27 December - 2 Janauary 2014 #687

Hutaram Baidya, 93

Nepal’s first agricultural scientist and a lifelong campaigner to save the Bagmati River, HutaramBaidya, passed away on 24 December, leaving behind a legacy.

Nepal’s first agricultural scientist and a lifelong campaigner to save the Bagmati River, HutaramBaidya, died on 24 December of complications from pneumonia.

Baidya lived in Tripureswor where he saw the gradual deterioration of his beloved Bagmati from a pristine and holy river into a cesspool carrying Kathmandu’s sewage, which spurred him to action. Of the 16 books he has written, four are about the necessity of saving the Bagmati Civilisation, a term that he coined and which is now used to describe the river which spawned Kathmandu Valley’s unique cultural and religious heritage.

However, despite 25 years of campaigning he could smell and see till his last days how the river he was trying to save was dying in front of him. Baidya was cremated at Pashupati on Tuesday, by the banks of the river that he worked hard to save.

Baidya’s early work was organic agriculture and how it was possible to achieve higher yields and wage a green revolution without agro-chemicals. At a time when Nepal had no roads, Baidya toured across the length and breadth of Nepal promoting new ways to increase harvests and introduced crops like high-yield winter wheat. He knew that agriculture in Nepal was closely linked with forestry and promoted new varieties of trees, like ipilipil, that could boost agro-forestry.

However, being an inter-disciplinary scientist, he also realised that agriculture cannot prosper without grassroots democracy. He kept reminding people that farmers need to participate and own activities designed to improve their living standards with new farm inputs.

Baidya left behind a powerful legacy among the young citizens of the capital about the need to restore the Bagmati and it is the public awareness that he helped initiate that has led to the frequent campaigns to clean up the river and its banks.

River activist Megh Ale credited Baidya for his interest in joining the Bagmati campaign. “He told me very early on that just rafting down the river to make officials see how bad the river had become, was not enough,” Ale said.

Also at the funeral were Home Minsiter Madhav Ghimire and Chief Secretary Lila Mani Poudel. “We will honour Hutaramji’s work by carrying on his campaign, he has left us a challenge to complete his life’s work to save the river,” Ghimire said.

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