Nepali Times Asian Paints

Back to Main Page

Losing the Bagmati, and ourselves

Monday, June 5th, 2017


Rajani Maharjan

The Bagmati River holds huge cultural significance for the Kathmandu Valley because our civilisation started along the river. There are many cultural rites and rituals, festivals and jatras that involve the river and its tributaries. An important part of visiting the temple at Pashupati, for example, is doing ablutions in the Bagmati before worshiping at the temple.

But with river becoming increasingly polluted with raw sewage and garbage it is not just the riverine environment that has changed, but the desecrated river is no longer the site for festivals and rituals. If we’re losing respect for the Bagmati, then we are also on the verge of losing our self-respect and identity.

The transformation of the Bagmati is clear to anyone, but from speaking to elders it is clear that there is accelerated change on the river. The river used to be wide and shallow, its braids meandering across a clean and sandy floodplain. The river changed its course annually depending on the level of flooding. This allowed it to cleanse itself. As development and sand mining have restricted and confined its flow, we have lost the wetlands along the banks, and the natural regeneration of the river and recharging of ground water no longer occurs.

The weekly clean-up campaigns have cleaned up some sections of solid waste dumped along the river, but it is like treating the symptoms but not the disease itself.  The main component of river pollution is the that untreated sewage and industrial effluent as well as solid waste is being dumped into it. Just going to the river banks every Saturday to pick up the garbage is not going to clean up the river.

To revive the Bagmati we have to restore its natural flow, including the river bed, allowing it to shift depending on the water flow. By doing this we will revive the micro habitats required by the various plants, insects, birds and animals to return. There isn’t much sand left to mine at least along the urban stretches of the river, but the damage it did to the riverine environment persists.

Encroachment of the river banks is also strangling the river. Aside from the visible squatter settlements, the government is actively encroaching by building feeder roads on both sides of the river. The river is now a canal, stripped of its natural and spiritual value.

The Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited actually diverts a huge amount of water at the source of the Bagmati so there is very little clean water flowing in it, which is one reason why the volume is so low. Some clean water must be left to flow into the river at Sundarijal. Waste water treatment plants are planned, but it is anyone’s guess when that will happen. If the surface water is polluted, it is also going to contaminate the groundwater that all of us in the Valley rely on.

We own the river and we must clean it collectively. We need to take ownership of our rivers and not leave the cleaning to government. If we use it during our rituals and festivals it is up to us to clean it as well.

Rajani Maharjan is an environmental anthropologist


Go back to previous page          Bookmark and Share         

One Response to “Losing the Bagmati, and ourselves”

  1. Ananta Baidys on Says:

    Couldn’t but agree with the writer. Everyone listens but positive, community approved, heritage preserved and protected is the tickey to restore Bagmati. It is doable but requires commitment.

Leave a Reply