KMC gearing up to organize civic reception for Indian President

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KATHMANDU, Oct 27: The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) office has started preparations to felicitate Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in capital Kathmandu during his state visit to Nepal from November 2.

The KMC will host the civic reception program at Rastriya Sabhagriha [City Hall] at Pradarsani Marga on November 3, where the country organized the 18th South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in 2014.

During the program KMC’s chief and executive officer Rudra Singh Tamang will honor President Mukherjee with the felicitation certificate and also present metropolitan’s key as a symbolic gesture. 

“As per our government’s directives we are planning to host civic reception program at the City Hall,” said an official at the KMC, asking for anonymity.

Officials at the KMC informed that the program will be based on the idea of welcoming Mukherjee on behalf of Kathmanduites. CEO Tamang is going to welcome the Indian president as the representative of the Kathmanduites as there is no mayor in the metropolitan city at present.

Last time, during the then Indian President K R Narayan’s state visit to Nepal in 1998, the then acting Mayor of KMC Bidur Mainali had also done the same job in the capital, according to KMC officials.

“Various community groups from different parts of Kathmandu will also stage cultural demonstration to welcome the Indian head of state,” said the official.

“We are going to host another major event at the City Hall after successful completion of the 18th SAARC summit at the same venue,” another official said. “We are also mobilizing our workers and equipments to clean the city.”

During his three-day visit, the Indian president is also expected to visit some other religious, cultural, historic and tourist places located in various parts of the four municipalities outside the capital too.

The Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development ordered four municipality offices of Janakpur sub-Metropolitan, Pokhara sub-Metropolitan, Lumbini Cultural Municipality and Dhulikhel Municipality ordered them to make preparations to welcome him in their respective towns.

First appeared in Republica

Budget crunch likely to delay monuments reconstruction

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KATHMANDU, Oct 20: Thanks to budget constraints, the government is likely to miss its own deadline for completing the reconstruction and renovation of historical monuments that were ravaged by earthquake last year. 

Nepal Army personnel and locals removing the debris of a temple that collapsed in the earthquake at Kathmandu Durbar Square in this April 2015 photo. (Republica)

Officials at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) said the five-year deadline for completing the renovation and reconstruction of the monuments is sure to lapse as the ministry has been receiving far less budgetary funding than it has sought.    

While the government this fiscal year allocated Rs 750 million out of the total  of Rs 2.3-billion sought for reconstructing 145 wrecked monuments, it had  last fiscal year allocated only a meager Rs 346 million out of the total Rs 1.9 billion sought. 

According to Danduraj Ghimire, joint secretary at MoCTCA, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has released only one-third of the total budget sought by the ministry for expediting reconstruction and renovation of quake-damaged monuments.

“Our ministry had demanded the full budget for all 145 projects for this year, and we received just 33 percent of the total amount needed,” he told Republica. The budget will be utilized by the Department of Archaeology (DoA) and the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) to carry out renovation and reconstruction work on select monuments. 

 MoCTCA did not receive any special budget this fiscal year for spending directly on renovation and reconstruction of destroyed and damaged monuments other than those specified by NRA .  

The NRA-allocated Rs 750 million is only for the DoA and PADT, and the amount has been divided into Rs 500 million and Rs 250 million for the two bodies respectively, according Ghimire.

“Due to lack of a reconstruction budget for the ministry, we are unable to budget funds for our sector. This is likely to delay reconstruction work at some monuments such as the Narayanhiti Durbar area, the Nepal Academy and Lalitkala Academy,” he further informed. 

Last fiscal year, the government had allocated just Rs 346 million and the DoA  used the funds to award reconstruction projects for 48 monuments to various contractors. The ministry had demanded a Rs 1.9 billion reconstruction budget for 104 monuments damaged by earthquake. 

The government has set a target of completing reconstruction work on all the affected heritage sites by 2020. “The amount allocated shows that we cannot rebuild our damaged monuments in the stipulated time,” said a senior official at the ministry, requesting anonymity. 

