A Socio-Ecological Analysis of the Loss of Public Properties in an Urban Environment: A Case Study of Pokhara, Nepal
Adhikari, Jagannath, Contributions to Nepalese Studies
In this paper, the historical, religious and cultural aspects that led to the development of public properties (mainly chautaras--platform with huge shade providing trees--and community orchards, open spaces and water ponds) in Pokhara, Nepal, are discussed in detail in relation to their ecological functions. The processes (urbanization and modernization separating nature and culture) that led to the decline of these properties are then examined.
It is argued in this paper that while urbanization may be a necessity and important, the concept of separating urban people and culture from nature led to the decline of trees and other important properties which are equally important for the life of a city.
Pokhara, a tourist town in central Nepal, has undergone a rapid change in the last five decades. The urbanization process of the last five decades has brought many changes in social and ecological features of the town One of the main features of the town was the existence, in plenty, of the public properties, mainly open space, chautaras (huge shade proving trees and a platform where people can sit, rest and meet) and community orchards, and water ponds. These features were man-made, and, were maintained, as is argued in this paper, as they had many cultural, ecological and economic functions at a time when the mode of production was largely agriculture and livestock. Trees, particularly those used in chautaras, and ponds were also important from religious points of views.
As the process of urbanization continued, Pokhara became more and more exposed to modernization. The developmentist attitude of the government established after the downfall of autocratic Rana rule in 1950 gave priority to physical development even at the cost of nature. Pokhara, which is now (in 2001) a home to about 156,000 people, started attracting people who worked in foreign countries. Their resettlement and investment in the town is also responsible for its rapid pace of urbanization (see Adhikari and Seddon 2002). This town is the fastest growing town in the country. Population in the town has been growing by more than 8% per year in the last four decades. Tourism income and remittances are the main sources of income. Agricultural production, which was the main source of income until the 1970s, now contributes less than one fourth to the total income of its population. Clearly, it is not a main source of income for a large majority of households in Pokhara.
Changes in the economy and the shift in the attitude of people led to not only the lack of interest in planting trees and in maintaining open spaces and water ponds, but also to the destruction of these properties. These properties, particularly the trees, were seen as obstacles for the progress of the town. An attitude that a place covered by trees does not represent modern place started to occupy the mind of the people as Pokhara started to urbanize. Influence of the modern buildings and urban life and the concept of modernization and development created a notion that urban areas are modern and rural areas are backward. Urban areas, people and their cultures were thought as shabya (or civilized), and village areas, people and their folk culture were thought as ashabya or pakhe (uncivilized) or gaule (folk). In extreme case, the village people were also called jangali (people of forest), which means wild, uncivilized and without culture. Existence of a large number of trees and forest/tree grooves was considered to be associated with village life.
The above change in the concept of people is also generally found to impact upon the economy of Nepal as a whole. Professions dependent on land and forest like agriculture are now regarded as backward, and to be done by people who are illiterate and ignorant. Trade and job (service) are now celebrated professions. But until 3-4 decades ago people regarded agriculture as the best profession. Even the Sanskrit scriptures are said to profess farming as a best occupation, followed by trade and service. Farming was considered as a. 'pure' occupation in that it does not involve cheating and lieing as in other professions. But now with changes in the economy and influence of modern value, people have been distinctively isolated from land and forest. The dominant development thinking separated people and nature as different things. It is also partly because of this thinking that the leaders of the Pokhara and even the urban planners in early 1950s to 1960s did not pay attentions to the existing trees, and cultural features. These were thought necessary only in the villages, and for the pakhe (uncivilized people). But again since the 1980s, the necessity of trees in urban settings has also been considered important. This has again come as a fashion, and due to the influence of 'green' in attracting tourists. The city planners in the 1990s even stated that they would make the city as a 'green city'. While it is important that trees are now considered essential even in urban setting, but the dominant thinking is that they are separate from human culture.
