Foreign agencies fail to renovate monuments on time

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GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Dec 16: Experts have said that the reconstruction and renovation of heritage sites by foreign governments has been taking time as they lack proper and detailed knowledge about Nepal’s arts, culture and heritage. 

Foreigners can’t make proper decision in time and handle the reconstruction or renovation work of the monuments that were built using local technology and materials centuries ago, according to conservation architect Sudarsan Raj Tiwari, who is a former dean of the Institute of Engineering and the Department of Architecture of Tribhuvan University.

It’s been almost 15 months since the Department of Archaeology (DoA) handed over the renovation task of Nautale Durbar, which is located on the premises of Kathmandu Durbar Square, to the government of China. Both sides signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on September 11 last year to carry out the renovation task of the historical palace that was badly damaged during the devastating earthquakes last year. Mainly, the upper parts of the nine-storey historical palace had collapsed during the earthquakes.

Three months later, the government signed another MoU with the Sri Lankan government for reconstruction of the historic Rato Machhindranath Temple at Bungmati, Lalitpur and Anandakuti Mahavihara at Swayambhu area of Kathmandu.

But the Chinese government is yet to begin field work to renovate the Nautale Durbar.

According to Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesperson at the DoA, reconstruction works of Machhindranath and Anandakuti have started and they are now building the foundation level.

“A Chinese team has been conducting survey to study the condition of the historic palace. They want to assess the impact caused by the quakes which is necessary before starting renovation work,” he said.

However, Kunwar is not sure when the Chinese team will start the renovation work at the Nautale Durbar. “Hopefully, they will start the renovation work of Nautale Durbar after about two months,” he said.

“They are still busy in studying our culture. It seems they might take some more time to understand our heritage better. They will start the renovation work only after that,” he added.
He further informed that the governments of India, Japan, Switzerland and few more countries have also promised to support the reconstruction and renovation of several other monuments of the Kathmandu-based World Heritage Sites which were damaged by the earthquakes. He said that the Chinese government has also expressed its readiness to renovate Nuwakot Durbar in Nuwakot district which was damaged by the earthquakes. 

Some experts also believe that foreign countries or institutions spend long time in studying the damaged monuments before making any ground work, delaying the reconstruction or renovation works.

“Reconstruction and renovation of our monuments has been delayed because of the government’s decision to entrust other countries and foreign agencies with that responsibility,” conservation architect Sudarsan Raj Tiwari told Republica. “So we should do it ourselves. Had we done it ourselves, it wouldn’t have taken long time.”

He underscored the need of strengthening the capacity for renovation and reconstruction work by the government, if the DoA can’t handle big projects simultaneously in its current capacity. 
He also said that the foreign agencies could not start work in time as they faced some complications in bringing money under the title of reconstruction or renovation that don’t fall under their regular task.

Bishnu Raj Karki, former joint secretary and conservationist, also agreed that foreign agencies have been delaying the reconstruction and renovation works of the monuments. “It is very unfortunate that the renovation work has not started so far even 15 months after the MoU was signed between the foreign agencies and our government,” he said. 

“They are unaware about the Nepali architecture. So they take long time for the study,” he said. 
He said that the foreign agencies want to support reconstruction and renovation of such heritage sites so that they can learn about Nepal’s culture and arts.

First appeared in Republica.

Excavation of Jagannath and Gopinath temples continues in Basantapur

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Nation

KATHMANDU, Dec 15: A group of experts from the Department of Archaeology (DoA) and Durham University of the UK has been carrying out post-disaster excavation at Jagannath and Gopinath temples in Kathmandu Durbar Square, which were partially damaged by last year’s devastating earthquakes.

After completing the excavation of Kasthamandap Temple’s foundation, which was fully damaged by the quake, the team has been exploring the foundations of the other two temples since December 2. 

Official at the DoA informed that the two temples are still standing but are in need of proper conservation.   

“As we are preparing for the conservation of those temples, we started studying the condition of the foundation,” said Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesperson at the DoA.