Bhesh Narayan Dahal, director general of DoA, informed that the department has so far initiated the tender bids process for rebuilding  seven monuments with the current budget.

“The budget does not suffice to meet our targets. However, we have been requesting the National Reconstruction Authority for additional budget funds,” said Dahal. 

Figures provided by MoCTCA show that earthquake damaged 750 monuments in 25 quake-affected districts. Of these, 133 monuments were completely destroyed. It is estimated that over Rs 2 billion is required for the reconstruction and renovation of all damaged monuments.

Frist appeared in Republica

‘Construction materials banks’ to open in quake-hit areas

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KATHMANDU, Oct 18: As earthquake victims who have received the first tranche of the house reconstruction grant are gearing up to rebuild their houses, the government has started preparations to set up ‘construction materials banks’ at various places in the 11 earthquake-affected districts for the convenience of the victims. These ‘banks’ or depots will have adequate stock of construction materials, which will be sold to the victims at reasonable rates, officials said.
The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has initiated discussions with the line ministries and other concerned bodies for setting up such depots at various locations in the 11 districts. In August, the parliament’s Development Committee had asked the NRA to set up such depots for the convenience of the quake victims.
According to NRA spokesman Ram Prasad Thapaliya, NRA is holding talks with the officials of the Ministry of Supply and Salt Trading Corporation Limited (STCL) for supplying construction materials to such depots. He also informed that STCL will come up with a plan for setting up the depots.

“As per the development committee’s directive, we are working to set up such depots but we have yet to decide their numbers,” he said.  

“The victims can easily get construction materials from such depots. Such depots will be established focussing people from remote areas so that they don’t have to walk long distances,” he said, adding, the depots are being established also to prevent the possible black market in construction materials.

He informed that the depots will sell cement, steel rods, rocks, aggregate and sand among other construction materials at reasonable rates. 

 “We are working to submit our distribution plan to the NRA within this week,” Urmila Shrestha, general manager of the STLC, told Republica. “We will open the depots at locations that are convenient for quake victims from remote areas.” 

According to the government’s latest data, so far it has distributed the first tranche of Rs 50,000 in housing grant to 420,882 house owners out of 533,182 who lost their houses to the earthquakes. The government will distribute another Rs 250,000 in next two tranches after the victims complete the construction of the foundation for their houses.

First appeared in Republica

Alpine porter wins Everest ultra marathon

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NAMCHE BAZAR, Oct 6: Suman Kulung, 25, who has been working as a porter for trekkers in the Everest region has won the Second Royal Penguin Ultra Marathon in the Everest region on Wednesday.

In 7 hours and 7 minutes, he completed 60 km race beating 22 other national and international competitors on Wednesday. Kulung, who is from Gudel VDC of Solukhumbu district, helps the local as well as international trekkers in the Everest region.

Similarly, Pemba Sherpa of Solu Taksindu VDC and Santosh Rai of Jubing VDC of Solukhumbu district completed the race as second and third respectively. Pemba, who had also completed the first Royal Penguin Ultra marathon in 2014, finished the race in 7 hours and 23 minutes and Santosh completed it in 7 hours and 48 minutes.

Likewise, Purnima Khaling Rai, 19, of the same district won the first title in female category, taking 9 hours and 19 minutes to reach the destination.

The first male winner Suman bagged a purse of Rs 50,000. Pemba and Santosh bagged Rs 25,000 and Rs 15,000 respectively while female winner Purnima bagged a purse of Rs 15,000.

The race started from Namche Bazaar (3440 m) at 3 am Wednesday and headed uphill toward Dole (4200m) and Gokyo (4,800 meters), crossed the Renjo-La pass (5,340 meters), came downhill to Marlung (4,260) and Thame (3800 meters) and arrived back at Namche Bazaar (3,440 meters).

