Nepal | November 14, 2019

Coming clean: Time to act to save Bagmati

Balaram Sharma

It is not that nothing has been done to revive the old glory of the Bagmati River; but our efforts so far to clean the holy river seem to have gone down the drains, as we are yet to see tangible results

It is not that efforts have not been made to save the Bagmati River. In the mid-90s, the government pledged to build a treatment plant in Guheshwori near the Pashupatinath Temple. But the plan is badly behind the schedule. The government in April 1995 formed the Committee for Implementation and Monitoring of Environmental Improvement in Pashupathi. About a year later, the committee was modified to High Powered Committee for Implementation and Monitoring of the Bagmati Area Sewerage Construction/ Rehabilitation Project, which now is known as the High Powered Committee for the Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilisation (HPCIDBC) since 2008. The HPCIDBC is entrusted with the task of reviving the Bagmati River in her original state. Some private land, around 100 ropanis, was taken by the government for the purpose, which aggrieved the locals who then refused to extend support to government efforts.

The holy river now is succumbing to pollution. While the HPCIDBC is failing to rejuvenate Bagmati, the much talked about Mega  Bagmati Clean-up Campaign, which is held every week on Saturday since it was started in May 2013, has merely become a propaganda, with no tangible results as of now.

When the holy Bagmati River begins at Bagdwar on the foothills of Shivapuri of the Kathmandu Valley, it leaves us spellbound with its crystal clear water. When it starts flowing down, the water body gradually encounters excessive pollution — sewage, plastics, human waste and household garbage among others — and by the time it starts traversing the Capital, it virtually turns into sludge. It’s a shame that we have done so much of damage to the holy river, which passes by the hallowed Pashupatinath Temple and is worshipped by Hindus across world, that it has lost its characteristic of a river. Many might wonder the Bagmati River at one point of time used to be the source of drinking water for the people of Kathmandu. The river, also called “Mother Bagmati” by many, is dying. Efforts so far made by the government and other stakeholders, including the non-government organisations, have gone down the drain.

The Bagmati River in true sense is the epitome of Nepali civilisation. But the way it has been polluted and dirtied shows how oblivious the state and other stakeholders, including the general public, have been to realise and understand this cradle of civilisation. In recent decades, unplanned urbanisation, haphazard industrialisation, rapid change in the trend of land use of the Bagmati basin have but made things worse for the river. Bagmati now has become a convenient dumping site for many, with city’s sewer being emptied into the river at many places.

A local from the Sankhamul area of Kathmandu where two rivers — Bagmati and Hanumante converge to form a confluence — is the fifth generation of a family that has been living near the riverbanks, told me recently that he never wanted to move away from the water body, for he found Bagmati and the surrounding areas “like a heaven”. “I always felt blessed to be born next to Mother Bagmati,” he told me. But what worries him the most is the rising pollution in the Bagmati River. This local is one of the many people of Kathmandu who have seen the pristine Bagmati River that once served as the source of drinking water. It used to irrigate large swathes of land in the Valley. So many people are still around us who cherish the memories of those days when they used to swim in the river. I myself, a resident of the Bagmati area near Guheshwori, remember well the clean waters of the Bagmati River which we used to drink. But times have changed, just like they say much water has flowed under the bridge.

In the past, Hindu devotees and priests used to perform ablutions in the Bagmati River. Some would carry the water from the river home for puja. It is believed that a dip into the holy Bagmati absolves people of their sins. Immersing in the Bagmati River is considered a holy ritual. But sadly the Bagmati River is in such a sorry state that people these days would think twice before touching the water. The ancient holy temples and cremation ghats on the banks of the Bagmati River also hold great cultural values.

It is not that efforts have not been made to save the Bagmati River. In the mid-90s, the government pledged to build a treatment plant in Guheshwori near the Pashupatinath Temple. But the plan is badly behind the schedule. The government in April 1995 formed the Committee for Implementation and Monitoring of Environmental Improvement in Pashupathi. About a year later, the committee was modified to High Powered Committee for Implementation and Monitoring of the Bagmati Area Sewerage Construction/ Rehabilitation Project, which now is known as the High Powered Committee for the Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilisation (HPCIDBC) since 2008. The HPCIDBC is entrusted with the task of reviving the Bagmati River in her original state. Some private land was taken by the government for the purpose, which aggrieved the locals who then refused to support to government efforts.

Till date a lot of resources and human efforts have been applied in this sector. It is high time we found where we have failed and worked on a concrete and sustainable solution to revive the old glory of Bagmati. Public private partnership could be one of solutions.

Sharma is a board member of HPCIDBC


A version of this article appears in print on January 11, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.


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