Cleaning Bagmati river has been one of the pet issues of many an NGO, so also of the government, for well over a decade. With the rise in urbanisation, the extent of organic and inorganic waste materials discharged into the river is also inflating. So is sewage. As a result, the pollution of the holy river continues unabated, or is even increasing, if the oxygen content of the river water is any indication. The sad report that the wastewater treatment plant at Guheswori constructed at Rs 660 million with a capacity to treat approximately 190 million litres of water per day has now virtually stopped functioning. The Guheswori plant was designed to address the problem of pollution in the stretch between the plant and Tilganga to prevent the Pashupati area from becoming a filth deposit owing to weakened river current and water discharge. Environmentalists do have a point that the plant has not served its purpose.
It is for the experts to dwell on the technical aspects of the Guheswori plant’s efficiency or whether it is functioning to its full potential. But the oxygen level and pollutants in the river indicate that despite the official claims as regards the commendable shape of the plant, the reality is different. For example, the Chemical Oxygen Demand of the Bagmati waters was below 300 mg per litre until 2001, but in four years, it has shot up to 506 mg per litre. The reason could be that the river is now subjected to higher rate of pollution or that the Guheswori plant is not working to its full potential in terms of improved river water quality. The government should assess the efficiency of the plant and determine if it is actually performing its work. The fact that settlements in Gokarna and Jorpati have expanded also means a higher amount of pollutants seep into the river.
Growing urbanisation of the Kathmandu Valley, therefore, is the premier reason for Bagmati’s pollution. Since it is also a source of water to people in several villages downstream, the need to do something concrete to contain or minimise pollution cannot be overemphasised. Polluted water is a live health hazard. Big cities elsewhere have sprung up on riverbanks, but most of those water bodies have been successfully shielded from pollution. Except for calls from some NGOs and environmentalists, Bagmati has largely been left to fend for itself. Paucity of funds has been a perpetual problem cited for doing not enough to set up effective treatment plants. That said, though, this is one issue that has been overused to cover up official tardiness. It is high time that a sustainable way of purifying river water is found and implemented. For now the best alternative appears to be a reinvigorated Guheswori treatment plant.