“During free time, I used to help foreigners as a porter guide,” Suman told Republica after winning the race. 

In May, Suman had won the 42km Everest Marathon. He had completed the race in four hours and 11 minutes.

On Wednesday, he said that he completed the 60 km trekking route for the first time. “I stayed at Everest Base Camp during climbing seasons for the last few years as a kitchen helper,” he further said. “But this was a completely new route for me and I hadn’t completed this route before this.”

As he had to climb uphill and downhill as part of his occupation, he said he aims to scale Mt Everest in future. “I know climbing mountains is challenging, but the two wins have boosted my morale. If I get the opportunity, I will summit Everest one day,” he added.

According to Minma Yanji Sherpa, a member of the marathon organizing committee, 10 Nepali and 13 foreigners participated in the race. She informed that two runners failed to complete the marathon.

According to Sherpa, foreigner participants were from Russia, Singapore, the USA, Germany, Canada, and Australia among other countries. The marathon was organized by Royal Penguin Adventure under the sponsorship of Royal Penguin Boutique Hotel, based in Thamel, Kathmandu.

First appeared in Republica

NRA meeting approves additional housing grant of Rs 100,000

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KATHMANDU, Sept 27: The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has finally decided to provide additional Rs 100,000 in housing grant for quake victims whose homes were destroyed during last year’s earthquakes.

The NRA’s steering committee meeting on Monday endorsed a proposal to provide the additional amount with the existing housing grant of Rs 200,000. This decision has come as per the announcement made by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal immediately after becoming head of the government. The steering committee, which is headed by the prime minister, is represented by various other ruling and opposition parties and several ministries.

According to NRA Chief Executive Officer Sushil Gyewali, the meeting also decided that the victims will get Rs 150,000 in second tranche and Rs 100,000 in third as per the new criteria. 

The government has already provided the first tranche of Rs 50,000 as housing grant to 393,677 earthquake-hit families so far in 12 most-affected districts including Lalitpur. The government, however, is yet to start distributing the amount to the locals of Kathmandu and Bhaktapur districts though these two districts are also among 14 districts worst hit by the earthquakes.

CEO Gyewali informed that the government will provide final tranche to victims only if they build either a toilet, a bio-gas plant or install solar power for their family use.

“The meeting has decided to increase Rs 100,000 for victims and it will be distributed in the final [third] installment and will be distributed only if follow the criteria to build toilet, bio-gas plant or use solar power,” said Gyewali.

Prime Minister Dahal chaired the committee meeting held at Singha Durbar on Monday. 

“The steering committee has already made a draft of working procedure for distributing the additional money,” said the CEO. “We will forward it to the next cabinet meeting for approval.”

He, however, informed that they will discuss with the finance ministry about sources for the budget necessary to arrange additional money as promised by the government. “We will also start discussion with the donor agencies for the budget,” he added.

PM Dahal also directed the NRA to ensure that those households who haven’t got even the first tranche of Rs 50,000 will be given the amount before Dashain.

First appeared in Republica

17th-century window set at Patan Durbar Square restored

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KATHMANDU, Sept 23: A group of conservationists have restored two windows of a centuries-old building located inside the Patan Durbar Square following three years of continuous efforts. 

The three-section bay window at Patan Durbar Square after its left and right sections were restored.(Republica)

The conservationists designed and assembled the windows using materials such as white marble dust and bone dust, whereas the original one was made of elephant tusks. The modern alternatives were applied for restoring the damaged Malla-era windows as the present laws prohibit use of ivory for such purpose. One of the three units of the traditional bay window didn’t need any repairs and still consists of the original materials.

The hand crafted replacement units have been fit into the wooden window frame of the building at the main entrance to the Patan Durbar Square. The complex is the central part of the Patan Durbar Square, a World Heritage Site.