Researchers had inferred about the possible reason of Kasthamandap’s damage by exploring the temple’s foundation. Although the temple was in a dilapidated condition since a long time before the quakes, it was the fault in the foundation that led to its collapse. 

The team found the fourth saddle stone of Kasthamandap Temple, which was fitted in a way that was different from the other three saddle stones, resulting in the complete damage during the quake.

“We identified the possible reason behind Kasthamandap’s devastation. But it is not the same case with other monuments which were equally affected by the tremors,” Kunwar said. 

Both the temples, currently under examination, were built more than 300 years ago and are also the main attraction of the durbar square.

“The study will be conducted till next week and I hope it will give a clear picture of the condition of the foundation of those temples. Before starting any step toward renovating the monuments, it is a well-known practice around the world that we should identify the condition of the foundation,” he added.

UNESCO stated in a release on Monday that the main objective of the post-disaster excavation at temples is to provide a better understanding of their history and the condition of their foundation. The organization has been running the excavation works of various monuments under the World Heritage Site within the Kathmandu Valley since last year.

“The continued archaeological investigation of subsurface and evaluation of the foundations of earthquake-damaged monuments are a key part of the process of rehabilitation of the Kathmandu Valley’s World Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value in advance of its reconstruction,” states a press release quoting Christian Manhart, UNESCO Representative to Nepal.

The DoA has been carrying out reconstruction and renovation of over 60 historical monuments out of the total of 132 which were completely destroyed by the earthquakes.

First appeared in Republica

NRA seeks clarifications from World Vision on three points

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GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Dec 10: The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has sought clarifications from the World Vision International following complaints registered against the organization with regard to the reconstruction-related work it is carrying out in earthquake-hit districts.

NRA has said that the organization has been accused in the complaints of breaching the conditions of the agreement signed with NRA.

 NRA in its letter written to the INGO on Monday sought clarifications within seven days over three specific points. 

“How many foreign nationals are working [with the INGO] and what are the responsibilities given them to implement the programs?” NRA has questioned. It has also asked from where the foreign nationals received recommendations for their visas.

“How were the selection criteria, methods and procedures for selecting local partner organizations as stated in the agreement determined?” reads the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Republica. 

In its third question, NRA has asked, “In whose names are the bank accounts operated for the partner organizations to spend the money?”

“Which are the banks where the accounts are being operated?”

Copies of the letter were sent to the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and to the Social Welfare Council. NRA has asked the council to provide some related particulars about the organization. 

The organization was permitted to spend Rs 3.27 billion for various programs. It is allowed to work to  build private houses, health posts and water, sanitation and hygiene related facilities in Dolakha, Sindhupalchwok, Nuwakot, Dhading and Gorkha districts.

“After receiving several complaints about the organization’s activities, NRA sought clarifications and details about the current status of the organization’s ongoing work,” Ram Thapaliya, spokesperson at NRA, told Republica. “We have some other organizations on the same list. We will take similar action against them as well within some days.”

According to him, some other organizations were also found breaching the guidelines set by NRA. “If the details to be provided by the organizations cannot satisfy NRA, we will form a committee for further investigations,” he said. “We will take strong actions against them if needed.”

Locals in Gorkha and Dolakha districts were outraged as they were allegedly not provided assistance as committed by the organization. In Gorkha, the locals also accused the organization of spending aid money “on logistical purposes in a luxurious way while the earthquake victims weren’t provided the support meant for them”.  

Similarly in Dolakha district, the organization was accused of misusing the funds meant for earthquake victims.

Meanwhile, Pushkar Khati, public engagement associate director of World Vision International, said that the organization has received NRA’s letter and was preparing a reply.

“We will send our answer to NRA within a few days. We are ready to conduct necessary investigations through our own internal mechanisms and we will also allow NRA to investigate the issues if needed,” Khati told Republica.

First appeared in Republica

Archaeologists dig up flaw in heritage structure

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GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Dec 9: In recent excavations at Kasthamandap Temple next to Kathmandu Durbar Square, a group of researchers found the fourth saddle stone under the foundation level of the collapsed temple. The temple collapsed during the massive earthquake last year.

