Nepal’s shortsighted view-tower craze
Politicians at all three levels of government in Nepal appear to be racing against time to build a concrete view-tower on every mountain in the country, and a gate outside every town.
It is not just a problem of misguided priorities, politicians know exactly what they are doing by putting up these non-essential monstrosities. It is kickbacks that are lubricating these contracts.
So, instead of expanding health posts and hospitals, retrofitting school buildings to make them seismic resistant, or ensuring safe drinking water supply, elected people’s representatives are squandering taxpayer money on useless structures.
“Nepal’s elected officials have clearly failed to address the true needs of the people, and are wasting money to line their own pockets,” the former official at the Ministry of Federal Affairs Purshottam Nepal puts it bluntly.
It is not just view-towers, but high rises in the middle of nowhere, enormous statues of gods and saints, outsized cement replicas of fruits and products municipalities are famous for, and elaborate gates at the entrance of every town or village.
A 80m high statue of the saint Byas is being constructed in Tanahu district at a cost of Rs450 million in the hope of attracting pilgrims to a place where the holy man was supposed to have meditated.
In Morang, the Sundar Haraicha Municipality has started building the world’s biggest statue of a cow, lavishing nearly Rs1 billion in the project.
Near Kathmandu, Kirtipur Municipality has already spent Rs37.5 million to build Manjushree Park and statue at Chobhar. It is soon planning to build one for Kirti Laxmi as well at a cost of Rs8 billion.
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But Manjushree, Vyas and Kirti Laxmi are mythical figures. There is no historical proof that they actually existed.
Says culture expert Basanta Maharjan: “There is no information or physical description of any of these characters for us to be building enormous statues with their imaginary features.”
It is not just local government leaders that are at fault. They are just following the example of megalomaniac national leaders bent on leaving a permanent legacy.
Former prime minister K P Oli set the stage by laying the foundation stone for a Rs2.5 billion view-tower project in Jhapa’s Damak last year. His rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoist Centre was not far behind and inaugurated a $6 billion view-tower on a mountain top in Rolpa commemorating guerrillas killed during the insurgency.
It was the Rolpa tower that thrust the view-tower building spree into sharp national focus with banner headlines in newspapers, and netizens pouring ridicule at the extravagance of building these edifices when adjoining government schools do not have proper classrooms and latrines.
Bagmati Province has allocated Rs180 billion for over a dozen view-towers projects across central Nepal this year. Gandaki Province has budgeted Rs176 million to develop 44 tourist destinations, most of which will have view-towers on already lofty peaks.
Province 1 has allocated a whopping Rs10 billion from its budget for view-towers in 16 sites across eastern Nepal. Even Madhes Province, which is in the Tarai, is putting up a view-tower on Narayan Danda overlooking the plains of Sarlahi district.
To many, it appears like local governments have run out of places to dig new and poorly-engineered roads and have been attracted by erecting view-towers to impress voters before elections this year.
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Lumbini Province, location of the birthplace of the Buddha, has allotted Rs20 million for statues of the Kanakamuni and Krikumuni avatars of the Buddhas in Kapilvastu.
Sudur Paschim Province may lag behind the rest of the country in terms of development indicators, but when it comes to building view-towers it is right up there with the others. It has set aside Rs2.5 billion for a view-tower atop Kampasedhura peak in Kailali.
The list of view-towers under construction is long — there is an Rs5 billion tower coming up in Chandragiri and another Rs9 billion project in Rupandehi’s Tilottama.
Municipalities that cannot build view-towers are putting up grandiose structures and high rises in the last remaining open spaces.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City is building a 29-floor high rise at a cost of Rs5 billion near Tundikhel that is already an eyesore and will be a white elephant. Not to be outdone, Biratnagar is putting up its own high rise at a cost of Rs4 billion.
The only people who benefit from this wasteful spending are cement companies, and contractors. The people who need basic services like health, education, jobs and a clean living environment get nothing.
Federalism was supposed to inject more accountability — at least at the local level. The opposite seems to have happened in the past five years. National parties that control local governments and their budgets appear to be driven by the same greed and misplaced priorities as the national government.
Politicians seem unwilling or unable to buck the trend. It could be because view-towers are easy to build, posts can be padded and accord a lot of opportunity for hidden over-invoicing, and the political party gets to show voters it is committed to ‘development’.
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Many environmentalists and even engineers have pointed out that Nepal’s high mountains are already so high that they serve as view-towers. Adding an extra few metres on them is illogical and adds nothing to the panorama. They say that if it is the vista that the planners want, viewing platforms would be more appropriate.
“Compared to multi-propose projects that can help increase economic activities for the locals, building a view-tower is economically wasteful and an obsolete idea,” says Krishna Prasad Sapkota, former District Development Committee chair of Kavre.
This does not deter politicians. The view-tower building spree seems unstoppable. Kaski, Nagarkot and Bandipur are building towers as we speak. Inspired by the Great Wall of China, Helambu Rural Municipality is constructing a 60km stone trail, dubbed ‘the Helambu Great Trail’.
Chair Nima Galgen Sherpa boasts that his pet project will cost Rs3 billion, and will “attract tourists” to his district north of Kathmandu.
All these view-towers have one thing in common: they are of no help to the local people — they serve no purpose, economic or otherwise. There is no business plan or an analysis of return on investment.
Udaypur’s Lumchungbung Municipality has prepared a project report for an Everest View Tower on a hilltop from which the world’s highest mountain is sometimes visible through the clouds and haze.
How will this Rs90 million view-tower benefit the municipality’s 12,000 population? How will it or other view-towers in any way ensure better governance or improve the living standard of people?
“The government’s priority should be on skills development, enterprise, education and health,” says former secretary of Local Development, Khemraj Nepal. “But all three levels of government are straying away from their responsibility towards the people.”
The priority of the representatives we elected to power should be improving health posts, community schools, food security and sanitation, he says. These are necessities, and view-towers are an extravagance and a waste of time and taxpayer money.
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