If reduced water flow in the Kali Gandaki River is the sole concern, there are plenty of ways to replenish it

The Supreme Court has stayed the government's plan to build a dam on the Kali Gandaki River or divert water from it to the Tinau River. A single bench of Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana on Wednesday issued the interim order against carrying out any activity on the river until a final decision could be reached, in response to a writ petition filed by senior advocate Prakash Mani Sharma and others against the government. In June, the Oli government had set up an office at Butwal to push ahead with the Kali Gandaki-Tinau Diversion Project, which had generated considerable opposition from the Gandaki Provincial government and Hindu religious organisations, among others. The multipurpose project envisages channelling water from the Kali Gandaki River to the Tinau through a 38-kilometre-long tunnel to irrigate more than 100,000 hectares of land in Kapilvastu and Rupandehi districts in Lumbini Province, while also generating 126 MW of electricity. The project is set to cost a whopping Rs 138 billion as of now.

The concern of the petitioners is that construction of dams on the Kali Gandaki or diverting water from it would reduce water flow in the river and adversely affect the flora and fauna in Chitwan National Park, a world heritage site. In July last year, the government had awarded Australian company SMEC to undertake the feasibility study and environmental impact assessment on the 844- MW Kali Gandaki Hydropower Project, to be built upstream from the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and Seti rivers in Parbat. There is also much resentment from the Gandaki Province government and the locals of Syangja, Palpa, Tanahun, Nawalpur and Chitwan to the Kali Gandaki-Tinau project, which they fear will dry up the farmland in the lower area basin. Religious groups, including the World Hindu Federation, are just as concerned that Devghat, the most sacred Hindu site in central Nepal, situated at the confluence of the Kali Gandaki and Trishuli rivers, will turn dry during the winter as the water in the river will recede by half.

The Kali Gandaki-Tinau Diversion project is among the seven big river diversion projects that the Oli government had tried to promote in the budget for the fiscal year 2021-22. However, none of the other rivers has generated any controversy although all rivers are held sacred in Nepal. If there is opposition to the Kali Gandaki projects solely for political reasons then it is most unfortunate. If reduced water flow in the Kali Gandaki River is the sole concern, there are plenty of ways to replenish it so that there is no harm to the ecology and the religious sites. True, the Kali Gandaki is a sacred river for the Hindus, with many other pilgrimage sites dotting its path, such as Muktinath, Galeshwar and Ridi. But if the sanctity of the river is to be maintained, it is important that the people learn to keep it so. People living in the lower riparian areas are allowing sewage to pour into the Kali Gandaki and also extracting river materials for personal benefit. And it is only a matter of time before the sacred shaligram, or fossil stone representing Lord Vishnu, disappears from the Kali Gandaki River altogether if its collection is not stopped.

Missing persons found

The Commission for Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) has recently learnt that as many as 31 persons, who were said to have been disappeared during the decade-long Maoist insurgency, have come in touch with their family members.

The CIEDP was formed in 2014 under the Truth and Reconciliation Act to determine the actual status of as many as 3,223 persons who went missing during the insurgency from February 13, 1996 to November 21, 2006.

However, the CIEDP could not say anything about why they went missing for such a long time. It simply said that the number of people reuniting with their families is increasing. It has been 15 years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord between the government and then rebel Maoists. It is strange that these persons should come in touch with their families after such a long gap. It is, therefore, the duty of the CIEDP to ascertain what led them to go missing or go into hiding even after the country returned to the peace process, held two constituent assembly elections and adopted a new constitution six years ago. So, it must further expedite its investigation to find the status of other enforced disappearances.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 16 2021, of The Himalayan Times.