Action plan to clean Bagmati

KATHMANDU: Ambitious but praiseworthy action plan to clean the Bagmati river has been finalised. One of the holiest rivers is so polluted that it doesn’t carry any species of fish at the core city areas.

The smaller Bagmati

begins its flow south of the Himalayas. Without glacial sources, its flow is more dependent on rainfall: it ebbs during the summers (April to early June) and peaks during the monsoon season (mid-June to mid-August). Bagmati, which is the biggest river of the Kathmandu valley, originates from Shivapuri Hills, 25 km north of Kathmandu City at an altitude of 2,650 m above the sea level.

According to the studies, more than 93 non-government organisations have been working for cleaning the Bagmati and every year millions of rupees go down its drain in the name of cleaning operation. These organisations focus on creating awareness among the public, but creating awareness without creating alternatives is ineffective. Awareness can lower the degradation rate without eradicating the root of the problem.

Ministry of Physical Planning and Works has drafted a bill to form the existing ‘High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilisation’ legally powerful. It is proposed

to be called Bagmati Civilisation Development Council and should be an entry point for any kind of organisation interested to work for ending Bagmati pollution.

The council should have the full authority to implement the Bagmati Action Plan and should work as an umbrella organisation for all the stakeholders. Success of the plan depends on multilateral consultations and consensus on each and every move. The political parties vow to save Bagmati but whenever work on implementation of the plan begins they provoke their cadres to create hurdles. This happens whenever the government tries to remove the squatters from the banks of Bagmati. Moreover, the committee to save Bagmati is headed by the party that lords over the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works, affecting its performance every time the government changes.

The interest shown by India indicates that there will not be any financial problem in the implementation of the project and additional funds can be generated if a strong national commitment is expressed. “Once we start implementing the plan, we will not face fund crunch,” says Mahesh Basnet of the high powered committee to save Bagmati.

Banks of the river downstream from Gokarna have been encroached for activities such as construction material collection, cleaning, drying and storing materials of small industries, workshops and squatter settlements. Shanti Nagar, Bijay Nagar, Jagrit Nagar, Gairigaun, Chandani Tole, Pragati Tole, Kalimati Tole, Kimal Phant, Bansighat, Kuriyagaun, and Sankhamul are dotted by squatter settlements along the river banks and pose a major hurdle in the implementation of the action plan. Satellite imagery reveals that between 1964 and 2007about six sq km of land near Bagmati has been encroached upon.

The action plan has proposed 14 billion rupees for the implementation of the project for five years. As the action plan was finalised, more than one organisation has shown interest to implement it. The National Trust for Nature Conservation, who prepared the action plan, and High-Power Committee for Bagmati are keen to implement it, though it is clearly stated in the action plan that the implementation authority will rest with

the high power committee for Bagmati. If a dispute arises over the implementation authority, the action plan will become a plan without action.

An integrated approach for the implementation is needed. Despite the hue and cry over the issue, Bagmati still does not top the agenda of government, which is evident from from the priority list of National Planning Commission. It was on P1 list of the projects in 2008 but it’s on P3 list this fiscal year.

Action plans are formed but their implementation is always under a cloud with so much pressure from the public. Joint efforts of the government authorities, integrated approach of the non-government organisations and a strong political will power to act, not mere words, is what is needed to make the dream of clean Bagmati come true.

China shows the way

Qinhuai, a highly polluted river of Nanjing (China), was cleaned in three years after removing 4,356 families who had encroached upon the river banks and the nearby areas. As many as 94 big companies were also removed. As a result, 380,000 square metres of land has been regained, 20 km of flood-prevention wall has been upgraded, 25 km of sewer interception pipeline laid, 550 urban sewer outlets intercepted, five km of city wall maintained, more than 10 scenic spots created, 110 residential houses and 13 bridges decorated with lights and green land area of one million square metres has been created over a period of three years.

In 2006, second phase of the rehabilitation work began that affected 18 km of the river, seven bridges were constructed, besides the construction of an ecological wetland park. Now Nanjing-Qinhuai River has become a historical and cultural scenic zone and a tourism hot spot characterising the ancient human civilization of Nanjing (Source: Nanjing Qinhuai River Rehabilitation Project).