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Holding prestigious positions in the field of architecture and urban planning, Dr Ambika Prasad Adhikari, 55, has worked in 26 different countries as an urban planner, consultant and teacher, planning and designing cities, and training a whole new generation of architects over the past three decades. Currently a Faculty Associate Professor at Arizona State University, Dr Adhikari was born in the remote eastern district of Bhojpur and is the first Nepali to gain a PhD from Harvard University. He is also the Chief Planner and Project Manager of the City of Phoenix, Arizona. A former IUCN country representative for Nepal (he was the first Nepali to be appointed to the post through a global search), Dr Adhikari was recently in Kathmandu to attend the Third NRN Conference. He took some time out from his packed schedule to talk to ekantipur Editor Akhilesh Tripathi on different issues involving the NRNs. Excerpts:

Q. Dr. Adhikari, could you please tell us briefly about your childhood early education, and career?


Dr. Ambika Prasad Adhikari: I was born in 1952 in Bhojpur. I did my early schooling in Dharan, actually starting from the fifth grade, and then went to Biratnagar for my college-level education. I obtained my I Sc in 1969 standing first in the country. Subsequently I went to India on Colombo Plan to study architectural engineering at the University of Baroda, Gujarat. And in 1975 I returned to Nepal. Then I started as an Assistant Lecturer at the Institute of Engineering, Tribhuvan University. Then I taught there for a long period of time. I was promoted to a Lecturer and eventually to a Reader. And in between I went to the East-West centre, Hawaii University, on a scholarship from 1978 to 1982. I got my Master’s degree in architecture and also in urban planning. In India, I passed with first division and at Hawaii University also I did very well, simultaneously obtaining two degrees—one in architecture and the other in urban planning. Then I came back to Tribhuvan University and I became the Project Architect for the Western Region Campus in Pokhara. That was supported by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, ILO, UNDP and a number of other institutions. And it was a very interesting exercise for me to manage the project-- it was a US$ 17 million project—as well as teach simultaneously architecture, civil engineering and we had also begun a course in urban planning. Subsequently I also became the Interim Project Coordinator for the project in Pokhara. That was a good experience. I traveled around the country, trained a lot of people. I also published a lot in The Rising Nepal; Kantipur was not even born. Then in 1986, after serving the (Tribhuvan) university, I went to MIT as a Hubert H Humphrey fellow. I was there for a year and then in 1987 I joined Harvard University to do my PhD which I graduated in 1991.


Q. You were doing quite well in Nepal. What was the push factor that made you leave the country? What was the turning point?


Dr Adhikari: Akhilesh ji, I, in some ways haven’t actually left the country. I have always been in some ways a nomad, in some ways on both sides. I have also gained working on both sides; I have also lost working on both sides. Because If I was settled in the US all the time or if I was settled in Nepal all the time, I probably would have been in a slightly better position.


Q. What was the purpose of your recent visit—the NRN conference or Dashain?


Dr Adhikari: It was both. The NRN conference is designed in such way that most of the Nepalese people can come back to Nepal. Both for NRN and also to do Dashain and Tihar. So it was actually both for me. My first priority was NRN, and I remained on leave on Dashain visiting family and friends.


Q. How often do you visit the country?

Dr Adhikari: I come here every one year.


Q. How do you rate the third NRN conference in terms of success?


Dr Adhikari: I think it was absolutely successful. In some ways I think it was more successful than we imagined. There was support from all the political parties. There was support from the civil society. And the prime minister even said in his speech that he was supportive of dual nationality, and that is one of the major demands of the NRN. And also in terms of attendance, it was very well attended. More than 400 NRNs participated very well. The leadership, lots of people had interest in coming to the leadership. There were also quite a few changes in the leadership; also the president remained the same by popular demand (laughs). In all the meetings, all the receptions were given to us by different political parties and civil society, banks and businesses. And there was a lot of positive interaction between the NRNs and the residential Nepalese communities… So I would rate it highly successful.


