Friday, December 29, 2000

Roja ends with zeal among Muslims

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Dec 28 - Hundreds of thousands of Muslims around the country, as well as the world over, celebrated the greatest Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, today, ending the month-long Roja, strict daylight fasting, with the sighting of the new moon.

For the whole month of Ramjan, Muslims do not eat or drink anything till the sun sets.Even swallowing saliva is considered to be a sin for the strict observers of Roja, compulsory to all adult Muslims of both sexes, they say. Eid ends in a delightful festival symbolising tolerance, love, friendship and hospitality.

On this day, the Muslims hug one another, brush away past enmity and promise one another a happy and friendly year to come. All Muslim households prepare sumptuous feasts and invite friends and relatives in a cheerful mood of sharing.

Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Roja fasting. On this day, they invite guests, eat various dishes together and buy new clothes and give money to hermits and beggars. "Even the poorest of Muslim wishes to buy new cloth to mark this great festival and show his faith in Allah," they say.

Twenty-two years old Matin Uddin Shekh, who runs a clothes store at Khichapokhari said that following the strict rules of the month-long fast is just like climbing a mountain. "For the first half of the month, each day becomes difficult to pass and the second half is full of joy. The nearer you reach the end, your heart begins to fill with a holy excitement and you do your best to complete the cycle," he says.

"Naturally, we feel hungry. But, we do not seem to take notice of any foodstuff. A strange energy comes from within which keeps our sinful desires away," he adds.

Roja is compulsory only for adults, but his two-year-old nephew Nazir Shekh is also following it religiously.

Jaffar Uddhin of Nepali Jame Masjid said that the Muslims chose this month because it is the holiest in the whole year. "This month is chosen by Allah," he says.

Muslims believe the Koran, their holy book, was revealed to Mohammed over the Ramjan period, 1400 years ago. They say that this is a holy month by many means and any virtue done during this month is equal to doing it seventy times more during the rest of the year.

The month of Rajman is fixed according to Muslim calendar. But, the daily fasting period and the month also changes every year.

This month-long ritual teaches the people to live a modest and religious life. "The rules remind us of the roots of Islam, which should be the guidelines for the rest of life. Observing Roja for a month purifies us for the world’s betterment for the next 11 months," Uddhin said.

Shekh says, some may even escape by making some excuses,in cities, but in rural areas the whole village follows the fasting of Roja strictly. Only sick, elderly and new mothers are excused by the religion. "Nothing like modernisation has ever affected the people’s zeal to remain hungry for a month and celebrate the end of it as a great festival."

All religions consider fasting as a way of regular, religious life. The Muslims take fasting as one of the five basis of Islam; other four being faith, prayer, pilgrimage and donation.

According to 1991 national census, Muslim population in Nepal is around 665 thousand.
[Kathmandu Friday December 29, 2000 Paush 14, 2057.]

Saturday, December 16, 2000

Int’l meet to be held to safeguard Nepal’s heritage

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Dec 15 [2000]- The International Campaign for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage of Kathmandu Valley (ICSCHKV), which began here twenty-one years ago, is being terminated, and another programme that targets the preservation of heritage sites is to be launched soon.

Unlike the current campaign, the new program will cover all heritage sites throughout the kingdom.

A member of the UNESCO Evaluation Team, which was here last week to supervise heritage preservation works in the valley, informed The Katmandu Post that ICSCHKV is organising an international conference here from March 28 to 30 to work out a strategy and action plan for next program.

"The conference will work out a new vision for the new millennium and decide how to revive the campaign in broader and more effective ways, " he said.

The venue of the conference has not yet been fixed, but it could be in the historic city of Bhaktapur.

On the first day, the participants will analyze the achievements and failures of the previous campaign. On the second day, the participants will discuss papers presented at the conference and the concluding day will be set aside for strategy formulation and drawing up the new action plan.

Francis Childe, chief of the operational section for Asia and Pacific Division of Cultural Heritage, UNESCO Headquarters, during his recent visit said that the campaign would, among others issues, concentrate on providing training to the craftsman and technicians who are directly involved in preservation works.

Childe was one member of the evaluation team who stayed in the valley for two weeks - from November 28 to December 12. The others being Giles Proctor, an expert from English Heritage International and Keshav Raj Jha, the former Nepali ambassador to UNESCO.

The evaluation team surveyed the 20 heritage sites, met concerned officers and expressed mixed reaction on people’s awareness on heritage conservation.

ICSCHKV works constantly in the field of heritage conservation and raising public awareness in the Kathmandu Valley -- among the elite and illiterate locals. Some areas where it has worked include the Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur and areas like Swayambhu, Pashupatinath, Bouddha, Panauti, Thimi, Dahachowk, Lubhu, Bungamati, Khokna, Bode and Dadhikot.

However, some local heritage experts complain that UNESCO is spending a big part of international donations on technical visits than on real conservation works. Out of total US 240,374 dollars, US dollars 62,601 has been spent on visits of experts to Nepal, they say.
Kathmandu Saturday December 16, 2000 Paush 01, 2057.

