Mohan Shumsher vacates Singha Durbar; insight into land ownership problems in 1951 AD

Mohan Shumsher vacates Singha Durbar

After agreeing to Mohan Shumsher’s delayed and honourable resignation, leaders asked for two things – one, removal of the Bijuli Garud (Batallion) as the Prime Minister’s personal bodyguards, and the other, that Mohan Shumsher vacate Singha Durbar – allowing the building to be used by the government as its Central Secretariat.

Mohan Shumsher agreed and moved to his private residence at Laxmi Niwas. Following Mohan Shumsher’s departure, Singha Durbar was used for government purposes, and continues to do so till date. All the ministries were moved into the sprawling compound.

“My family at Kilagal was very happy – with so many members living in the house, and the addition of the ministry office had my home, had put them at discomfort. There was no space in the house, and the constant flow of people did not allow any privacy”, Singh shares with Mathbar Singh.

“The departure of PM Mohan Shumsher, the last Rana Prime Minister from the Singh Durbar was also a very iconic moment for Nepal”, Singh reflects with Mathbar Singh.

“Singha Durbar had been the official residence of Rana Prime Ministers since Chandra Shumsher. The building was a symbol of the power of the Ranas, as it was from there, they ruled over the entire country. Despite us being able to usher democracy, Mohan Shumsher’s refusal to move out of Singha Durbar made the public question the end of the Rana rule in Nepal”, Singh said.

“After all, he was still the Prime Minister, and continued to live in Singha Durbar despite the building being public property, and needed by the government for its use”.

“It was only after Mohan Shumsher moved out of Singha Durbar that the people started believing that the Rana rule had indeed ended”, Singh tells Mathbar Singh remembering the public sentiment of the time.

The complexities of land ownership in 1951 – understanding the Birta System

With offices in the Singha Durbar – the ministries got to work. They had huge responsibilities to develop Nepal’s educational, public health, transport and connectivity, industrial, forest, and agricultural infrastructure.

At the time, 98% of Nepal’s population was dependent upon agriculture – sadly, a systemic form of exploitation by the landowners prevailed. The form of exploitation was perpetuated under the Birta System (Abolished 1959 AD).

Birta was a system in which Nepal’s kings and rulers would gift land to a certain person, later on practiced by the Ranas too. It was a form of privileged landownership that enabled the recipients to exploit farmers. There were no laws which protected the interests of the farmers. The relationship was made further complex by middlemen – who would take the land on lease from the Birta owners and employ farmers to produce grains. The middlemen, in a bid to maximize profits, would exploit the farmers.

These issues needed to be addressed – especially in the rich, fertile fields of the plains. Therefore, under Singh’s leadership a taskforce was formed.

“Sadly, there weren’t many who could represent the interests of the farmers within Nepali Congress”, Singh cites a difficulty.

“We then consulted with Rameshwor Koirala of Saptari, who had drawn the ire of neighbouring land owners for his liberal views”, Singh added.

The complexities of land ownership in Nepal in 1951 – problems in the valley and the hills

“There weren’t large swathes of land as that of the Terai in Kathmandu valley, or the hills”, Singh tells Mathbar Singh. “There were problems with Birta, but not in the same magnitude as that of the plains”.

“Here, there were other systemically practiced problems”, he adds.

In Kathmandu, there were three kinds of lands – “Birta, which we have spoken about, Raikar, which meant personal property, and Guthis, or trusts”.

Again, as it was a problem with middlemen in the Terai, Kathmandu too had a similar problem. Landowners would have registered caretakers, who would then give the land to other farmers to till – in a bid to maximize profits, again, the systemic exploitation continued.

“Earlier, back in the day, landowners and tillers would enjoy a good relation – because much of the landowners were traders and could not spend time in the fields. Therefore came the caretakers. They would till the fields and both the landowner and the farmer could reap the benefits”, Singh shared.

“However when the practice of registering caretakers started – one caretaker started becoming the caretaker of several plots of land – allowing the provision of exploitation by letting other farmers till the land”, he added.

These were the problems that Singh, and his team, as leaders of a new, democratic nation had to deal with in 1951.

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