Q. How do you see the overall NRN movement and the government's response so far?


Dr Adhikari: Okay, Akhileshji as you know the NRN movement is new. Nepalese have been NRNs for a long period of time. We've been, you know, the Gurkha soldiers, and the people who go to labour, who go to work, who go to India, these are all traditional. But the organized NRN movement in the modern sense of the term is just about five years old. And within five years the momentum has been drastically enhanced. So the NRN movement has been very successful. In fact, as I told you last time, there are three or four different categories of NRNs who are a large number of people, almost two million. The government response was a little lukewarm in the beginning. The NRN people had to go to the government offices and the party offices to do a lot. But things have changed lately. There’s so much interest this year in resources and interest in terms of academic qualifications of the NRN from the parties and the local people and the government, that now it's become two-way. The interest is not only from the NRN side to look for the government and ask their support. It's also from the government, civil society and the political parties to bring the NRN into their fold and to have a positive interaction with them. So it's been very mutual. I think the cooperation has gone much more ahead.


Q. What more does the government need to do?


Dr. Adhikari: Well, the biggest demand from our side which I think would be beneficial to both sides is dual nationality. Because many people because of many many opportunities, constraints, problems and requirements have taken foreign nationalities in Europe, in America, in Australia and other places. Especially, the second and third generations of Nepalese living abroad want to come here during different occasions like Dashain, Tihar etc and they want to be with their families. It doesn’t feel good to be on the lines of a foreigner to get a visa. And also not to be able to buy property and to live here as Nepalese when they want to come back. And a large chunk of the NRNs, tens of thousands of them, in the rich countries are also now in the retirement phase. And they do want to come to Nepal, either permanently or at least spend half their time in Nepal and half in Canada, US, Australia and so on. Many other countries have accepted and allowed dual nationality. So this is our biggest demand but I know that even if the Prime Minister speaks in favour of dual nationality, its implementation may take a long time. So we request everyone concerned to expedite that process, with the assurance that it will be beneficial to both sides.

Q. What is the situation like in our neighbouring countries? How do you compare the roles played by the governments of our neigbouring countries for their Diaspora with that of our government?


Dr Adhikari: Nepal government has of course been very slow, partly because we too have been very slow. As I mentioned earlier, NRNs have been there for a long period of time but the organized movement is very recent. Compared to that, in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan and so on, the non-resident nationals’ movement is 20-30 years old. And they are much better established and they have been mobilizing their support for dual nationality and so on. One of the last countries was of course India which allowed dual nationality about three years ago. Many other countries had allowed dual nationality earlier on. The strength of the movement, the consciousness and the realization of the government was much quicker than ours. In many ways, we are behind but I think given the time limit, we are doing alright.


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Q. Dr Adhikari, what would be your pragmatic assessment of the real potential of the NRNs? What are the core areas where they can contribute significantly?


Dr. Adhikari: Akhilesh ji, that’s a very good question. The NRNs, I can say right now, cannot do the heaviest of the lifting of the development barrier in Nepal; it has to come from within. The development engine has to come from within Nepal. Nepal is a country with a lot of opportunities, a lot of investment, there are lots of educated, smart people here. The NRNs will definitely support in a very positive manner. But like you said, from a pragmatic point of view, the NRNs are not that rich right now, compared to, let’s say, the NRIs or the non-resident Chinese. As you know the non-resident Indians and Chinese have played a critical and vital role in foreign direct investment and also in the overall economic development of those two countries. The NRNs do not have that kind of potential right now. We are reasonably established but not financially that very well. But if you talk about the academic, intellectual and professional aspects, given the size of our country, I think we are doing extremely well. Like there’s a Nepali Vice-President in the Asian Development Bank. There’s a Nepali Assistant Secretary General in the UN. Nepalis occupy top positions in many international organizations and companies. Nepalese are vice-presidents in large companies in the USA, Canada, Europe and many other parts of the world. There are many Nepali professors in reputed universities across the world. There are many highly-paid Nepali IT professionals. In my opinion, Nepali IT professionals are second only to Indians. That’s a big resource. So given all this, I think NRNs do have a lot of potential. Even pragmatically, they can contribute; they can come here for a short period of time and can make intellectual investment. They can be connected and they can lobby outside. There’re many things they can do.


Q. The intellectual capital that the NRNs have is definitely an important factor. What do you suggest for the best utilization of this intellectual capital?


