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Business plan must for clean and green functioning of Bagmati River


A Chinese devotee named Manjushree, who had come to Kathmandu to pay homage to Swoyambhunath, is believed to have cut open a mountain gorge at Chobhar to drain out water from the huge lake covering the Kathmandu Valley which allowed civilisation to flourish. Since then, every ruling dynasty of the Kathmandu Valley seems to have understood the intrinsic interdependency on Bagmati River as civilisation flourished.

Baghdwar at Shivapuri hill,  where the Bagmati river begins, and various temples, monuments and shrines of Shiva and deities including Goakarneswar, Pashupatinath and Guheshwari complex; and numerous temples and monuments on the stretch between Shankmul and Thapathali to Teku reveal that the rulers have laid high priority on the river, substantiating close spiritual and cultural association between the waters of Bagmati river and the people here. Similarly, Bambikateshwar temple in Teku built in commemoration of the Kot Massacre at Hanuman Dhoka Durbar, believed to have been orchestrated by Janga Bahadur Rana, shows how an unprecedented legendary annihilation episode subdued in the waters of Bagmati. Besides cultural and religious practices being carried out by Hindus and Buddhists with the sacred water of Bagmati, the river and its tributaries were extensively utilised for people’s livelihood. Several stone spouts meant for drinking water and Rajkulos, as a prime source of water for irrigation, were all sourced from the streams and tributaries of Bagmati.

When the world entered the post-cold war era after the former USSR lost its socialist doctrine, the liberal market under the principle of the world as a global village prevailed in the economic policy documents of most countries including Nepal. Our old wisdom of keeping rivers sacred faded into oblivion with the passage of time mainly due to the open market policy which increased the use of consumer goods. The rapid growth in use of polybags and plastic packaging as a means of convenient conveyance, and population growth mainly due to the capital-centred political governance system made waste management a big problem. A World Bank study commissioned in 2013 ranked Kathmandu as the most rapidly growing city among other south Asian peers, with an average of 4% population growth annually. The import of poly-packed commodities, including food items, not only replaced locally produced and consumed food stuff like bitten rice and fire-roasted corn. Farming in fertile floodplains in Kathmandu lost its significance within a short span of time, turning riverside spaces into concrete jungles of extended urbanisation.  

Bagmati River, carrying the sacred and pristine water flowing from Shivapuri hill, soon converted into a sewage canal for households in downstream settlements. Gradually, denizens realised a significant alteration in their socio-economic linkage with Bagmati river: farming fields by the side of rivers were lost, stone spouts as source of drinking water were replaced by tapped and bottled water, and the river and its tributaries turned dead with extinction of almost all aquaculture habitat due to absence of a proper sewage management plan. The pristine water flowing above the shining sandbed of Bagmati cascading through green and lustrous paddy field terraces that was once a home of many seasonal birds and migratory fishes is now the thing of the past.

Bagmati Improvement Project
Bagmati Improvement Project - a component of the Bagmati Action Plan (2009-14) and funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) - gave rise to several infrastructures meant to restore the lost Bagmati river heritage. Household drainage exits in the river have been replaced by a piped sewage system which takes liquid waste to wastewater treatment plants. One of the objectives of the plan is the rejuvenation of Bagmati river aquatic ecosystems by augmenting oxygen rich clean water from the rainwater lakes dammed at Shivapuri National Park. The upper basin of the Bagmati river spanning 14 kilometres from Shivapuri to Katuwal Daha near Chobhar comprises of various river environment beautification programmes like river water flow increment with the addition of reserved rainwater and the treated waste waters, culturally restored temples and monuments on the river banks, and riverside parks along with footpath and cycle tracks facilitating hassle-free movement for visitors along the banks.

The investment in river improvement programmes can be a matter of debate from the country’s economic perspective as unlike other development infrastructures projects like hydropower and roads where the cost invested are generally recovered as the projects start producing economic benefits, these riverside infrastructures do not yield significant immidiate tangible economic benefits. Maintaining a healthy river bank environment is the only benefit of these projects. From the point of view of multilateral donors, the loan flow to Nepal in the name of Bagmati river environmental restoration project neither reduces the country’s poverty index nor helps achieve the SDGs as targeted by the UN. Questions will be raised on the sustainability of the investment made in making a clean and green Bagmati river. From which source the infrastructure assets built by the project would be maintained? How the principal loan sum and the interest there upon would be generated to payback the ADB loan?

Business Plan
Therefore, clean and green functioning of Bagmati river demands a business plan integrating a series of economic activities that generate adequate financial income to run the riverside assets perpetually as well as to pay back ADB loans. The Bagmati river business plan should have a broad goal of bringing in visitors to rejoice the healthy and spiritual river environments. The more people are engaged in the riverbank landscape, the higher the priority it gets from the business entrepreneurs to make it a popular destination. The riverfront open space can be rented to the local vendors to sell stuffs ranging from the healthy food items to indigenously produced apparels that attract both local and foreign tourists.

The entire length of the river, covering 44 kilometres from Shivpuri to Chobhar, can be split into different sections depending on its functionality and uses. The section through the national park forest to Dhap and Nagmati lakes can be a popular hiking destination with an impressive hilltop lake ambience. Likewise, the riverbank from Gokarneshwar to Pashupatinath temple complex can be developed into spiritual and religious spots, while the open space can be utilised for cultivation of seasonal flowers to cater to the festival needs of the local people. Similarly, the stretch from Sankhamul to Teku looks viable to operate ferries by elevating water level. Ferries cruising on the river with illuminated banks, temples and monuments in the backdrop can be an attraction for tourists while providing business opportunities for the local people.

Such value-added projects would be sustainable once people become willing to pay for the recreational value of the river water. Apart from religious practices, hiking through Shivapuri forest and lakes, heritage walks along the pleasant river bank or boating along the river stretch, and visiting shops and museums set up in the monumental buildings can extend tourists’ stay by at least two days. Income generation, job creation for youths, and the sale of value-added indigenous commodities along rivers could all be possible once the Bagmati corridor becomes an economic hub.  

(Adhikari is an engineer and served Nepal government in various high level capacities.)

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