Although the promoters of Chhaya Center or Chhaya Devi Complex, an ultra modern business complex of Thamel, a hub of tourism center of Kathmandu, have fulfilled all the requirements, including Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), public hearing, permission of Municipality, local community, local ward and court, a small group of people are opposing Chhaya Devi Complex, individually assaulting three dozens of promoters demanding to dismantle a building constructed with the worth of investment of over Rs.5.5 billion.
As the complex fulfilled all the legal requirements and secured clearances from all concerned authorities including Municipality, Court, Guthi and other trust, the investors have enough evidence to protect their investment. However, the message disseminated by a small group of people, who have been claiming that the building constructed in a site of historical pond is sending a wrong message to the investors who have invested in the complex.
At a time when the government has been hosting Nepal Investment Summit in April hoping to lure foreign investors, the assault on the Chhaya Center has posed a serious question on the safety and security of investment in Nepal.
"We have all the documents including land ownership. However, a few individuals are scandalizing our center to fulfill petty interests. They have been publishing negatively about the complex," said Director of Chhaya Center Suman Pandey. "We were told that a small pond inside the palace was created during the period of construction of the Palace. The pond was used by Keshar Sumsher for boating."
As the negative publicity campaign against the center intensified, the management of the complex hosted a press meet recently in the center to clarify its stand. During the press meet, member of Thamel Singh Sarth Garud Bagwan Guthi and petitioner Bhagbat Narsingh Pradhan said that there will be no landownership certificate in a land belonging to Raj Guthi. He also claimed that such landownership certificate can be cancelled under Guthi Sansthan Act.
Officially opened in December 25, 2018, it took almost six years to complete the construction of Chhaya Devi Center. "We have fulfilled all the obligations and requirements to build the center. There is a small group of people using all kinds of means to scandalize and assault the Center, which is also known as Thamel within Thamel, for the petty interest," said Maheshwor Shrestha, the Managing Director of Center. "The current wave of attack against the center has discouraged the investors."
This is not the first case. Many other big infrastructures of this type faced similar scandals in the past. However, such scandals disappeared in a certain period without knowing the reason.
"In the past, people came directly to us seeking donations of big chunk of money. Now another group is putting pressure for rent seeking through bad publicity," said Shrestha. “We have landownership certificate given by the land office and Guthi."
With the prices of land in commercial areas like Thamel going high many times, the dispute is nothing new.
Chhaya Center controversy is now under the jurisdiction of Supreme Court, which is hearing on a writ since 2014 filed by a representative of the Pradhan community along with rights advocates under public interest litigation.
They claimed that the company has unlawfully acquired the communal trust lands of indigenous Pradhan Newar community of Kathmandu. They claimed that the center has built on the pond and embankments have violated their cultural rights and rights to lands and resources.
Promoters of the complex argued that they have done nothing wrong saying that they started the building construction only after getting the permission from all the concerned.
"We have constructed the complex fulfilling all the required obligations under which the buildings are allowed to construct. We have bought the land and paid all attention to protect aspects of cultural and historical importance. As the complex has already completed with such a big investment, the present dispute will just send a wrong message," said Shrestha. "There is no archeological record to prove the claim made by the group of people."
The current land was within the compound of Keshar Mahal, the palace of son of Rana Prime Minister Chandra Sumsher. Before coming under the ownership of Chhaya Center, the land ownership moved from one to other.
After Chandra Sumsher, Keyur Sumsher registered trust lands under his tenancy. This was followed by a number of fragmentations and transfers of ownership of the land of four plots transferred from Bhagan Guthi to Ambika Rana from time to time. The land was brought under private ownership of the company in 2009 and approval for construction of the business complex was acquired in 2013.
The local community filed the case in district court in 1972 demanding to release their encroached trust land. However, the district court dismissed the petition. They filed the petition in 1973 in Appellate Court which also approved the verdict of district court.
In 1975, with the permission from Appellate Court, Bhagwan Guthi and Keyur Sumsher made settlement of Bhagwan Guthi giving up all the claim with rights of tenants to Keyur Sumsher Rana.
Even in the land registration record of Guthi Office of Bahdrakali, Keyur Sumsher regarded as a register tenant. After the death of Keyur Sumsher Rana, the land was transferred to his wife Ambika Rana as per the law.
Kathmandu District Court and Lalitpur Appellate Court in their verdicts handed over the right of landownership to Rana.
Although court order established land ownership right claimed by Ambika Rana, Rana and Bhagwan Bahal Guthi reconciled after Rana paid Rs. 15 million cash and 4 ana of land in 2006 at Kathmandu District Court.
Chhaya Center's case has disseminated the message that Nepal is not a safe place for investment where investors have to face hurdles and tensions one after another from different sections.