August 5, 2006

Nepal eyes king’s rolling acres for its landless

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Land owned by Nepal's King Gyanendra
may be confiscated and handed to poor farmers, a minister said
on Saturday, in the latest move to remove the monarch's
privileges after street protest forced him from power.

Having already lost control of the army, being
unceremoniously dumped out of his legislative roles and facing
the prospect of a tax bill dropping on to the royal door mat,
the government is now eyeing the king's property.

"We are collecting details of the land and property owned
by the king or members of his family and if there is more land
than the ceiling it will be seized," Land Reform and Management
Minister Prabhu Narayan Chaudhari told Reuters.

Nepalis are allowed to own up to seven hectares (17 acres)
of land, a key asset in the Himalayan nation where more than 80
percent of 26 million people eke a meager living from the soil.

On Friday, the government said the royal family owned at
least 1,700 hectares (4,250 acres) of land across the country.

"This is only a preliminary estimate," Chaudhari said. "We
think the king and his family members own much more land than
this. We are collecting details. The excess land will be
distributed among the landless people."

It is estimated that one million people have no land in a
country whose aid and tourism-dependent economy has been
wrecked by a decade-long war with Maoist rebels. More than
13,000 people died in the fighting.

The king's property includes a combined 750 hectares (1,875
acres) of land occupied by the sprawling Narayanhity palace in
the heart of the capital, Kathmandu, and the Nagarjuna forest
resort on the northwestern outskirts of the city.

The rest is agricultural land, forests and plots in
residential areas spread across seven districts in the
landlocked country.

Officials said the government was also looking for details
of land and property owned by former King Birendra and nine
other royals, all killed in the 2001 palace massacre that
brought Gyanendra to the throne.

"People must know these details which are also required to
tax the king," said Chitra Bahadur K.C., chairman of
parliament's public accounts committee that is collecting the

Fierce anti-king protests forced Gyanendra to end nearly 15
months of absolute rule and hand power to the political parties
that organized the protests, backed by the Maoists. The rebels
are now engaged in peace talks with the government after
declaring a cease-fire.

But analysts were skeptical the latest move to remove the
king's privileges would have much success.

"It will be extremely difficult to bring the king to the
level of common citizen because the government is an interim
arrangement and has to satisfy different stake holders,"
analyst C.K. Lal said, suggesting the government was not strong
enough to antagonize the old elite.