The present government is not involved in any wrongdoings but is investigating encroachment of government lands.
Padma Kumari Aryal, Minister for Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation, is committed to returning the encroached upon lands, including the much-talked-about Baluwatar one. These land scams involving the land mafias have shaken the confidence of law-abiding citizens of Nepal. She vows to implement the recommendations of the newly-formed commission which proposes to return all the government lands, which have been encroached upon illegally by land mafias. Khabarhub gathers the mood and intent of Minister Aryal as to what exactly is the government’s strategy in this regard. Excerpts:
There have been reports of government lands being encroached upon. Even the land in the Prime Minister’s residence in Baluwatar has not been spared. What is happening?
Cases of encroachment are coming in. In a way, it is helping out government to trace such cases. Earlier there was no such discussion on this, it is the first time we are into it. Government is keen to investigate such cases. This government is really taking on the encroachers is clear from the fact that it took serious note of the Lalita Niwas in Baluwatar.
People are now reposing faith in the government. People are being heard saying that the government is looking into the complaints being lodged connected with land grabbing and illegal encroachment by land mafia. They are now lodging more such complaints with the government. We have urged people, in general, to bring out cases of encroachment and lodge the same with the government for prompt actions.
There is growing discontent amongst the general people with regard to laxity in actions in cases of land grabbing by encroachers. Howsoever positive you sound in your intent, citizens of the country are expecting more actions from you. How do you respond?
Government is up to it and is already working towards returning the land to rightful owners and claiming the encroached upon lands back to the government. There is no way that the government is going to compromise on its commitment to just give in to land mafias and illegal encroachment. I must say that the government is committed to bringing back the encroached-upon land. None other than President Bidya Devi Bhandari has highlighted the intent of the government on the issue of land encroachment in the government’s policies and programs and reasserted the pledge of the government to bring back all the encroached upon the land. Alleged collusion of the government in such land grabbing is nothing but a figment of the imagination. We, as a part of the government, are working tirelessly to redress all the cases of land grabbing without further delay. There is no question of government instigating the cases of land encroachment. It is highly objectionable allegation as cases like these have been reported earlier too in the era of previous governments. These cases are not recent as to squarely blame the KP Oli-led government and we are working hard to end such anomalies once and for all, which the previous governments had failed to do so. It is unfortunate that the Oli government has been blamed for protecting land mafias despite its efforts to bring them to book. Such allegations could hamper the government’s efforts to redress the complaints of encroached upon lands by forming a powerful high-level commission.
People are, however, skeptical about what you are saying as since senior leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party are reportedly involved in these land grabbing scams. How optimistic are you about settling these cases when your own leaders are involved in it?
Investigations will expose everything and the alleged involvement of party leaders will come into the light. Right now, it is just allegation. To clarify it further, the root of the problem goes as back as the interim government of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai in 1991 when he headed the interim government. Madhav Kumar Nepal led government was serious about managing the land near the PM’s official residence. In fact, the previous governments were not that committed to solving this problem. The Oli-led government is the first government to address this issue of land grabbing at any cost. Moreover, it is a national issue and not just confined to the concern of party leaders. The government is investigating the issue with all its means at its disposal. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), too, is working at it. I must assure you that neither the government nor the party will influence the impartial investigation of corruption involved in the encroachment of land once the CIAA is already looking into the matter.
Is your ministry aware of the rampant encroachment of government land in the name of Guthi or other such provisions in various parts of the country? Do you have exact data on this kind of encroachment?
Truly speaking, I don’t have any data on it. The ministry is yet to collect accurate data of such lands. However, we are aware of the fact that government lands are being encroached upon in different parts of the country. But, the precise area of the encroachment can be known only after a field survey. The truth of the matter is that escalating level of encroachment remained unreported and unrecorded in the era of previous governments as no heed was paid on the scam of this level as it is coming up before us.
Do you think that CPN’s image has been tarnished following an allegation of involvement of its leaders in land scams?
News is being circulated in a way as if the incumbent government has encouraged this encroachment of government lands. The present government is not involved at all in any wrongdoings; nor are the leaders of the Nepal Communist Party. On the contrary, we are investigating the cases of encroachment of government lands.
How can you assure that the suggestions of the investigating commission will be implemented?
In the past, many commissions were formed to investigate land encroachment. But, their recommendations were never implemented. We make it sure that such things will not repeat this time and all the suggestions will be earnestly implemented to end the menace of land encroachment in Nepal.
The current commission has a different working mechanism. The commission will carry out a case study of a place and then will formulate suggestions to be forwarded to the government for their implementation. The government will then swing into action immediately after receiving the suggestions. Then, the commission will move ahead to investigate another case of land encroachment being reported at some other place.
Has your ministry received any preliminary information on cases of land encroachment?
We have already received such information from some places. New information is also flowing in. Problem is there as people are unaware of where and how to report cases of such encroachments. Complaints will soar once we educate people at ground level by launching awareness campaigns and we ourselves in ministry swing into action.
What’s your take on the plight of landless squatters?
Since long, we have been speaking on this issue of landless squatters. The election manifesto of our party shows the intent of the government towards addressing the plight of landless squatters in Nepal. We are working towards providing land to landless people and help them construct their houses.
Does your ministry have data on the exact number of landless squatters?
I regret that the ministry does not have exact data on how many landless squatters are present at this moment throughout the country. Earlier commissions had received applications from a large number of people claiming themselves as landless squatters. These applications are yet to be verified with regard to the authenticity of claims so made. A new commission is in offing and will arrive at the exact number of landless squatters present in Nepal particularly in metropolitan cities.