Locals of Harisiddhi village, around 8km south of Kathmandu, have demanded that the Government return the lands acquired for Harisiddhi Brick and Tiles Factory as the lands are not being used for running the factory. They are knocking the doors of Supreme Court to get the lands returned as per Nepal’s existing laws and international human rights standards.
Around 700 ropanies of lands of local Newars was acquired at the rate of NRs. 1,500 per ropani for the establishment of the factory almost 50 years ago with assistance from China. Through an agreement in 1992 (2049 BS), management of the lands under the factory was handed over to Sundar Lal Bhawanani and Narsingh Bahadur Shrestha, after its machineries, buildings and other equipment were sold to them for meager amount of NRs. 220 million, without even informing the local agency and concerned stakeholders in the name of increasing the production and machineries of the factory.
Later, the locals learnt that they have used the lands as collateral at various financial institutions and made attempts to transfer the ownership of those lands to those institutions after shutting down the factory. Thus, an all-party meeting at Harisiddhi Village Development Committee in November 2008 formed a Struggle Committee to protest against those actions and take initiatives to resume operations of the factory as per the original purpose of land acquisition, otherwise demand return of the lands if used against such purpose. Despite Finance Ministry’s order to resume operations of the factory as per the original agreement in April 2010 in response to the correspondence of the Struggle Committee, the processes of transferring ownership of lands continued while the factory remained shut.
Responding to a complaint filed by the Struggle Committee in May 2010, Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, in January 2012, recommended the Finance Ministry to investigate and decide on the issue following its yearlong investigation during which transactions of the lands were halted. Since then, the Ministry has not made any progress on the issue despite repeated calls from the landowners to its officials.
In September 2010, it was found that most of the lands had been transferred to various financial institutions and housing companies in course of collecting details at Land Registration Office, Lalitpur for an application requesting return of lands of 22 of the local landowners submitted to Ministry of Land Reforms and Management. Earlier, in 1995 (2052 BS), 151 ropanies of lands not used by the factory had been returned to original landowners through a decision of Council of Ministers. Presently, the Ministry of Land Reforms and Management has held all details of the lands including recommendations that the Ministry is prepared to return the remaining lands if decided by the Government; however, such a decision requires endorsement of the Finance Ministry. Thus, the Struggle Committee, in November 2012, had also submitted a memorandum to the then Prime Minister calling for an order to the Finance Ministry for necessary action.
When all of their efforts with government agencies went unheeded, the Struggle Committee in February 2012 filed a writ petition at Nepal’s Supreme Court demanding return of the lands to original landowners. The case is now sub-judice at the Court that has scheduled a hearing on it for 10 March 2014.
Nepal’s Land Acquisition Act, 2018 BS provides that lands, acquired for a certain purpose, can be returned if the purpose is postponed or annulled. Further, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO C169) and United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), both of which apply to Nepal, ensure the right of indigenous peoples to return to their lands as well as to just compensation, including restitution, for any action dispossessing them of their lands.
The factory, in its response to the Court, asserts that it is still operating while the records of Land Registration Office, Lalitpur clearly shows transfer of ownership of most of the lands to various institutions. Now, it remains to be seen what Nepal’s Supreme Court will decide on the issue.