Dr Adhikari: That’s a good question again. Some of the work is already happening. There are lots of Nepalese professors who are already working in Nepal. Some of them have come as Fulbright Professors from the USA. Some have come from other countries like the UK, Australia, Canada and Europe. But they have not come under the umbrella of the NRN just because the NRN movement was not that well-organized. Now many of them will be coming within the umbrella of the NRN. So you will see a much more concerted and consolidated effort from our side.

Secondly, now many Nepalis are well-established intellectually and academically. So they can do well. For example, in America, there’s a Nepal Study Centre. Many of us are involved in that-- Professor Alok Bohara, myself, Professor Mukti Upadhyay—lots of people are involved in it and it is doing serious research on Nepal. Every year they participate in the South Asia seminar and spend one whole day deliberating on Nepali issues and present very high quality papers. 40 people from all across the US and also from Nepal and outside. That is also now being connected to what is happening in Nepal. Many of the policy issues are being deliberated. We also have a Liberal Democracy Nepal Bulletin, we also have a Himalayan Journal of Development and Democracy. There are lots of journals and publications in the US, Australia and Canada that are based on the issues of Nepal. That’s already happening. But what we need I think is a very strong connection in Nepal itself with the academic kind of outflow and outburst and the breakthrough that Nepal is facing right now in the fields of medicine, engineering and technology sciences and so on. That is the strong connection and nexus that we can build. And it’s not only the government that can facilitate it. A lot of civil society and academic leaders can also work on it.


Q. Don’t you think the government should establish a proper channel to tap the intellectual and capital investment potential of the NRNs? Or is there already such a channel?


Dr Adhikari: No. We have a point of contact at the FNCCI (Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries). We have a point of contact with the Foreign Ministry. We have been asking many people—I myself have met many people in the last couple of days, many of the MPs and former prime ministers and so on in this regard—if, like in India, we, too, can have an NRN Ministry because NRN now is such a big force, there is so much resource. And it’s not going to be very expensive for Nepal to work on that. If there is an NRN Ministry, that would provide one window to deal with all NRN issues more holistically. It could be a very small ministry together with another ministry or even a department for the time being. That would be a solid liaison to carry out all this connectivity work and prioritize the issues and agendas of the NRNs vis-à-vis the development of Nepal. This is a way in which I think we can function in a mutually advantageous manner.


Q. Earlier you mentioned the issue of dual nationality. But there are people in our bureaucracy and political leadership who try to associate some controversies with the issue of dual nationality. What do you have to say?


Dr Adhikari: There should be absolutely no controversy at all about dual nationality. Out of the 200 countries in the world, some 90 countries offer dual nationality. Because nationality of a country, or citizenship of a country, basically, is for life. Anyone who is a citizen of the US, Canada, Australia, or Nepal or India should always remain a citizen of that country. That is the principle of dual nationality.


When people go to rich countries and due to the work they need to do, for instance, to work in the federal government in the USA, they need a US citizenship, so people take it. Sometimes even for traveling as they work for some international organization or big multinational company, it is much easier with a US passport or Canadian passport. Also to lobby on behalf of Nepal, like we did to talk to the US congressmen, Senators or Canadian Senators and Parliamentarian during the democracy movement out here, if you are a citizen you have a much better term otherwise they don't really care for you.

Because of that many people have different citizenships and we should not penalize them for taking the citizenship of other countries. Their Nepalese citizenship should remain for life. That's how the US, Canada and all other countries treat their citizens. There should be no controversy at all. In Nepal also there is a provision in the Citizenship Act, which says if a Nepali takes a foreign citizenship, then his Nepali citizenship is automatically eliminated. We can change that provision and make it inapplicable in the case of certain countries. There are a lot of concerns and controversies about India. We appreciate that because this is very sentimental and it’s also practical. So no I think we can define it outside SAARC. As a matter of fact, India also has exactly done the same thing because of the sensitivity, security and other issues. We can say that the following 40 countries or 45 countries, for example USA, Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand, Germany and so on. So it is not giving a citizenship to a new person, it is maintaining and retaining allowing a Nepali, born Nepali or someone who has taken the citizenship of Nepal to continue with that citizenship. That's all we are asking for. We are asking let the Nepali people who feel Nepali by birth or by naturalization retain their Nepali citizenship for life because they will be returning, they will feel at home and it is something that many nations have practiced.


