KATHMANDU, FEBRUARY 28
Scores of rights activists and locals staged a symbolic protest in front of Kathmandu Metropolitan City office against the authority's plan to use concrete structures in the historic Kamal Pokhari in the heart of the capital.
The activists performed a traditional ritual by burning incense to drive away those 'ghosts who are bent on destroying cultural heritage.' The satirical protest was targeted at KMC Mayor Bidhya Sundar Shakya, who, according to activists, has 'taken an oath to destroy heritage sites'.
Only two days ago, activists associated with the civil society movement had destroyed the concrete slab installed in the middle of the pond in a bid to create a concrete lotus. The name Kamal Pokhari means Lotus pond.
It is a sacred pond for the indigenous Newari people of the valley.
The dispute on the pond had risen after KMC used water pumps to desiccate the pond and later used excavators to dig the bed of the pond in mid-January. KMC, which had earlier received widespread criticism over similar malpractice at Rani Pokhari for trying to turn the historic pond into a recreational money-generating site, proposed a similar package for Kamal Pokhari. It has already used a large amount of concrete at the pond, which is strictly against heritage reconstruction procedures.
It also proposed to build an artificial lotus flower.
The locals have asked KMC to grow natural lotus instead.
Furious at the local government's decision to use concrete at the heritage site, many locals and rights activists have once again started to hold protest against the local government. Earlier, hundreds of people had gathered at the pond area, smearing their face with wet mud from the floor of the pond.
Today, scores of protesters chanted slogans saying that the mayor must have taken an oath to destroy their heritage.
They also said the mayor was bewitched, and this made him destroy monuments.
"We thought the mayor had learned his lesson from the Rani Pokhari case after he was forced by the general people to rebuild the pond in its original style. But, it seems that he is keen to destroy our heritage and identity," said local activist Ganapati Lal Shrestha.
Many activists say reconstructing centuries old ponds using traditional method in the city area will not only save the cultural and traditional site but will also play an important role in maintaining underground water level and save the city from various calamities.
Prakash Amatya, chairman of GUTHI, an organisation that works to promote rain water harvesting, said such ponds had three major benefits. First, such ponds will collect the rainwater, which will eventually get inside the earth, which is one of the core method for storing water beneath the ground level and maintaining water level in the shallow aquifer beneath the earth's surface. Second, such ponds will help mitigate flash floods, which is common in urban area such as Kathmandu valley. And, finally, such a pond will be useful if any place near the pond catches fire.
"But, using concrete at the base of the pond means that no water will be recharged inside the earth, and it will merely become a dirty pond after some time," Amatya said. Heritage activist Shrestha and law student Sajya Adhikari and a few others have also recently filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court against the use of concrete at the pond.
A version of this article appears in the print on March 1, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.