KATHMANDU: As Kunji Tamang was breast feeding her three-month-old baby on Saturday morning, a loud cracking sound broke the tranquillity of the squatter settlement in Banshi Ghat, Tripureshwor.
Scurrying out of her hut, the 34-year-old Tamang saw to her horror a bulldozer, accompanied by Nepal Police and city police of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) personnel, was pulling down houses in the settlement.
“It was the most terrifying thing I have ever come across in my life,” said Tamang, holding her baby on her lap on Saturday afternoon. Her four-member family had been staying there for 12 years. Her husband Sanjay, 40, works as a mason.
The High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of Bagmati Civilization (HPCIDBC) under the Ministry of Urban Development, in association with the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), demolished half a dozen squatter homes in the area to make a public park.
In the afternoon, Tamang’s family were salvaging their belongings scattered around the demolished structure they called home as they prepared to move somewhere else.
Officials at the HPCIDBC said they had given the squatters in the area two week prior notice. “They were reluctant to leave. So we were compelled to use a bulldozer in their settlement,” said Yogendra Chitrakar, a senior divisional engineer at the HPCIDBC.
However, the victims claimed that the metropolis and the committee targeted their settlement as they did not have any political links. “If we were birds, we would have flown to other places. We’ve been living here for over two decades,” said another squatter Indra Prasad Timilsina, 57, adding in wailing voice that they had no place to go.
“We are real squatters, with ID cards confirming our status. But the authorities did not touch houses of many well-off people who are living here as squatters,” Timilsina vented his anger.
Superintendent of KMC Police Purnachandra Bhattarai said there are over 500 squatter homes just 200 metres west from this settlement. “We’ve found they settled in just recently,” said Bhattarai. But the victims deny the claims.
There has been widespread criticism of the government’s inability to solve the squatters’ problem in Kathmandu.
In May 2012, the government had mobilised more than 2,000 security personnel to pull down 251 huts of landless squatters on the banks of Bagmati River in Thapathali. However, following political pressure the government abandoned the demolition drive in the area.
According to the Nepal Landless Democratic Union Party, out of 29,000 squatter families living in Kathmandu Valley only 1,082 families were registered as squatters in 2012. There are 73 squatter settlements in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. Around 8,000 families are living along the Bagmati river banks alone.
– By Anup Ojha for TKP