Public Properties and their Importance
Public properties are the natural and manmade resources, assets or other things whose ownership is not private. Therefore, it is mainly the mode of ownership that distinguishes 'public' properties as against 'private' properties. Here public properties also mean those properties whose use right is not limited to an individual or household but determined, in some cases, by the community. Accordingly, air, water, river, lake and water bodies, forests, and other natural and cultural resources like public pasture, building, temples and pati and pauwas (home and shelters for public use and for homeless), chautaras, trees, water taps, well, and the like are the public properties. But in this article, chautaras and community orchards, open space (public ground and others) and water ponds are studied in detail.
Public properties are necessary for the security, health and sustainable development of a society. In an urban setting, public properties play an even greater role, and are more important. A large majority of urban population do not have their own house, land and other natural things like trees. In this context, open spaces, buildings and shelters, temples, pati and pauwas, trees and park are important for their recreational, emergency and other uses.
The general perception now is that 'public properties' are important only in rural settings and there are a large number of studies about this in Nepal. But there are almost negligible number of studies about 'public properties' and the changes in their use and existence in an urban setting. As public resources like forests, pasture, water and the like play an important role in the livelihoods of rural people, there is a large body of studies devoted to status, ownership and management of these resources. But this is just the reverse in the context of an urban environment. There are a few studies about the changes in the status and role of public properties like temple, pati, pauwa (homes and shelters for the homeless and for public use) and guthi (land devoted to temples and religious purpose) in Kathmandu. But even here there is little attention on trees, and public open space.
The lack of studies on public properties in urban areas is also a product of a mindset which considers these properties less useful in an urban environment. On the other hand, in rural areas these properties are generally called 'common property resources' which are thought to be essential for the livelihoods or enterprises of rural areas like agriculture, livestock, agro-forestry, fishery and the like. As the profession of the urban population is generally not 'primary production', it could be one of the reasons for giving less emphasis in the study of public properties in urban areas. But these properties are also equally important in urban context.
In urban areas, public properties, particularly the large open spaces, are important and essential from security point of view. To lessen the adverse impact of earth-quakes, floods and manmade disasters like fire, it is essential to have open spaces. Especially in the event of an earthquake, it is important to bring the people to an open space, because it is not the earthquake as such that kills many people, but the after affects of the earthquake (like fire, floods and the like) that kill more people. To reduce the impact of these after affects, it is essential to have open spaces. It is said that the earthquake that devastated Kathamndu and killed about 34,000 people in 1934 would have killed many times more people if there had been no Tundikhel (large open space in the middle of the town). Pokhara and the surrounding areas are prone to earthquake as they lie in the fault line created by the immersion of Indian Plate under the Tibetan Plate. As the process of immersion of the Plate is continuing, earthquakes are frequent in this region. Apart from this benefit, open spaces are also essential for sports, recreations and other physical exercises of the urban people. Temples, pati and pauwas are also important from the cultural, social and environmental point of view. Poor residents of the city who cannot afford to have their own open space, trees, and temples, need to be dependent on these public properties. Accordingly, public properties are also essential for the proper physical growth and health of the children of the low income people. Public properties are, thus, even more important to the low income families than the wealthier ones.
Migration of poorer households from rural areas to the urban areas is a worldwide phenomenon and it is growing rapidly. The urban population is thus exploding. Even in Nepal, about 16% of her population now live in urban areas. Now, poverty is no longer a rural problem alone; it has also become an urban problem. Availability of 'public properties' in urban areas has been providing some respite for the poor people. In some cases 'public properties' have also been helpful in securing a part of livelihoods of the poor people. Considering this fact the new concepts of poverty reduction through 'urban agriculture' and 'urban livestock raising' have been promoted. In most Indian cities urban 'dairy production' has given employment and income for many poorer households. Because of the growing environmental consciousness in urban areas, 'urban forestry' has been popularized. In Pokhara, 'urban forestry' has now come as a dilemma. Previously, the urban planners and leaders destroyed the trees, and now they suggest that 'greening' is necessary, for which they are using more and more alien trees, whose ecological and economic functions to the community are not known.
Several studies/researches have …
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Publication information: Article title: A Socio-Ecological Analysis of the Loss of Public Properties in an Urban Environment: A Case Study of Pokhara, Nepal. Contributors: Adhikari, Jagannath - Author. Journal title: Contributions to Nepalese Studies. Volume: 31. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 2004. Page number: 85+. © 2008 Research Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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