They had found three of the saddle stones that supported the wooden pillars of the temple last year. With the finding of the fourth saddle stone this time, the researchers have a better understanding  about the foundations of Kasthamandap, which is one of the key heritage sites in Kathmandu and a central attraction of the Durbar Square. Kasthamandap, which dates back to the 8th Century AD, is believed to have been built with the wood of a single tree.

Following the latest excavation, the researchers have inferred the possible reason for the temple collapse during the earthquake.

The researchers were taken by surprise when they found that the fourth saddle stone was fitted in a different way than the other three. It wasn’t fitted in the way it should have been.

“Three of the wooden pillars were fitted into the three separate saddle stones but the fourth pillar was not fitted into its saddle stone,” said Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesman at the Department of Archaeology, who was also involved in the excavation. Experts said this lapse happened during major renovations carried out some four decades ago.

 The excavation was jointly conducted about a week ago by archaeologists from the Department of Archeology (DoA) and Durham University in the UK.

Kunwar said that it was because of this lapse that Kasthamandap Temple had been in a compromised condition. Previously they had thought the fault was with the lack of maintenance but the excavation uncovered the fault in the foundation itself. 

He said another fault was that the temple joints weren’t properly maintained. Lack of timely maintenance of the wooden joints and the faulty fitting of the fourth pillar could be the reasons behind the temple’s destruction by earthquake.

“The lesson for us is that fixing such small faults in time could save our historical monuments from damage in earthquakes,” Kunwar told Republica. “We find similar faults in several other monuments that couldn’t survive the earthquake.”

It has been over 18 months since the earthquake devastation and the country has just entered the reconstruction phase for the historical monuments. As of now, the DoA is carrying out reconstruction and renovation at over 60 monuments out of the total of 132 monuments which were completely destroyed during the earthquakes.

Some of the experts are agreed that most of the cultural properties that collapsed during the quakes just lacked timely maintenance. Had there been better maintenance, the destruction would not have been on this scale.

Archaeologist Bishnuraj Karki said renovating and reconstruction of monuments shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Before starting the task we need to thoroughly study the art and culture of the monument. It’s not only about rebuilding the structures, but also preserving historical art and culture,” he added.

Karki informed that the government had renovated the 55-Window Palace of Bhaktapur Durbar Square about a decade ago, using traditional materials and techniques.

“The 55-Window Palace is one of our recent conservation works which wasn’t damaged during the earthquake,” former joint secretary Karki said. 

Sudarsan Raj Tiwari, senior architect and retired  Tribhuvan University professor, also underscored the need for a strict policy on  maintenance of cultural monuments.

He said most of the wooden joints at Kasthamandap Temple were in a poor condition. “Most of the collapsed monuments had the same fault in the wooden joints,” he said. “As we are preparing for the reconstruction and renovation of dozen of monuments, we should take this issue seriously so that we can save the monuments for a long time.”

The government must make it mandatory to thoroughly study the condition of the structures meant for renovation. “It should be done within at least 30 to 40 years after construction or renovation,” he said.

First appeared in Republica

Citing govt non-cooperation, TRC, CIEDP seek MPs’ help

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GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Nov 25:The heads of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), have expressed serious dissatisfaction over government apathy toward the two transitional justice bodies. 

TRC Chairman Surya Kiran Gurung and CIEDP Chairman Lokendra Mallick have accused the government of weakening the two bodies by not providing legal and financial support. Gurung has even threatened to quit his post if the situation doesn’t improve.

“We haven’t received sufficient support from the government and in this situation we can’t even conduct our thematic  investigations effectively. Therefore, I have informed the prime minister that I may quit the post if the situation remains the same,” Gurung told a group of lawmakers who visited the TRC offices at Babarmahal on Friday.

Members of Parliament’s Social Justice and Human Rights Committee visited the TRC and CIEDP offices with a view to study the work progress at the two bodies. 

Gurung explained various difficulties that have compelled him to contemplate resignation. He informed the visiting parliamentarians that some of the major factors that he became discouraged over were delay in amending the TRC Act and the unsupportive behavior of the authorities in providing financial support to the commission.

