Two weeks ago, Culture Secretary Modraj Dotel resigned from his post amidst speculation about a controversial Chinese-backed supposedly multi-billion dollar investment to develop Lumbini into a religious and cultural hub.
Dotel didn't say so explicitly, but expressed dissatisfaction over political interference from his Maoist minister. The resignation coincided with intense pressure from the Maoist hierarchy to sanction the Lumbini project even though there were serious questions about its legitimacy.
"He must have known what was going on from the very beginning and resigned because he did not want to become a part of what followed", a senior Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) member told us.
Over the decades many organisations have tried to pour money into Lumbini's development, which is supposed to follow a UNESCO-backed masterplan sketched by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, to have been completed in 1980. Successive governments have used Lumbini as a cash cow, and didn't do much to further the masterplan. The latest grandiose plan is the one backed by a Hong Kong based quasi-NGO called Asia Pacific Exchange Cooperation Foundation (APECF) with a slapdash way of functioning that has raised serious doubts about its authenticity. But the Maoist party, especially its chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, seems to have fallen for it and even serves in its board.
In June, Chinese state media reported that APECF and the Vienna-based United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and its Investment and Technology Promotion Office in China had signed an MoU titlted, 'Promotion South East Asian IPA Network'. UNIDO in Vienna has no clue about this supposed agreement, and the plan has raised alarm bells in New Delhi prompting its diplomats in New York to query the UN.
Nepali Times has obtained a copy of the MoU which specifies UNIDO's role as a 'consultant' and APECF as a 'strategic development partner' of Nepal's Ministry of Tourism. The document says the project has been in effect since 15 July with support from the Government of Nepal. The only problem is the rest of the Nepal government doesn't know anything about it.
APECF's vice-chairman Xiao Wunan had led a four-member delegation to Kathmandu in May and signed a 'framework agreement of Buddhist Special Cultural Zone of Lumbini' with Tourism Minister Khadga Bahadur Bishwakarma (pictured above).
The MoU and APECF's website raise more questions than answers. The MoU does not specify committed budget amount or its source, raising questions on the intent and objective of the project and its protagonists. Clause 1 of Article 8 of the MoU, which specifically talks about financial contribution, states: 'the implementation of activities and projects envisaged in the Memorandum will depend on the availability of the necessary financial resources.'
Further, the brief description of the project in Annex document IP/GLO/2011/008 states: 'The program shall lead to billions US dollar investment in Lumbini area, about 171 Km southwest of Nepal's capital Kathmandu.' (sic) However, the same annex shows UNIDO project inputs amounting to 100,000 euros with actual breakdown of costs with a detailed ToR and timeframe.
Amidst serious doubts and misgivings the parliamentary committee formed to monitor the development of Lumbini has asked the government to declare its official position on the APECF project. The vice chairman of the LDT, Karma Syangbo Sherpa, told Nepali Times: "We have not signed any agreement with external bodies that I know of."
Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Krishna Bahadur Mahara attended an AEPCF meeting in Malaysia last week and returned to Kathmandu with board members in the same aircraft from Bangkok. Dahal's son, Prakash, was present at an AEPCF press meet in Kathmandu in which Xiao Wunan was unable to provide convincing answers about AEPCF's funding, governance, or the agreements it says it reached with the government.
"We are still in a preliminary stage of the project and will officially approach the government after we have done our homework." Narendra Ulak, Deputy Secretary, APECF
"The LDT is not aware about any project involving APECF currently working on Lumbini. We have our own Lumbini Master Plan and we have not signed any agreement with external bodies, not that I know of." Karma Syangbo Sherpa, Vice Chairman, Lumbini Development Trust.
Anurag Acharya with additional reporting by Dewan Rai
The Lumbini Master Plan designed by the famous Japanese architect Prof. Kenzo Tange is initiated by the United Nations and finalised and approved by the Govt. of Nepal in 1978.
Again the UNESCO inscribed Lumbini on the World Heritage list in 1997, and encouraged the Govt. of Nepal, to implement the Integrated Management Plan which is one of the guidelines of the World Heritage Centre. The preparations of the Integrated Management Plan has started in 2008. After the stakeholders consultations, a series of workshops jointly oraganized by the Lumbini Development Trust, the Dept. of Archaeology, the donors, and the UNESCO, the projects of strengthening the conservation and manangement of the site, reviewing the Kenzo Tange Master Plan, a broad study on the Sacred Garden Lumbini to pursue the detailed physical plan are in progress.
The tranquility, sanctity, spiritual integrity, and universality of the Buddha's birthplace is very important. Its systematic development which is under the close guidance and cooperation of the UNESCO, Kathamndu and the World Heritage Center with an ongoing conservation and restoration works according to its Master Plan needs to be respected.
The well-wishers with the well intended project proposals should fully aware what is going on in Lumbini. The Outstanding Universal Value of Lumbini as a World Heritage property cannot be compromised in any way. Part of the APEC Foundation project will be an international airport, railway connectivity, highways, convention centers, five star hotels, etc.