A team of conservationists from the Austria-based University of Applied Arts reinstalled the ivory windows on September 15. The three windows are positioned above the main entrance to the Sundari Chowk inside the durbar complex.

“It was so difficult for us to decide whether to use the original ivory or make it using other materials to give it the original look while restoring the historical art. Eventually, we decided to use those materials because we could not use animal parts in present times,” Rohit Ranjitkar, conservation architect at Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust (KVPT), told Republica. “But the Austrian team came up with these ideas and made it possible to restore the old windows maintaining their original look.”

According to Ranjitkar, the design was prepared in Vienna and later it was brought to Nepal and fitted into the wooden frame of the building. He informed that about 75 per cent of the old windows are in damaged condition.

The trust, which has been working for the conservation and restoration of various parts of the complex for years, asked the Austrian team to restore the windows.

“The windows are amazing piece of this complex and I am glad that I succeeded in restoring such precious pieces,” said Manfred Trummred, assistant professor at the Austrian university.

Austrian team crafted all the artificial materials in their studio at the university in Vienna.

“It took almost eight months to make the parts resemble the original ivory designs,” said Trummer, who has been working in conservation of Patan Durbar Square since 2010. “But the wooden frames are made by Nepali artisans. In our country, you cannot see handcraft arts. I learnt a lot from the Nepali workers.”

However, some experts have expressed dissatisfactions over the use of artificial materials.

“It would have been great had they used original ivory to restore the window. But unfortunately the existing laws don’t allow the use of animal parts,” Satyamohan Joshi, a historian and culture expert, told Republica. 

Joshi described the windows as one of the precious pieces from the 17th century. “Malla-era is the golden period in Nepal’s history when beautiful woodworks were crafted, but the ivory-decorated windows are more important than other artworks,” he said. “We should have done timely restoration to preserve them so that our future generation, too, could enjoy them.”

Ranjitkar, of KVPT, said that it would have been certainly better had they been able to use the original ivory for restoration. 

He informed that the original ivory windows, which are in a damaged shape, will soon be placed inside Patan Museum, which is also situated inside the same complex, for display. 

During the Malla era, the kings who ruled Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu installed similar windows into their palaces. According to Ranjitkar, a similar window was located in Bhaktapur, but unfortunately it was destroyed before the 1934 earthquake. The windows of Hanumandhoka Palace at Kathmandu Durbar Square are still in good shape.

First appeared in Republica

Govt to foot Rs 14m bill for treating Madhes agitation injured

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KATHMANDU, Sept 23: The government has decided to provide Rs 14 million to cover the expenses incurred in the treatment of  protesters injured during the Madhes agitations last year. This is as per the demands of the agitating Madhes-based parties.

Government spokesperson and Minister for Information and Communications Surendra Kumar Karki informed that the government will pay all the medical bills submitted to the Home Ministry by the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), an alliance of the agitating parties.

“The cabinet meeting has decided to bear expenses of Rs 14 million incurred in the treatment of the injured protesters,”  Karki told reporters while emerging from the meeting held at the prime minister’s office at Singha Durbar on Thursday.

The UDMF had earlier submitted bills for around Rs 8.7 million that the agitating parties reportedly owed to various hospitals. Similarly, they demanded around Rs 4.2 million for the families of the injured. UDMF leaders submitted the bills and other details to Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi on September 18.

Meanwhile, the cabinet meeting has appointed Kamini Rajbhandari as executive director of Nepal Telecom (NT). She has hitherto been working as Chief Technical Officer at NT. 
Minister Karki also informed that the government has increased the monthly salaries of post office staff by 25 percent with effect from the start of the current fiscal year.

According to him, the government has decided to establish High Court Attorney Offices in Biratnagar, Janakpur, Patan, Pokhara, Tulasipur, Birendranagar and Dipayal, under the federal setup. The government had earlier formed the seven high courts in those cities.

Govt to shorten bidding process
Minister Karki informed that the government is planning to shorten the existing procurement procedures and establish a fast track bidding system.