“We have received hundreds of conflict-related complaints from across the country and currently we have just updated the details in the computer,” he informed the committee members. “But I am worried that we will not be able to conduct thematic investigations into the complaints as the original term of the commission is expiring on February 10.”

He also said that the commission is ready to conduct investigations in the field but has been unable to carry out the key tasks due to financial constraints. “I will not remain here just to receive my salary,” he said. “So I strongly request you all respected parliamentarians to help us get the much-needed government support.”

According to Gurung, the commission has received 57,753 complaints from the victims of the insurgency.

Similarly, CIEDP, the commission formed to investigate conflict-related disappearances cases, also expressed serious dissatisfaction over non-cooperation from the government.

“The government seems unconcerned over the commission’s difficulties even as the term of the commission is expiring within months,” Mallick told the lawmakers Friday at the commission offices. “How can I work under such circumstances?”

CIEDP has received over 2,800 complaints from those whose kin were disappeared during the 10-year insurgency.

“We are carrying out preliminary investigations into registered complaints but we don’t have enough manpower, budget resources or the related laws to carry out these key tasks,” said Mallick. “We will finish the preliminary investigations of registered complaints in the next one-and-half months.”

After that the commission has to start thematic investigations in the field but lacks the manpower for doing so. 

“Neither has the government provided us the staff nor allowed us to recruit necessary hands,” he explained.

The existing Act allows both the commissions to recommend extensions of their tenures by one year.

After hearing the complaints from commission officials, Sushil Kumar Shrestha, chairman of the parliamentary committee, assured both the chairmen that the committee would raise their grievances with the government.

“We have repeatedly issued directions to the government to formulate the laws and provide sufficient budgets and other support. We will now call on the prime minister and the concerned ministers for a serious discussion on this matter,” he said.

First appeared in Republica

Cost of peace process Rs 148.8b so far

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#10yrsOfCPA

GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Nov 20: As the country marks the tenth anniversary of the signing of the historic Comprehensive Peace Accord-2006, the accumulative expenses made for carrying out major tasks of the process has reached Rs 148.881 billion so far. 

Some of the key tasks of the process such as the responsibility of finding truth and reconciliation and carrying out investigation into thousands of enforced disappearances of the decade-long insurgency however are yet to be completed.

Promulgation of a constitution from the Constituent Assembly (CA), which was one of the key tasks of the peace process, was completed a year ago but the country had to invest at least Rs 117.74 billion to produce the national charter.

The cost of constitution increased markedly as the first CA was dissolved without producing the statute even after four years of work and investment. Then the second election to the CA was held and this CA worked for additional two years. The first CA election was held in April 2008. The second CA election was held in November, 2013. The constitution was finally promulgated in September, 2015.

Another major expenditure was incurred for rebuilding infrastructures damaged during the insurgency that stood at Rs 11.428 billion. The expenses made for the management of cantonments used to house Maoist arms and combatants was Rs 9.796 billion. The government bore the cost of cantonment management from November 2006 to April 2013, when the former rebel Maoists handed over the party’s arms and combatants to the government. And, the cantonments were subsequently dissolved.

The government spent Rs 8.373 billion for special committee secretariat and for voluntary retirement of the Maoist combatants and Rs 1.544 billion to build infrastructure in all the cantonments in various parts of the country.

As a large number of disqualified former Maoist combatants have been taking to the street accusing the government and the Maoist party of betraying them, ensuring sustainable peace after completion of the process seems challenging.

First appeared in Republica

Govt extends deadline for lawmakers to submit proposals

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GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Nov 14: The government has extended the deadline for selecting the constituency infrastructure development special programs by a month as majority of lawmakers failed to propose special development programs for their constituencies on time.

The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development decided to extend the deadline by a month as it did not receive proposals from most of the lawmakers till the originally set deadline of mid-November. “With our set deadline, the lawmakers could not manage to propose their programs for their own constituencies,” Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, secretary at the ministry, told Republica. 

The Rs 30 million budget for each lawmaker elected under the first-past-the-post system was allocated this fiscal year after the lawmakers exerted huge pressure on the government to do so. The ministry had issued notice asking the lawmakers to submit their proposal two months ago but only a few lawmakers have submitted it so far. 