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Q. In which of the areas is the immediate NRN investment likely to be in a few years?


Dr Adhikari: I'd say think of at least two or three different areas. Of course, tourism. That's the beginning. And by virtue of being outside, you can bring other people also and lots of investment that we can make in the tourism sector both financially and intellectually. And the Nepalese economy can also be uplifted if we really promote our tourism in a big way. I'd say about 5 to 10 million tourists every year in the next 10 or 15 years. That would be the engine to drive the Nepalese economy upward. Nepal will climb one ladder of economic development by virtue of tourism. So we need to build infrastructures, we need to have airlines, hotels, language trainings, roads etc. So that's one area I think.


I know that the government is planning to build an international airport outside Kathmandu. And the NRN can buy the bonds and provide financial support in this. And of course in the hydropower sector also, the NRNs have already been involved but they can do much more than that. But probably after tourism, the most important sector the NRNs can contribute is education, both higher education and lower education. In higher education, we can even create more demand for medical, engineering and technology and also in management studies. Nepal lacks proper management. So we could establish a management school in Kathmandu affiliated to Harvard. Just like India has. There's nothing better than that for the management sector. That's something that we can work on.


Q. So far the NRNs have focused on urban developments. Don't you think the rural area could be included in the process?


Dr Adhikari: The few things that NRNs have done like bridhrashram (old age homes), hydro power or few other things are not enough. When I talked about tourism, aviation and education, we must send it outside Kathmandu. And the tourism sector will take into consideration basically the rural areas, and I'd also mentioned to you last time that a university is one of the most important elements. The rural areas and tourism and all the other sectors stand to benefit from the immense diversity of Nepal.


Q. What would you like to do to change the face of the capital city?


Dr Adhikari: Akhileshji, Kathmandu should be changed; otherwise it'd be inconsiderably unbearable because of the pollution, lack of access for emergency vehicles, because of the inability to find and identify locations. There's also the danger of earthquakes, epidemics, fires and so on. The way it has developed is the text book example of Hugdog city- and we must change it. But the change is not going to be very easy because of the demography. I think within the next 5-10 years we must demolish the illegally built buildings. We must have access to emergency vehicles, plentiful open places and parks. In order to make Kathmandu better, we must also have some regional planning taking into consideration the rural areas.


We should have some really good urban centers outside Kathmandu. There are lots of people, and we don't have enough time. I worked in the urban planning area, worked for one of the largest US cities which is also the fifth largest city on the planet and have been planning on environment. And that's something many people would be happy to come and implement.


Q. The Nepali diaspora played a very important role during the Janandolan last year. How do you see the last one and a half years of political development in Nepal? How optimistic or pessimistic are the Nepalese outside the country?


Dr Adhikari: The Nepali diaspora also played quite a symbolic role in 1990 as well to support democracy in Nepal. And again in 2005-06 they played a critical role. Because the number was also big, and the communication was also big. And things turned out very well, very quickly. Autocracy was dismantled; the new constitution was made, human rights were reestablished, so after 2006 the Nepali Diaspora for six to eight months, was fully happy. We wrote about the good examples, the good leadership that the Nepalese people took in dismantling autocracy and also bringing insurgents and terrorists into the fold. But lately there is a lot of frustration and pessimism not only in the resident Nepalese here but also in the diaspora. Things are not moving very well. We are extremely disappointed that the constituent assembly polls have been postponed for the second or third time. That is something we wanted to see right away. We are also disappointed by many of the practices that the Maoists have used to stall the peace process. We do appreciate many of the things they have done in bringing democracy in Nepal and dismantling autocracy. On the other hand, they should now come and try to win the hearts and minds of the people. So given that, I'm personally very optimistic but of course everyone is not feeling that optimism right now. I think things will settle in Nepal, I think there are lots of people in the political sector who have done good exercise and eventually I'm sure that the Maoists will also come on board and say that it's in the interest of everyone to have the CA process and CA on time.




Posted on: 2007-10-28 07:21:00

Source : Full Interview ..Ekantipur

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