The latest World Heritage Committee Convention which was held in France in June has expressed their concern on some development projects including the enlargement of the existing airport, upgrading of tourist infrastructure. The World Heritage Center and the Advisory Bodies consider that decisions on these proposed projects in the vicinity of Lumbini should be based on an Heritage Impact Assessment.
Last month the meeting on Advancing the vision of the Greater Lumbini Area was held in Lumbini for 2 days. There are plans for serial nomination of the sites that related to the life and history of The Buddha, Ramagram in the east in Nawalparasi, and Tilaraukot in the west in Kapilavastu. All these irreplaceble sites related to the Buddha are in Nepal, which indicates the nation's pride.
Who will guarantee all these proposed plans of the APECF have a strong negative impact on these unique sites? This is the responsibility of all the Nepali citizens to fully aware of these investment projects and their impact on these precious sites.
Buddha was born in Lumbini, a sal grove, mostly spent his time in the forest, until the great passing away occured in the forest, a sal grove, in Kusinara. Buddha's love of nature can be studied in the Buddhist scriptures. Buddha definitely might not favor His Birthplace turned into the commercial center.
19 AUG 2011 | 4:24 PM NST
2. Kale "The political and the economic browniepoints for bringing in a multi-milliondollar investment in the country seems to be too tempting for Dahal." No one sells his mother to the devil for any gains of any sorts.
20 AUG 2011 | 7:28 AM NST
3. Tashi Lama
I am wondering why these atheist Communist leaders are after the Lumbini development project, as that of Gyanendra and his gunda son Paras, involved in the murder of Japanese Buddhist monk, who guarded the development fund from these thugs. Similarly Prachanda and his son now, it is because, LDT is a giant project, which involves with millions of dollars of fund, so the eyes and mouth of these greedy ones are wide open to grab the opportunity to misuse it. Now at present on the other hand, Chinese agents are trying to make it a hub of their spy networking by the pouring some fund in the name of Lumbini development, as that is for sure what the Indian secret agents know about.
Buddhist association of Nepal and whole of Buddhist communities in Nepal need to be strong in safe guarding the birth place of Buddha, Lumbini now needs to be protected from the corrupted leaders of Nepal and from the autocrat regime of China who wants to take an advantage by pouring in some fund and turn this sacred place into the ground of secret agents cunning games.
For the real development funds, there are plenty of pious wealthy Buddhist worldwide, who are keen and more then happy to donate if the Lumbini development trust is taken care of completely by the true Buddhist leaders, Buddhist intellectuals and Buddhist associations in Nepal and other countries, otherwise no one trust these non Buddhist who are there as in charge of LDT.
For the greater cause of Lumbini development, whole Buddhist community and associations need to get united, strongly need to rise and resist against the Nepal government and it's corrupted board members of the LDT, as this is truly a matters of Buddhist, not of atheist and non Buddhist who are there with different initiative!
20 AUG 2011 | 8:32 AM NST
@Dear Tashi Lama,
Why do you amalgamate religion with the Buddhism? In real term the Buddhism is itself atheist by nature. Please do not take lamaism for the real Buddhism.
It is time to prevent events from spiraling out of control. If you are a real Buddhist you must have heard about 'reciprocity'. In a nutshell, reciprocity combines the passion of the heart with the intellect of the brain, and the reciprocity of relationship. The environment that ignites your own and others' personnal best.
I again repeat please get back your 'mojo' i;e., the spell and natural charisma that the Almighty has endowed upon you to sport your compassion where it is most required!?!
20 AUG 2011 | 1:30 PM NST
5. Arthur "We are still in a preliminary stage of the project and will officially approach the government after we have done our homework."
THIS MUST BE STOPPED!!!
First they should get funding to do an official project. THEN they should do homework. THAT IS THE NEPALI WAY
21 AUG 2011 | 10:18 PM NST
6. Tashi lama
Tashi Lama for B2B,
I am not trying to combine Buddhism with any other religion by writing these comments, I am doing this because of too much corruption in the boards of LTD until now and dirty politics and plots to misuse and steal the funds! I am just disgusted to see the dirty works of all the thugs in LDT.
Buddhism is not a dogmatic religion nor Buddhism is atheist, in reality it is Buddha Dharma, teaching on the ultimate truth of all the natural phenomena through logical reasoning!
I don't believe in almighty nor I want the charisma of so called almighty, I believe on my teacher the Buddha and on my actions which makes my karma!
23 AUG 2011 | 9:50 AM NST
Do you listen to what you write? When you believe in the acronyms like Dharma and Karma you already confess that you believe in God.
The Buddhism has nothing to do with your past and future like they are important in Hinduism. The Buddha said if you want to free yourself from the worldly pains it depends entirely upon you to meditate and search solutions to them in yourself.
Whereas the followers of lamaism are actually the followers of anemic and tantric obedience where in order to satisfy different divinities and deities you make sacrifices of living animals. The real Buddhism is totally against such barbaric practices. Nonetheless, through the ages the lamaism became very popular in Tibet where mahayana vehicle is most developed as karmapa or else. The other hinayana vehicle is most developed in Shri Lanka and Thailand et al.