“We have extended the deadline by a month only because of lawmakers’ request. They said that they could not manage enough time to submit their proposal due to their busy schedule,” Adhikari further said.

The budget is meant for lawmakers to involve themselves in the development of their election constituencies. The directly elected lawmakers can select various development infrastructure projects such as construction of roads, bridges, drinking water facility, irrigation, education, health and renewable energy in their constituency.

“As per the regulation, we had given a deadline till mid-November for registering their special programs at the concerned District Development Committee (DDC) offices,” Adhikari added.

Former lawmaker Hari Rokka criticized the government’s move to extend the deadline.
“Firstly, I was disappointed that the government decided to give budget to lawmakers for the development programs. This is worthless in our country where even the state agencies are failing to carry out effective development works,” he said. “Demanding the time extension shows how irresponsible our lawmakers are.”

Rabindra Adhikari, CPN-UML lawmaker and chairman of Parliament’s Development Committee, opposed Rokka’s views. He said that it was necessary to extend the deadline because of unstable government.

“I have submitted the programs to the DDC but some of the representatives from the remote districts are yet to submit it,” he said. “So, this extension is necessary.” 
He also blamed change in the government for the delay in submitting the proposal. “After change in the government’s leadership, the DDC chiefs also got reshuffled and it made us difficult to submit the special programs,” he added.    

The program was incorporated through the enactment of the ‘Constituency Infrastructure Development Special Program Regulation 2014.’

The government had allocated at least Rs 1 million for each project totaling 30 projects at maximum in a constituency. Under this program, concerned DDC office will be responsible for the implementation and the settlement of the accounts of such projects.

First appeared in Republica.

PM’s office goes paperless

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Nation

GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Nov 10: Anyone who goes to the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers at Singha Durbar seeking services in the recent days finds some changes in the working style at the government’s top agency. 

As the PMO has introduced digital working system, service seekers don’t need to submit their files in each and every desk and spend long time just waiting to get their work done.
Now, the system for the paperwork at the PM’s office has been changed. First, the officials take a visitor’s file and scan it in a computer. Then, they file the hardcopy and forward the digital through online software to the concerned desk for further action.

The PMO had been practicing paperless working system within the office for few years.

But now it has adopted the process of online working system also for the works related to the public and as a regular working style. 

“We introduced the digital working system in November 2013 but due to lack of preparations we were unable to adopt it in a full-swing and regular basis,” Joint-secretary Damodar Regmi, spokesperson of the PM’s office, told Republica. “Now, we have started receiving documents from public and we process them through our online system.”

He said that the digital system has proved to be really helpful for making administrative work more effective.

“We can easily complete file processing within some minutes after we get the files from the service seekers,” he said. “We can also track the file’s location and find its latest status. It makes easier to forward the files and process speedily.”

Likewise, the PM’s office has also introduced online information system for its staff through the same software. According to Regmi, all the staffers at the office get important notices and information about official announcements by just logging in their accounts instead of getting them from the notice boards. 

“Now, we can also search the old files registered at the PM’s office just with a single click. So it has simplified our work and it also consumes less time,” he said.

He underscored on the need of adopting such technological system by other government bodies as well so that it can increase work efficiency, transparency and save time.

“The main objectives of adopting the new system are to make the bureaucracy paperless, technology-friendly and to initiate e-governance. For this, we need to expand it in all our government bodies,” he added.

First appeared in Republica.

Twitter, Facebook push up complaints at Hello Sarkar

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GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Nov 8: Social media has reversed the trend of public complaints registered at Hello Sarkar, a popular government desk that receives grievances from the general public both within and outside the country.

The number of complaints received at the desk, which has been run by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) at Singha Durbar since the last five years, had been steadily declining.

In the first year of its inception in November 2011, the desk received altogether 17,039 complaints. Since then, the trend of filing complaints at the desk was  decreasing continuously till a year ago.

The scenario changed dramatically when the PMO started using social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The desk started to use its separate Facebook page since last December-end and Twitter since the last seven months.

