City’s new building code draws flak from heritage experts

  • A provision in the controversial code introduced by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City allows the construction of one-storey basement for personal parking or storage purposes
- ANUP OJHA, Kathmandu

Feb 3, 2019-

Heritage experts, conservationists, and urban architects have raised concerns about Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s indifference towards preserving the historical monuments within the metropolis.

At the discussion programme ‘Heritage Conservation and Present Challenges,’ organised by International Council on Monuments and Sites in the Capital on Friday, experts

lambasted the Mayor’s Office for introducing the ‘Building Code 2075’ saying that it ignores the Ancient Monument Preservation Act-2013.

The Ancient Monument Preservation Act-2013 restricts construction of underground structures near heritage sites. The Act also restricts construction of buildings that are taller than 35 feet and have  maximum of four storeys, but the new Building Code has a provision that grants a maximum height of 65 feet and a maximum of seven-storey building.

The Building Code, which was passed by the City Council, states in the municipal local gazette that the new law has been introduced to preserve historical, cultural and archaeological monuments. Section 9 of the new Code has a provision for ‘old city zone’ titled Preserved Monument Sub-Zone, under which a provision allows construction of a one-storey basement for personal parking or storage purposes.

“The new Code is against Ancient Preservation Act and grants permission to some private households to construct building over 35 feet. This is against the law but it’s going on,” said Bishnu Raj Karki, former chief at Department of Archaeology.

Karki said this faulty practice would destroy the traditional Newari architecture in the long run and increase earthquake vulnerabilities. “This will ruin the ancient architecture of Kathmandu which is directly linked to our identity,” said Karki.   

According to heritage conservationist Bhim Nepal, the provisions in the new building code are a result of inadequate human resources at the higher level in the Mayor’s Office and their insensitivity towards heritage. “It seems, the code has been made without consulting experts,” he said.

 After winning the mayoral race in 2017, Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya had announced his plans to transform the metropolis into a cultural city but the new provisions in the Building Code have contradicted his commitme0nts. “If the mayor introduces such destructive code and continues to grant permission to private residences to extend a basement floor in core areas like Basantapur, he will soon destroy our ancestral heritage,” said Ganapati Lal Shrestha, a youth heritage activist. The new provisions, experts say, have been introduced to serve the interests of the few . “Basantapur Durbar Square alone has six houses under construction, which breach the Ancient Monument Preservation Act,” said engineer Gyanendra Devkota, adding that almost all alleys in the vicinity have ancient structures of cultural and spiritual importance.

“The ceiling of the three-storey building is to preserve these structures but the new provisions will give way to taller buildings and ancient structures will be vulnerable to earthquakes,” he said.   

Lamenting the sluggish reconstruction of heritage sites post the twin earthquakes that demolished many ancient structures, including Kasthamandap—the oldest structure in the Valley—and Malla era Rani Pokhari, experts also raised concerns about the decision to demolish Bagh Durbar, which according to them, could be preserved by retrofitting.

“Due to the lack of strong and effective law, heritage sites have come under attack from both the government and the private sectors,” said lawyer and cultural activist Sanjay Adhikari, insisting that the country needs a strong law on “heritage crime”. Lack of basic knowledge of heritage sites and their significance among high-level officials, according to experts, is the main reason for the continued negligence towards heritage sites. The involvement of youth activists in the struggle to safeguard heritage sites have them elated, though.

“I am very optimistic because the new generation has shown keen interest and they have been fighting to preserve both our tangible and intangible heritage sites,” said award winning heritage conservationist Rabindra Puri.

Published: 03-02-2019 10:29

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