For the well-being of every body it is high time that the religion and dirty politics shouldn't be mixed up and commented too much at that to avoid misunderstandings amongst different ppls of Nepal.
23 AUG 2011 | 4:57 PM NST
8. yam gurung
Please no more corruption or bad politics in the name of Budhha or in the name of the religions or in the name of Lumbini Development Trust (LDT).
This is in the big hand of our big brother INDIA for the sustain development of (LDT).Because INDIA still proclaim that Budhha was born in INDIA not in (LUMBINI) Nepal?
In 60s when UN General Secretary Uthan came to visit the birth place of Budhha he was very saddened by the state of Lumbini.Japan govt and well wishers around the globe donated billions of dollar for the development of the Lumbini.
We still do not know how the billions dollars of donated money is spent.
First and foremost we must bring these culprits to justice.The main question who will bell these fat cats?Is there anyone son of a gun like Anna Hazare born in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal?
23 AUG 2011 | 7:40 PM NST
9. G Monk
Corruption is ingrained in Nepali politics and being moaning minnie here on a blog is not going to change it a bit and just because Nepali politicians and bureaucrats are corrupt does not mean Nepal should not accept any ALMS offered by generous donors, after all Nepal's well being largely depends on aid. If due process is followed and transparent what is wrong with it?
24 AUG 2011 | 7:54 AM NST
10. karma gurung
It is time for buddhist to unite and send strong message to these b****** that enough is enough. We do not need any hindu or mao leaders to bother buddhist heritage. tell them not to even think about lumbini. we need to get rid of all those rules to bring the administration back to Buddhist community just like it is done in Bodhgaya.
They cant run any decent organization. look at pasupati and their own parties. Now they want to ruin lumbini as thats where the cash cow is.
25 AUG 2011 | 1:41 PM NST
11. Tashi lama
I think you need to study more to understand the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In reality there is nothing so called Lamaism in Tibet, you got it all wrong to call Lamaism for Tibetan Buddhism. Word lama means teacher or guru, this word ism is added after word Lama by individuals who has lesser knowledge on Tibetan Buddhism, or who purposely call Lamaism by their ignorance to defame Tibetan Buddhism. One needs to judge and analyze the Tibetan Buddhism through proper studies otherwise it is waste of time in writing baseless and pointless comments. Buddhism either Mahayana, Vajrayana or Hinayana are all same followers of Buddha from different schools. Mr. B2B, it would be very fortunate of you if you could truly understand the core teaching of Buddha!
Concerning LDP, no one is mixing religion with politics, but the fellow Buddhist is Nepal are now disgusted to see all these corruptions and dirty politics by ignorant and narrow minded Hindu leaders, who are all after making selfish gains!
31 AUG 2011 | 12:09 AM NST
@ Tashi Lama, Buddha taught his followers to remain far from Ahimsa; most important one being not criticizing his fellow beings and staying away from killing or not to be part of killing process. Another one is not getting involved in adultery of any sorts. Many so-called modern Tibetan Buddhists do not follow any of his teachings anymore. Please Follow his teachings rather than criticizing the people who have given many of Tibetan refugees shelter whether it's in Bouddha or in Pokhara.
Ahimsa Paramo Dharma~ Peace!! |Kshitiz
02 SEPT 2011 | 8:41 AM NST
13. Tashi lama
Tashi Lama @ Kshitiz
Just for your common sense to be opened, in this world of 7 billion people, there are seven billion different finger prints, so are with seven billion different mentalities and characters. So, how can you generalize the followers of Tibetan Buddhism, by saying they are not following Buddha's teaching? Just forget the differences among billions and millions of people, just look nearest among the families with sons and daughters, some turns out to be intelligent, some less intelligent, some naughty, some lazy, some fools and some good and some bad. When some group of certain religion turns out to be fanatic and terrorist, we can't blame or generalize all in a similar way, which is completely wrong!
I haven't heard of so called modern Tibetan Buddhist, this again is a new name to hear, such as calling Lamaism for Tibetan Buddhist, I don't understand how you guys get these new notions and names without having any proper reasons to mean and prove that.
Concerning Tibetan refugees in Nepal, 98% of Tibetans are productive and hard working people, they introduced many handicrafts in Nepal, most famously the carpet weaving since early 1960's, which became source of major exportable items to earn foreign exchange and which created employment for hundreds of thousands of Nepalese, carpet industry started by Tibetans are still running and is very beneficial for Nepal and Nepalese. Arrival of Tibetan refugees in Nepal was like arrival of Buddhism again in Nepal, Tibetan spiritual teachers revived the Buddhism in Nepal at this stage, look around Kathmandu and visit those great monasteries, with schools, art classes and hospitals. All these monasteries become a learning center for Tibetan Buddhism, which in turn brings many foreign tourist and scholars. I think it is your ignorance to generalize and think negative on the Tibetans, in reality majority of Tibetans are warmhearted and hardworking people. You can analyze and study about Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhism by yourself, you don't have to believe me either!