The number of incoming complaints then spiked suddenly.

So far, the desk has received 4,667 complaints through its Twitter handle (@Hello_Sarkar) alone. Similarly, it received 1,747 complaints through Facebook page.

With this, the total number of complaints received through social media, phone and fax, among other means, has reached 13,080 during the last 12 months.

“It has made it easy for the public to access the government desk and this has increased the number of complaints sent in,” Rupak Aryal, section officer at the desk, told Republica. “People have preferred social media because the desk can respond more quickly than through other means.”

Highest number of complaints against Home Ministry
Around 9,164 complaints related to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) have been registered at Hello Sarkar so far, which is the highest number registered against any government entity.

The desk has so far received altogether 53,540 complaints through various mediums. Complaints have been registered against 46 government entities. 

Public complaints registered against MoHA are related mainly to the issuance of citizenship certificates and passports. Other complaints deal with matters such as cheating and fraud.

“Every year Hello Sarkar has been receiving the highest number of complaints against home ministry-related   services,” said Aryal. “The ministry has addressed 95 per cent of the complaints registered against it.”

The Ministry of Education has been the target of 5,477 complaints, the second highest among government bodies. 

Similarly, 3,965 complaints were registered against the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, 3,788 against the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, 2,516 against Nepal Electricity Authority, 2,070 against the Ministry of Finance, 1,989 against Ministry of Health and Population, 1,973 against Ministry of Commerce and Supplies, 1,719 against Ministry of Labor and Employment and 1,545 against Nepal Doorsanchar Company Limited (Nepal Telecom).

According to Aryal, about 82 percent of the 53,540 complaints have been addressed so far by the concerned bodies.  

“After we receive the complaints, we forward them to the concerned bodies,” he further informed. “The bodies also update us about how they have addressed the public complaints forwarded to them.”

Then prime minister Baburam Bhattarai had initiated Hello Sarkar as a section under the Prime Minister’s Office at Singha Durbar in 2011.

First appeared in Republica

Kathmandu is a spiritual center for people of South Asia: Mukherjee

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Nation

GYAN P NEUPANE

KATHMANDU, Nov 4: Indian President Pranab Mukherjee has described Kathmandu as a spiritual center for the people of South Asian region.

Visiting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee waves from the gate of the Pashupatinath temple complex in Kathmandu on Thursday morning. (Dinesh Golay/Republica)

“Kathmandu is not only the political capital of Nepal, but also a spiritual centre for the people in our region,” the Indian president said addressing a civic reception organized in his honor by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City on Thursday. “Thousands of our citizens visit Nepal in search of spiritual solace at the holy temple of Pasupatinath, and Muktinath.”

He noted that monuments in Kathmandu speak of its grand history, the pride and self-confidence of its people and their resilience in the face of adversity.

He also described his visit to Nepal as a kind of pilgrimage. “It is a mission of friendship to foster ever greater understanding and cooperation between our two countries,” he said. “There are no two sovereign nations in the world like India and Nepal, sharing a common culture and having an open border between them.”

The Indian president also stated that India fondly remembered the support that her freedom fighters received from the leaders and people of Nepal during the Indian struggle against foreign rule.

“India attaches the highest priority to its relations with Nepal. That is my main message as I greet the people of Kathmandu today,” said Mukherjee.

During the civic reception function, KMC’s chief and executive officer Rudra Singh Tamang honored President Mukherjee with a letter of felicitation on behalf of the people of Kathmandu and presented the key of the metropolitan city as a symbolic gesture to welcome his stay in the capital city.

“We, the people of Kathmandu, feel immensely pleased to have the opportunity to welcome you in this capital city, a city filled with unparalleled scenic beauty, cultural diversity and a treasury of world heritage,” reads the letter signed by Tamang. “We believe that this state visit of Your Excellency would help further develop, strengthen and advance the existing friendly relations between Nepal and India.”

Earlier, President Mukherjee was also conferred on honorary D.Litt (doctor of letters) by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is also the chancellor of Kathmandu University, at special convocation function of the university in Kathmandu.

First appeared in Republica