the chaos? A protest or ‘show of power’ by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal-led faction of the Nepal Communist Party to condemn the dissolution of the House of Representatives by PM KP Sharma Oli.
“Couldn’t they do it at Tundikhel or some other open space? I didn’t go because it wasn’t an emergency. What if it was?” questions Shrestha, “Will these so-called leaders take the blame if anyone died because they couldn’t reach the hospital on time?”
Protests have heated up in the valley since the dissolution of the House. There is at least one almost every day. While most protests are small in terms of the number of participants and hence do not obstruct the traffic or the general population as much, the one that happened in and around Pradarshani Marg on January 22 did.
In a bid to answer back, the KP Sharma Oli-led faction of the NCP is also planning a similar show at Durbar Marg on Friday. This, like the one that took place on January 22, is sure to affect the traffic in a similar manner, which is why a group of businesspersons of Durbar Marg were planning to file a complaint at the District Administration Office in a bid to stop this from happening. But, fearing reprecuations, they did not and have now decided their to shut their business for the day.
Frustrated with having to deal with this, a lot of people, like Shrestha, are questioning why these protests or gatherings cannot take place at Khulamanch, which was established for this very purpose.
The answer to this is simple. Khulamanch is no longer the place it was since its establishment in the 1970s. Many called it a fertile land for politics and political leaders. It is a place where leaders like BP Koirala, Ganesh Man Singh, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Girija Prasad Koirala among many others have hosted large gatherings. Even current leaders like Oli, Dahal, Nepal, Upendra Yadav and Rajendra Mahato have addressed their followers there.
But since 2016, the place which many called a fertile land for politics has not seen one political gathering. With no place to host such gatherings, political parties have started doing these events on the roads.
Ananda Pokharel, the coordinator of the committee formed to prepare for Oli’s event, says that they would have done the event at Khulamanch if it was not such a mess.
“Around 100,000 people will be present,” says Pokharel. “Doing it in Durbar Marg makes sense to us.”
Political commentator Krishna Pokharel says that authorities need to make sure that Khulamanch survives as it holds a lot of significance.
For it to become what it was, a lot needs to happen. The place has become a bus park, a crusher plant, a warehouse and a parking lot. Efforts were also made to make shutters and lease it for business. That effort was not successful as Kathmandu metropolitan city got a lot of flack from activists.
The encroachment of public space
A lot of people have had their eyes on Khulamanch. In 2014, the KMC came up with a plan to make underground parking at Khulamanch. That plan never materialised. But, it was somehow successful in early 2015, after the KMC gave Jaleshwor Swachhanda Builders the contract to build a view tower at the then Bus Park.
The KMC then asked the contractors to shift the bus park to Khulamanch, occupying a third of Khulamanch in the process. This was a temporary shift as the contractors had said they would construct an underground bus terminal at the view tower. Four years on, the underground bus terminal still remains a dream.
The contractor, Manoj Bhetwal, on the other hand, constructed almost 50 shutters and leased them out to businesses. He said he received permission from Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya. However, after constant criticism from activists, the shutters were demolished.
Even though there were calls to remove the bus terminal and parking lot from Khulamanch, it still remains encroached. The contractors who are constructing Bir Hospital and Durbar High School have also used its space to store construction materials.
A crusher plant has also been established in the area. Activists say that the KMC and its staff, in a bid to make a few bucks, have given contractors freedom to build anything they like in the area.
According to them, the KMC has shown no interest to revive or restore the place.
The state of the place has made former mayor Keshav Sthapit sad. He says that the KMC should be ashamed of itself for letting such a significant place to be left in ruins.
“This was a place for political gatherings. Now it’s nothing but a ruin,” said Sthapit.