New constructions in Badimalika area by Karnali government spark environmental concernsLocal residents have been protesting the alterations and extraction of stones from local streams fearing potential damage to natural surroundings.
When Bhojraj Pathak reached Triveni Patan in the last week of August to attend the Badimalika fair his heart sank. He saw the stream that flows through the grassland area at an altitude of 3,840 metres above sea level had been dammed. A concrete and cement building was under construction near the stream. A concrete helipad was also being constructed in the lush grassland. Construction materials like cement, rods and stones are stacked nearby.
Badimalika, a highland grassland considered a revered site for Hindus, stretches between 2,000-4,200 metres above sea level covering Triveni, Badimalika and Budhinanda municipalities, and Jagannath Rural Municipality in Bajura district; Sanni Triveni Rural Municipality in Kalikot district; and Ramaroshan Rural Municipality in Achham district.
Pathak, who is the chief of the Division Forest Office in Bajura, says he was unaware of the ongoing constructions in Triveni Municipality. “I was saddened by what I saw. I wondered who was behind all these changes in the grassland area,” said Pathak. “When I found out the construction was Karnali provincial government’s undertaking, I was surprised.”
Triveni Patan is a forest area that falls under the jurisdiction of the Division Forest Office in Bajura in Sudurpaschim province. According to Pathak, neither Bajura’s forest office nor other agencies concerned were kept in loop while planning or executing the construction work. Pathak was shocked to know that the Karnali government had constructed such physical infrastructure without conducting the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). He believes the authorities responsible for ensuring the implementation of the existing legal provisions themselves violated the legal provisions.
“I never thought such massive structures could be built without first conducting the EIA,” said Pathak. “The law enforcement body responsible for the implementation of the Environment Protection Act (2019) itself has been found violating the legal provision.”
The Karnali Province government started the construction of physical infrastructure inside the highland grassland area last fiscal year under the budget header—Triveni, Badimalika Tourism Master Plan Construction and Implementation. The construction of a 10-room Dharmashala with three meeting halls, a seven-room building with concrete structures on the ground floor and UPVC truss on the upper floors; two toilets, 108 metallic taps, a helipad and a welcome gate is underway as per the master plan. Karnali’s provincial Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment awarded the contract to Surkhet-based Majdoor Construction Pvt Ltd for the construction of the structures at a cost of Rs57.8 million.
Under the master plan, the local stream has been dammed in the Triveni Patan area. According to the Division Forest Office in Kalikot, which has been authorised to implement the project, a 4.6 metres tall concrete wall has been erected to dam the stream. However, there are no clear explanations for the need to obstruct the stream’s natural flow and install metal taps that alter the very character of the Triveni areas and build a concrete helipad in the vast lush grassland.
The locals in the area have been protesting the construction of the concrete structures and the extraction of stones and pebbles required for the constructions from the local streams and rivers. They are opposed to the extraction of riverbed materials for the construction of the physical infrastructures fearing they will jeopardise the topographical structure of the area, biodiversity and exploit the natural surroundings.
Netra Raj Padhyay, a priest of the Badimalika temple, says that the haphazard construction of the structures threatens to exploit the natural, religious, mythological and cultural significance of the Badimalika region. “Every stone has its own importance here (Badimalika). Obstructing the natural flow of the stream will affect the environment,” said Padhyay. “The construction work must be stopped immediately and the under-construction structures must be demolished.”
A grand fair is organised in the Badimalika shrine every year on Janai Purnima, a Hindu festival that generally falls in the month of August. Visitors from not only Nepal but also India come here with the belief that one’s wishes will be fulfilled if they visit the shrine.
Badimalika is not just an important religious and cultural heritage of the Sudurpaschim Province. This area is also important and sensitive from the biodiversity viewpoint. However, there is an increasing risk of extinction of the precious herbs and flowers and the fauna that thrive here.
The fresh construction of structures in the Triveni Patan area has also raised questions regarding political jurisdiction between Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces. Amar Khadka, mayor of Badimalika Municipality in Bajura, termed the Karnali government’s move to construct physical infrastructure in the territory of Sudurpaschim province as ‘unfortunate.
“It is a misfortune. This area has the potential to be listed on the UNESCO heritage list if preserved well,’ said Khadka. “We are amazed to see how this happened. There has been no communication from the Karnali government to the Sudurpaschim government regarding the construction, and if such a correspondence has occurred at a higher level, we have not been informed.”
According to Khadka, the Sudurpaschim Chief Minister’s office has drawn the attention of the Karnali Chief Minister about the ongoing constructions in the Badimalika region. “We have been taking initiatives to dismantle the structures once we have the clearance from the higher authorities,” Khadka added.
As per Schedule 1 of Environment Protection Regulations 2020, the Initial Environment Examination should be conducted to construct any tourism infrastructures costing between Rs20 million and Rs50 million. Similarly, Schedule 2 of the same regulations state that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be conducted to construct tourism infrastructures with an investment of more than Rs50 million.
Ramesh Giri, chief at the Division Forest Office in Kalikot in Karnali province, said the contract was awarded to the construction company after preparing a detailed project report. “However, the EIA of the project has not been conducted. I cannot comment about it as the construction work was already underway when I was transferred to this station,” said Giri. “The correct authority to ask these questions is the Karnali provincial government.”
When asked, planning officer Anju Chaudhary at the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment said that the amount was sent to the Division Forest Office in Kalikot and the division office was responsible for conducting the EIA.
Jitendra Mahat, the then chief at the Kalikot’s division office (who is now in the Division Forest Office in Salyan) admitted that the contract was signed in haste without conducting the EIA. “The contract process was quite long. The contract was signed hastily. Then I was transferred from Kalikot,” said Mahat. “We did it with good faith for the development of the Badimalika region,” said Mahat. He, however, could not answer why the contract was signed by violating the legal provisions.