Friday, December 15, 2000

KMC composting plant rusting despite garbage pile

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, Dec 14 - The Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) Keshav Sthapit never forgets to demand 200-ropani of land from the government whenever he addresses a programme. He wants the land to establish a composting plant in a city overburdened by 350 tonnes of garbage accumulated daily. Meanwhile, a 16-year-old composting plant with a capacity to produce 60 tonnes of manure daily is lying abandoned in the KMC office premises itself.

The Solid Waste and Sewerage Management Project imported a composting plant from an Indian company in 1984 at cost of Rs 5.5 million. The project managed the garbage of the newly-emerging capital city for several years under the German assistance.

Nowadays, drug addicts use the huge apparatus left idle on the municipality premises as a hideout and rag pickers use it for storing their wares.

It produced as much as 40 tonnes of manure daily in 1990. After the political change of 1990, locals started to raise their voices against the plant, saying it spread a foul smell in the locality. The project stopped operating the plant and ultimately it phased out without proper handover.

"Everything was okay until the movement of 1990. After that, people made an issue out of the plant for their political gains," said Bishombhar Lal Pradhan, under secretary for solid waste management, Ministry of Local Development (MLD).

Pradhan was associated with the project in those days.

During those days, the manure produced by the plant was very popular among the local farmers as well as those from Lalitpur, Thimi and Bhaktapur. Pradhan said that demand for manure was so high that the traditional farmers had to queue for their manure.

However, producing manure for the sake of garbage management was not as practical as it sounds. Sanjeev Bajracharya, managing director of Social, Environment and Engineering Concern Pvt Ltd, said that though it helped quite a lot to keep the city clean, it was not economically feasible.

"You can repair the plant and run it again now. But still, composting the garbage and making money out of it is not a lucrative idea. For the production cost of one tonne of manure was around Rs 1,000 but we had to sell it at Rs 250 per tonne," he said. Bajracharya was one among those who played key role in establishing the plant in Kathmandu.

But, the KMC officers say that the plant is completely useless. Padma Sunder Joshi, the co-director of Kathmandu Valley Mapping Programme said, "It should be dismantled and sold in pieces.

Still, MLD’s Solid Waste Management and Resource Mobilisation Centre (SWMRMC) is taking steps to make the machine functional again. According to Devi Nath Subedi, the general manager of SWMRC, the MLD is working on a plan to use the abandoned plant.

"We have recently examined the plant. It has only rusted and one screening part is missing. We have not yet examined the maintenance cost but still, we are committed to repair it soon," he said.
[ Kathmandu Friday December 15, 2000 Mangshir 30, 2057.]

Friday, December 08, 2000

Private construction encroaches historic site

By Razen Manandhar

LALITPUR, Dec 6 - Despite the locals’ protest, a concrete house is being built, on war footing, encroaching a 2000 years old stupa site, directly opposite to the Lalitpur Sub-metropolitan City (LSC) office, say locals.

Anil Rajbhandari, a local resident of Lalitpur ward No. 3, has already built a concrete foundation and possibly a basement, too which is just a metre away from the Ashoka Stupa.

"We protested against this construction a month ago at LMC office," said Shyam Maleku Shrestha, a 76 year-old local resident. "But we don’t know what is going on between the owner of that land and municipality. But, they are not stopping it, though this is taking place under the nose of the municipality office," he added.

According to Shrestha, the house also encroaches upon a 240-year old historic rest house (Sattal) site, which holds ritual importance during the festival of Akshaya Tritiya and Indra Jatra.

An officer at the Department of Archaeology (DoA), on condition of anonymity, said that he rejected the construction proposal when the land owner came to seek permission a week ago. But, the owner later approached another officer and had the proposal approved "under strange circumstances," he said.

He also adds,"The building owner had faced several orders to stop construction in the past, whenever he tried to build it."

He also informed that the house owner had tried to obtain similar approvals number of times in the past but each time his bid to construct a house was foiled by DoA and the municipality.

However, Buddhi Raj Bajracharya, Mayor of LSC said, the building doesn’t encroach the historical site and also has not violated the rules and standing laws. "Those who oppose may have some vested interest," he added.

Bajracharya, however, informed that LSC had not given permission to the owner for the basement construction.

Documents at LSC show that Rajbhandari got the permission in September 1999. The blue print of the building bears signatures of the mayor, executive officer, acting engineer and representative of DoA.

Acting engineer at LSC Map Approval Department Badri Tamrakar said that LMC gave permission to build the house because the builder has followed all the criteria and also had the permission from the DoA, which is vital in such a sensitive region.

Historian Hari Ram Joshi said that finding ancient objects in that area is not unusual. "Excavation in that area would bring many important facts regarding the history of the stupa. But it is a shame that the government gives permission not only to build a house but also to dig a deep basement in that area."

He also recalled that, seventh century objects were found while building Nepal Telecommunication Corporation building at Naxal and a subway crossing at Bhotahity but the government did not stop the constructions.