The Supreme Court has stayed the government's plan to build a dam or water diversion project on the Kali Gandaki River.

A single bench of Justice Cholendra Shumsher JB Rana issued an interim order against the government in response to a public interest litigation filed by Chair of Pro Public Senior Advocate Prakash Mani Sharma and others against the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and others.

The SC told the government not to build any dam, reservoir, or diversion project on the Kali Gandaki River, not to extract riverine materials, including shaligrams (fossilised stones), and not to halt the natural flow of the religiously important river.

The petitioners asked the court to prevent governments from extracting river materials from the Kali Gandaki River, where shaligrams are found (a shaligram is considered the symbol of God in Hindu religious books).

They stated that the government had awarded the project of environmental impact assessment for the 848 MW hydel project on the Kali Gandaki River to SMEC Company of Australia for which the government plans to build a dam in Bihadi Rural Municipality of Parbat district. The petitioners also said that lower riparian local levels have been mixing sewage water into the Kali Gandaki and also extracting river materials. They said that Kali Gandaki found mention in Hindu religious texts and was linked with many religious places along its flow path, including Devdaha in Chitwan district.

The petitioners said the proposed dam could cause reduction in the volume of river water and could also adversely impact flora and fauna in Chitwan National Park, a world heritage site.

The petitioner said religious places such as Mukti Kshetra, Galeshwar, Ruru, Devdaha, and Tribenidham areas were linked to the Kali Gandaki River. They said the hydel project built on the Kali Gandaki River at Murmi of the Syangja River had already adversely impacted the river and if more hydel projects or irrigation projects were allowed, it could have adverse impact on the people. They urged the court to prevent the government from building any dam or hydel project on the river and stop extraction of riverine materials from it.

The KP Sharma Oli government had recently given its nod for the Kali Gandaki water diversion project despite opposition from the former chief minister of Gandaki Province Prithvi Subba Gurung. The government planned to divert Kali Gandaki water into the Tinau River for irrigation.

Former finance minister Bishnu Paudel had endorsed the project that courted controversy ever since its announcement.

While the Lumbini provincial government was in favour of the project, the Gandaki government was strongly opposed to it.

Paudel had inaugurated the Office of Kali Gandaki-Tinau Diversion Multi-purpose Project in Butwal in June.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 15 2021, of The Himalayan Times.