Reviving a riverRampant population growth and urbanisation have dealt a death blow to the Bagmati
The Bagmati River, the cradle of the Kathmandu Valley civilisation, originates at Bagdwar in Shivapuri hill to the north. For the last three decades, the water level in this holy river has been going down. The reason for this are extensive deforestation, rampant urbanisation, rapid population growth, unplanned development and proliferation of bore wells. In 1994, the government approved the High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilisation (HPCIDBC) as a flagship programme in a bid to rejuvenate the river. Since then, the committee has been entrusted with full responsibility for the Bagmati clean-up scheme.
Historical and cultural significance
The Bagmati River, which is revered as a source of Nepali civilisation and urbanisation, holds a special place in national culture. The cremation ghats and Hindu temples that hold great cultural value and line the sacred river have been facing a severe environmental crisis due to massive pollution.
From a religious point of view, the Bagmati is believed to be the most important river in Nepal. According to the ancient text Nepal Mahatmya, the Bagmati has been called Shiva Ganga. Once upon a time, the water in the Bagmati was so clean and pure that the inhabitants of the Valley used to drink it. The Bagmati, around which the Valley thrived for generations, needs to be properly restored to its original state. It must be cleaned up to its original condition for the protection of the Valley civilisation.
Road to long term success
With this in mind, efforts have been applied from all sectors of life. The Bagmati clean-up campaign that entered its 212th week on June 3, has collected countless tonnes of waste from the river and its tributaries. Even still, the pathetic plight of the Bagmati and other rivers in the Valley continue to worsen. Until we are able to garner public participation from the project area, morally uplifting slogans and government propaganda will yield nothing.
For this, a pragmatic plan of action with public private partnership should be sought to accomplish the gigantic task of cleaning up and beautifying the Bagmati. The government has not been able to obtain help from the residents of the Bagmati area. Bagmati River Basin also holds great economic importance as it plays a crucial role in meeting the water supply of the capital and other settlements downstream.
The Bagmati, Bishnumati, Manohara and other rivers in the Valley hold profound religious and cultural significance. River pollution in the Valley began in 1990, when the practice of dumping sewage into the rivers started.
In the absence of appropriate sewage collection and waste water treatment plants, the rivers have turned into open sewers. Trash dumped on the banks has worsened pollution.
Keeping this in mind, the HPCIDBC, along with its development partners like the Department of Irrigation, Asian Development Bank and Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, has initiated the Bagmati River Basin Improvement Project (BRBIP). With the strategic agenda of achieving environmentally sustainable growth and development through public private partnership, the project aims to mitigate the degree of pollution under the slogan of ‘Bagmati beautification’. The BRBIP aims to complete the whole scheme by February 2020 at a total cost of $36 million.
Meanwhile, farmers have demanded compensation for their land situated on the river banks from Guheshwori to Gokarna. Previously, the HPCIDBC had forcibly encroached upon more than 100 ropanis of private land without paying for it. The voiceless, powerless and marginalised poor farmers are claiming compensation for the loss of their land. Hence, problems have cropped up in the acquisition of private land for the project.
What the future holds
The Irrigation Department, in collaboration with the HPCIDBC, is in the process of constructing a Bagmati dam to collect rain water for watershed management during the dry season. With the joint efforts of the Nepal government and the Asian Development Bank, the status of the Bagmati is going to be improved to some extent. The BRBIP is reportedly ready to go into full swing from Gokarna to the Pashupati area. Let us hope that the Bagmati and her sister rivers in the Valley will become clean in the days to come. At the same time, let us hope that the plight of the poor local farmers, who have been struggling constantly for two decades to receive compensation for their land, will be improved.
Chaulagain is a board member of the High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilisation