Early morning on August 19, locals of Pulchok, Lalitpur had gathered on the roadside near the Ashoka Stupa to attend the scheduled foundation-stone laying ceremony ‘Samay Phalcha’, an old phalcha, a traditional resting place, that the Lalitpur city government was restoring.
The phalcha, associated with the procession of Rato Machhindranath, was demolished five decades ago.
But, soon, their happiness turned into disappointment after Lalitpur Mayor Chiri Babu Maharjan informed them that an interim order had been issued by the district court to stop the reconstruction work. Shree Laligurans Multipurpose Cooperative Limited had moved the court against the reconstruction plan.
The officials of the Lalitpur metropolitan city say it has been almost two decades since the legal battle was started to rebuild Samay Phalcha. But, sometimes such court orders and other times orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the District Administration Office stand as an obstacle that the city government continues to fight.
A long history collapsed
According to Shyam Krishna Maharjan, a 75-year-old local from Pulchok, the Samay Phalcha was intact on the roadside during his childhood. This phalcha was especially used during the chariot procession of Rato Machhindranath.
It was between Lamopati and Namasangati phalcha next to the Ashoka Stupa. This phalcha, which collapsed around 1972, did not rise again. Instead, tall houses were built all around.
Mayor Maharjan now describes the obstruction as an encroachment on heritage. He says the houses were built by buying land knowing that there would be a phalcha in the future and now they are trying to make excuses.
“I will go everywhere that I have to go to rebuild the phalcha. We have not laid the foundation stone to respect the court,” says Maharjan.
The city government has allocated Rs 3 million for the reconstruction of this phalcha. Locals have also raised funds for its management. It is planned that the phalcha would be rebuilt to its original form by the end of this year.
Two decades of obstructions
Yet, it is difficult to say if the phalcha will be rebuilt by then or if another obstruction will appear because the locals’ efforts to restore the heritage has several obstructions in the background.
According to the city government, the land plot (number 327) near the Ashok Stupa where the phalcha was about to be reconstructed is a 206-year-old historical heritage site, as confirmed by an inscription there.
The Samay Phalcha Pati Reconstruction Committee had tried to start the reconstruction work in 2000. Based on the recommendation of the Department of Archaeology and the approval of the District Administration Office, the then Lalitpur sub-metropolitan city had decided to launch the reconstruction of the phalcha.
However, Anil Rajbhandari, the owner of an adjacent land plot, filed a case against the decision at the then appellate court in Patan. On August 27, 2003, the court dismissed Bhandari’s petition.
Bhandari then went to the Supreme Court, claiming the construction of phalcha was against the Public Roads Act 1974, Local Self-Governance Act 1999, Muluki Act and the criteria of Kathmandu Valley Town Development Committee 1993. However, the Supreme Court dismissed his claim on August 3, 2008, and said that the petitioner did not have the right to object to the rebuilding of the former phalcha.
Even before the decision of the Supreme Court, the land was bought by the Laligurans Cooperative. Thus, the cooperative has been obstructing the reconstruction of the palcha sometimes through political lobbying and lawsuits in order to evacuate the area in front of its building, which the cooperative is using as a parking lot.
Old photo as the evidence
After the 2017 local elections, efforts to rebuild the phalcha started again. The Municipal Council of Lalitpur Metropolitan City allocated a budget for the reconstruction of the phalcha in the fiscal year 2019/20.
But Amrit Kumar Aryal, a shareholder of Laligurans Cooperative, again went to the Patan High Court against the plan. The court, however, ruled that the interim order should not be issued as the placha would be built parallel to the boundaries of the other phalchas there.
According to Mayor Maharjan, an old photo was helpful in reaching the court’s conclusion that the reconstruction of the phalcha should not be stopped. “We showed the judge an old picture of the entire area around the Ashoka Stupa in the courtroom. We won the case based on that photo,” states Mayor Maharjan.
However, local employees of Laligurans Cooperative also filed a petition at the Supreme Court with the same demand of halting the reconstruction. The metropolis also submitted the same photo again. And, on August 1, the Supreme Court ruled that the land where the phalcha would be rebuilt would not fall within the Pulchowk-Jawalakhel main road and the pavement would not be affected during the reconstruction.
The Supreme Court has mentioned in the order that an interim order should not be issued to stop the reconstruction of the phalcha, maintaining the main road and pavement as it is in such a way that it does not go against the road standards.
Even one after another court verdict, the Laligurans Cooperative has not stopped obstructing the reconstruction of phalcha. According to Maharjan, the District Administration Office had instructed not to rebuild the phalcha as per the instructions of the Ministry of the Home Affairs. “We met the Home Secretary and showed him an old photo around the Ashoka Stupa again, after which they permitted the reconstructions, ” says Maharjan.
The local government’s commitment
After getting permission from the court and the home administration, the metropolis planned to lay the foundation stone on Thursday, August 19. But one day before that, the Lalitpur District Court issued an interim order not to proceed immediately. “Again, we will go to court and will show the same photo,” Mayor Maharjan says, “It might get a bit late due to the court procedures, but the phalcha will surely be reconstructed here.”
He assures that the phalcha will be rebuilt keeping the main road and pavement intact. Stating that the cooperatives have been obstructing the construction of the phalcha on the basis of money, he mentions, “We have the evidence and we have a strong commitment to protecting the heritage.”
On the other hand, Laligurans Cooperative has accused the metropolis of troubling it in the name of heritage conservation. “When we bought the property here, there was no phalcha. Plus, we have built the building with the approval of the government,” states an official of the cooperative.