“The government has been preparing to award contracts through a fast track,” he told reporters. “The next cabinet meeting will finalize all procedural matters.”

He also said that the new system will be helpful in awarding contracts speedily and this will eventually expedite the work progress.

“If we want to build a toilet under the existing procurement act, it will take almost three months. We therefore wanted to introduce a fast track system,” he informed.

First appeared in Republica

Bus operators use Dashain ticket booking to press demands

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KATHMANDU, Sept 15: Services for booking bus tickets for traveling out of the Kathmandu valley for Dashain holidays have been delayed after discussions between bus operators and concerned authorities failed to reach an agreement.  

“We are in discussion with concerned authorities over the recently introduced rules and regulations that aim at controlling road accidents. We have reservations against some of the rules and are presently in discussion with the authorities to sort them out,” Saroj Sitaula, general secretary of the Federation of Nepal National Transport Entrepreneurs, an umbrella organization of transport entrepreneurs, told Republica.

Following spike in road accidents in various parts of the country, the government had responded by introducing stringent laws aimed at reducing road accidents. Bus operators however have objected to some of the proposed provisions. As part of the new measures, the government has banned operating of public buses along most of the gravel roads in rural parts of the country. The rule has made exemptions for certain rural roads. 

In the past early booking facilities used to open around a month before the festival. However this year, the date is not yet set though the festival starts from October 1. “Till today we have not fixed any date for opening ticket booking for Dashain. We are yet to reach an agreement with the authorities.” 

Transport entrepreneurs claim that the authorities had proposed the new rules without consulting them. Situala said that the government abruptly banned operation of buses in majority of gravel roads in rural areas thereby incurring huge losses to bus entrepreneurs. “As 70 percent of our vehicles run in rural routes, restricting buses from plying on them have forced entrepreneurs to face huge loss. The government should come up with a balanced plan for using rural routes.”

Along with that Sitaula said that they have been “demanding that the government improve condition of the Mugling-Narayanghat road section. The road has been badly damaged and vehicles are often blocked due to landslides and other hindrances for last several months,” and added that the government should resolve the issue at the earliest.  

Basanta Adhikari, spokesperson of Department of Transport Management (DoTM) informed that they are preparing to open ticket booking from next week but confirmed that a date is yet to be finalized. “We are yet to discuss the booking process with transport entrepreneurs but we expect to finalize it very soon.”

First appeared in Republica

17 big buses to replace 26 micros, 35 tempos on Gongabu-TIA route

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KATHMANDU, Sept 12: The Department of Transport Management (DoTM) and representatives of small public transport operators have agreed to operate 17 new buses along the route from Gongabu Bus Park  in Kathmandu to Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).

They agreed to operate the buses, replacing existing 35 tempos and 26 microbuses along the 12.1 kilometer route, as a part of broader plan to promote mass transport in the capital.

The accord signed by representatives from the department, the public transport operators, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Town Development Fund (TDF), will be implemented as per the government’s policy of developing mass transport systems in the major towns and cities.

Department official informed that transport entrepreneurs now operating the tempos and microbuses along the  Gongobu Buspark-Lainchour-Maitidevi-Sinamangal-TIA  route will replace these vehicles with big buses under a government plan that also includes assistance to the bus operators.

“The two committees of tempo and micro-bus operators have agreed that they are ready to operate big buses as per our plan and vision to develop mass transport in Kathmandu,” Director General of the Department of Transport Management Chandra Man Shrestha told Republica.

He also informed that the final agreement will be signed only after the committee members register a company, as required by government policy, to run the buses. 

“We will have an official agreement within a week,” he said. “They can then receive government assistance under financial support from the ADB.”

He said the company owners will be able to get 80 percent financial support as a loan and an additional 15 percent will come as a grant under the Town Development Fund. Another five percent should be invested by the entrepreneurs themselves. “The 15 percent assistance is for removing their small vehicles from the road,” Shrestha added. 

