Place to stay
- Efforts to resolve landlessness must focus on land redistribution and cheap housing
Oct 7, 2014-About a decade ago, Hari Maya Jimba, a mother of four, left her village in Sindhuli for good and came to Kathmandu in hopes of a better life. Her income increased slightly in the city but it was never enough to provide for a decent shelter for herself and her children. She has since been living in a slum along the floodplains of the Bishnumati River in Thapathali.
Comprehensive data on the number of squatters like Hari Maya Jimba is not available. But according to one study, squatter or sukumbasi settlements in Kathmandu increased from 17 to 40 from 2005 to 2008. These settlements are thickly populated and characterised by poor housing and lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. However, not all people living there are landless, according to government definitions. Sukumbasis, contrary to other slum dwellers, have no legal land holding. So in a bid to identify such landless settlers and address their problems, the Landless Squatters’ Problem Resolution Commission has called on sukumbasis, along with those living in the slums, to report to their respective district offices from October 12 to November 16. But many like Hari Maya do not want to go back to Sindhuli for registration as she considers Kathmandu her home now.
The government’s effort to ascertain the total number of squatters and address the problem of landlessness is undoubtedly commendable. But the fact that this is the 13th commission formed to resolve the problem of landlessness since the end of the Panchayat era leaves ample room for doubt. Experts argue that problems with government efforts
till date begin with the Panchayati definition of squatters as ‘people without a lalpurja’, official land papers. There is clearly a need to redefine squatters to include people living in debilitating conditions and those who own land that is of little value. Kamaiyas, Haliyas, Haruwas and Charuwas, who were previously bonded labourers, should also be included in government efforts to address landlessness. Politicisation of the issue, which is most visible during elections, further complicates matters. Past government reports on landlessness have categorically stated that political parties in power have distributed land to their cadres, instead of those listed as landless in government records.
Still, redistributing land alone cannot resolve the problem. Slums are equally an outcome of haphazard urbanisation. To remedy this, city planners should work to offer low-cost affordable housing for the poor. Towards that end, it is noteworthy that the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction is now in the process of completing nine buildings in Ichangunarayan, Lalitpur for landless squatters evicted from Thapathali two years ago. In the future, it can also take inspiration from the noble efforts of an NGO which provides soft loans to the urban poor to build decent houses and even trains them at construction to reduce costs.
Published: 08-10-2014 09:40