Interview with Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudyal who led the 22-month long Bagmati Clean-up campaign.
Setopati, 13 April
Setopati: Can you tell us how the clean-up campaign started?
Leela Mani Paudyal: The campaign began on 29 January 2012 with a cleaning drive from Singha Darbar to Baneshwor. The then Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai was himself involved and took part in cleaning the Bagmati River. The plan was to mobilise over a million volunteers including retirees, students and youth in various sectors throughout the country. But with the change in government, the campaign took a back seat.
What brought along the revival of the campaign?
I was visited by representatives from few organisations who informed me about 500 volunteers from India wanting to come to Nepal to clean the Bagmati River. I then felt that it was our responsibility to clean up the mess we created. So I spoke to Secretary of Urban Development, Kishor Thapa, Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development and the chief of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), and started the campaign on the foundation day of Ministry of Urban Development.
How does it feel to complete 100 weeks of the campaign?
This campaign shows that when both the government and the non-government sectors work together, we can achieve our goal.
What are the achievements of the 100 weeks?
We collected 5,000 metric tons of waste from Bagmati and its tributaries. We have cleaned banks and are planning to make gardens in 12 places. We have handed over the responsibility of cleaning and managing the banks to locals in five other places. More importantly, we have laid down sewers in various locations including Pashupati, Tilganga and Manahara.
How much money did the government spend on the campaign?
The government has not spent a rupee on this project. This is not a government project although various committees have been helping with the needed materials.
How many people have been involved in the campaign till date?
We estimate over 300,000 people have been involved in cleaning the river over the 100 weeks.
Will the campaign ever be a success if people don’t stop throwing garbage in Bagmati?
We have been continuously saying that awareness among people is a must for this campaign to succeed. Waste can be easily managed if people follow the 3Rs- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. 70 per cent of the waste comes out from households and out of the remaining 30 per cent, 20 per cent can be reused. The day we reduce the amount of waste coming out of every household is the day when we will not have to worry about its management.
Isn’t it true that Bagmati cannot be cleaned without cleaning the tributaries first?
We have started cleaning the tributaries too. The local authorities have started laying sewers in Dhobikhola and works to start laying sewers on both sides of Bishnumati is also underway. The government plans to finish laying drains and sewers in all of the tributaries.
How long will it take for Bagmati to return to its previous state?
It is human to want instant results but that is not possible in reality. We have to work together for a long time in order to undo the pollution of 40 years. This is not a project that has a start and a finish date, we have to continue working.
Will you still be involved with the campaign after you retire in four months?
My retirement will not make a difference to my work. Whether or not I remain the chief secretary, I will continue working for Bagmati.
What are your plans after retiring?
I will remain in the campaign as a volunteer.
Will you be working only for the Bagmati Clean-up Campaign?
I want to work in awareness building and alleviation of people’s problems. A lot needs to be done in the sectors of public transportation system, migrant workers and violence against women. I would like to work on these issues. Let’s see what happens.