“ADB will provide a grant assistance of US$ 2 million to the government and this will be handed over to TDF,” said Shrestha. “TDF is the focal agency for distributing the government’s assistance to the mass transport operator.”

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, while addressing parliamentlast week, announced the promotion of large buses under a plan to replace small vehicles such as tempos and microbuses in the major towns.

First appeared in Republica

Experts doubt monuments to be rebuilt can withstand quakes

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KATHMANDU, Sept 7: As the Department of Archaeology (DoA) begins the reconstruction of some historical monuments in Kathmandu Valley, doubts have arisen if the new structures can withstand future sesimic jolts.

Experts have raised questions about the longevity of the structures once they are rebuilt mainly because government supervision as per the existing procedures is not sufficient to ensure quality. The experts have also raised questioned about the construction materials that the authorities plan to use.

So far the department has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with 11 national and international entities for the reconstruction of various monuments destroyed by earthquake last year. Similarly, the department is in the process of selecting contractors for rebuilding 49  of the monuments.

As of now, the department has begun work on rebuilding around a dozen monuments inside the Valley.

“Work on rebuilding destroyed monuments has already started in some areas of the Valley, but we are not so sure about the longevity of the structures once they are restored,” archaeologist Bishnuraj Karki told Republica. “Questions have been raised partly because we don’t have proper supervision criteria to avoid technical faults during the reconstruction.”

 UNESCO also has been pressing the Ministry of Culture and Civil Aviation (MoCCA) and other stakeholders to change the bidding procedures when it comes to rebuilding heritage sites.

“Since the very beginning of the reconstruction, UNESCO has stressed in meetings and letters addressed to MoCCA and the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) the importance of changing the bidding procedures for historical monuments,” reads the statement released by the UNESCO office in Kathmandu on Thursday.

It has also warned that awarding the contract to the lowest bidder is inappropriate when it comes to rebuilding heritage, as there is a major risk of destroying the uniqueness of Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Sites.

“As a result, the cultural tourism potential of Nepal might be negatively affected,” the statement further reads.

Karki, who is also a former director general at DoA and is currently involved in the conservation of Panchamukhi Temple inside Hanumandhoka Durbar complex, has stressed that a proper supervision mechanism is the best way to ensure originality and longevity in the structures to be rebuilt. 

“We should focus on developing a mechanism that would avoid faults under the existing procurement procedures instated of thinking about other new procedures,” he said. “If we go for a new process, we will again face new complications that will eventually delay our entire reconstruction work.”

Reconstruction work on the Balgopaleshwar Temple in the middle of Ranipokhari has been suspended since a few weeks after Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s plans to use modern building materials and techniques instead of adhering to traditional styles as per the archaeological norms drew widespread criticism. UNESCO and some experts have expressed serious concern over inappropriate rebuilding processes.

“The reconstruction of Balgopaleshwar temple is one recent example of poor supervision and monitoring,” said senior architect Sudarsanraj Tiwari, adding. “It shows that the current working style has become irrelevant.”  He spoke of the need for a proper supervision mechanism to ensure longevity and originality of the heritage sites.

However, he said the government’s procurement process should not be a big issue while ensuring the longevity and originality of new structures. “Procurement is not a big deal so far as we have already done several reconstructions applying the government’s procuring processes,” Tiwari said. “But we need some changes in the bidding process as UNESCO also has requested the government for changes.”

Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesperson at DoA, said that if proper supervision is lacking during the reconstruction, the structures may not sustain future jolts.

“Ensuring quality from various perspectives is a very challenging issue as we are working on several monuments simultaneously,” he said. “This issue should be discussed at the policy and leadership levels.”

Kunwar admitted that the widespread criticism over inappropriate rebuilding at the Balgopaleshwar Temple has taught a lesson about the need of regular supervision.

First appeared in Republica