Restore it rightUsing groundwater to replenish Rani Pokhari is a continuity of the vandalism of historical sites by authorities.
It has been four years since President Bidya Devi Bhandari laid the foundation stone for the restoration of the 17th-century Rani Pokhari after it was severely damaged by the Gorkha earthquake; but its restoration, which is finally nearing completion after several failed starts and vandalism, is once again mired in a fresh disagreement between conservationists and authorities. On Tuesday, the National Reconstruction Authority pumped muddy water extracted from deep bore wells to replenish the iconic pond. The move comes despite criticism from geologists and conservationists who had opposed the idea ever since the authority dug two boreholes, each 240 feet deep, to the northeast and southeast of the pond.
It is important to note here that one of the pits wasn’t generating enough water right from the start, which further validates the fear of geologists that the groundwater level of the area will be further disturbed and could have unfavourable impacts. The authority also intends to bring in water from Tundikhel, where a deepwater boring pit already exists. This utter disregard of indigenous engineering of natural water flow and unfavourable consequences of extracting groundwater to fill the pond is a continuity of vandalism by authorities who should instead safeguard historical sites, prioritise sustainability and adapt ecologically sound building codes.
If the authorities need any inspiration and expertise, the natives of Bhaktapur, Lalitpur and Kirtipur, all within the Kathmandu Valley, have recently proved that the ancient pond construction method is a valuable technique to harvest rainwater by reviving a number of ponds. There is also scientific evidence that pond revival projects have helped in groundwater recharge and revived natural water sources, which is in line with the ‘Recharge Kathmandu’ project that Kathmandu Metropolitan City launched earlier this year in February, in a bid to replenish depleting groundwater in the valley.
Rani Pokhari is spread across 63 ropanis of land. Officials estimate it would require 32.1 million litres of water to maintain 5 feet 2 inches of water level in the pond. Historically, there were seven wells inside Rani Pokhari, which worked as rechargeable agents according to a 2012 study by Tribhuvan University Teachers’ Association. Legend also has it that King Pratap Malla, who commissioned the pond in memory of his beloved son Prince Chackrawotendra, took four years to bring water from 51 holy sites, ponds and oceans of the subcontinent.
The restoration of Rani Pokhari has been long delayed due to misguided interests that disregarded the cultural and ancient value of the pond; but the authority, in trying to meet its deadline that has been pushed further by the lockdown, shouldn’t be drawing a final straw as the public applauds the restorations at the site done right. If Rani Pokhari is restored right and in the manner in which it was first built during the 17th century, it would have positive impacts on the whole area as the large pond could help in groundwater recharge, and that would help revive natural water sources in the area.Authorities must take a cue from archaeological evidence, popular criticisms and vast bodies of scientific research on groundwater and correct its course as they did earlier by borrowing the expertise of Bhaktapur, which saw 40 workers level the pond with black clay and construct embankment walls on all sides, using indigenous techniques. Three decades ago, water could be pumped from 8 to 10 metres below the surface, according to the Groundwater Resources Development Board. Today, it takes a minimum of 40 to 50 metres. Geologists say this increases the city’s risk of sinking. We have an opportunity to restore things right.