If we can capacitate the local governments in the course of reconstruction, it will be an important contribution for the future in terms of institutional memory on disaster mitigation and management.
When the Act of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) was formulated and the Authority was set up, Nepal had a centralized form of governance. Now, we have already adopted a federal structure. The provincial and local governments are already in place. As some of the district level offices under the federal government have already been dissolved, we are now coordinating with the offices related to reconstruction according to the new structure. We should not only link it with the remaining reconstruction work, but also link it with the longer term disaster mitigation and management plan.
Therefore, we have already advanced an action plan to delegate as much responsibilities as possible to the local governments (rural municipalities and municipalities). If we can capacitate the local governments in the course of reconstruction, it will be an important contribution for the future in terms of institutional memory on disaster mitigation and management.
For example, today the government is giving grants to construct houses through the NRA. But according to the Constitution, the local governments have the jurisdiction of recording and monitoring private houses. The local governments have the jurisdiction to ensure that all the structures to be constructed in the future are earthquake-resilient, and to approve building designs etc. If we can engage local governments on reconstruction of remaining private houses, schools, health institutions and cultural heritages, it will make things easier in the future.
As the Constitution itself has given lots of responsibilities to the local governments, we have also started giving all other possible responsibilities to them. We are trying to have each local government make their own separate action plan for advancing reconstruction of private housing, neighborhood resettlement and developing integrated housing plan and addressing the grievances.
We have also worked out a mechanism to deploy engineers from the NRA at the supervision of rural municipalities and municipalities. Likewise, the beneficiaries who earlier had to take files to the district headquarters for verification will now could get services from the concerned local governments. We have already advanced the process to deploy a senior engineer at the rural or urban municipalities for this process. Once they reach their working areas, the second level inspection will happen at the local level.
We have developed a third party monitoring mechanism for criteria inspection. The mechanism does random sampling through district project implementation units and monitors whether houses have maintained required quality or not. Although we had more focus on inspection and monitoring before this, we are taking the approach of capacitating local levels by providing them as much technical support as possible. We are trying to provide support by providing advice on whether houses meet technical standards or not, when the houses of beneficiaries are being constructed. We are in favor of handing over responsibility as well as providing technical support to the local governments.
When reconstruction started many wanted - and still want - scattered houses to be constructed as integrated settlements. In my first tenure, I had also advanced some concrete plan for this. Even now, we are working to develop at least one integrated settlement in each rural municipality and municipality. We will advance work related to integrated settlements based on the demand of the local communities and upon approval from the concerned rural municipalities and municipalities. We will not only delegate the responsibility of implementing these plans to the local government but will also disburse money to develop necessary infrastructure at the local level. The engineers deployed from the NRA will provide technical assistance. So far, we have already approved preliminary plans of developing about 25 integrated settlements.
We are trying to activate the local governments for the resettlement of vulnerable settlements. The local governments have the jurisdiction to identify necessary and appropriate land required for resettlement. If beneficiaries who want to be resettled buy land collectively or if they want to construct integrated settlement in land identified by the local government, then we will provide the grant of Rs. 300,000 per house in the Tarai, Rs. 400,000 in the hills and Rs. 500,000 per house in the mountainous region.
The grievance handling is an important aspect of the NRA’s scope of work. Most grievances received in our database till now have already been addressed. But some grievances have still missed out. We will now engage the local governments on handling these grievances, as we are preparing proper mechanism to settle them at the local level. We will hear and decide on the received grievances by conducting a re-survey and mobilizing technicians deployed in the districts under the supervision of public representatives.
Likewise, we are also engaging the local governments in providing housing grants to many landless beneficiaries and those who do not have land titles. We will provide housing grants, at the recommendation of the respective local government, to those who have been living on unregistered land since generations to build a house on the same plot or other plots identified by the local government. This provision will end the problem of barrier in grant agreement due to land problem, and such beneficiaries will be able to rebuild their houses.
The NRA has already made a decision to provide a lump sum amount to those houses which meet the criteria, and to provide grants by fulfilling criteria for the houses which do not meet the criteria yet. The local governments have to play a role to ensure this. The technicians deployed at the local governments will provide the necessary support on this.
We have already attained a certain stage of physical reconstruction. Out of over 800,000 beneficiaries, over 300,000 have already started living under safe roofs. Another over 250,000 houses are being reconstructed, which can be expected to be completed within the coming few months. Now, we are focusing on economic and social rehabilitation of the quake-affected communities. The local governments can play an important role on this, especially by identifying feasibilities and expectations of beneficiaries in the districts. In the changing context, the local governments will now be our center of economic and social rehabilitation program. After seeing our success on physical reconstruction, we believe that the development partners and non-governmental organizations will also be ready to provide support on this.
Likewise, there are beneficiaries who could not construct their houses even after taking grants from the government. Some non-governmental organizations are supporting in house reconstruction of old, disabled and underage beneficiaries. Aid is yet to reach many beneficiaries even now. Hence, the local governments will have an important role in their house reconstruction.
Among the 'beneficiaries' who have not constructed house even after taking the first instalment, we have reports that there are people who have submitted wrong details and have livable house elsewhere or have taken grants from two places. We have issued notice to them to return the money within three months. After that, we will have to proceed with taking action and taking back the money as liability to the government. Therefore, the local governments will have to play a role to acquire money from such people, and take action against them if they do not return the money on their own, because they are the ones who will have information on households at the local level. We are, therefore, working on developing a provision to allow the local governments to spend a certain proportion of the returned money in its infrastructure development.
And, an action plan to form Community Committees in every neighborhood and Toles of the local governments will also be advanced to conduct works like advancing regular reconstruction works, helping house construction of vulnerable groups of beneficiaries, addressing remaining grievances and returning amounts from those who took it by furnishing wrong details.
(Gyewali is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Reconstruction Authority)