Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Nepal-India eco-region concept gaining new heights

By Razen Manandhar

GODAVARI, Lalitpur, April 23 - The idea to develop Nepal-India Terai region as an eco-region took a new shape today with experts and stakeholders actually sitting together and chalking out plans and programs to make that dream into a reality.

At the start of a one-day stakeholders’ consultative workshop on Terai Arc Landscape Conservation in Nepal here today, the concerned parties including the government vowed to protect the bio-diversity of the region.

Conservation experts want to connect 11 conservation areas spread across an area of 30,000 kilometers in the Terai of Nepal and India and develop the same into what they call Terai Arc Landscape (TAL). They say connecting the isolated to protected areas is very important for long term conservation of bio-diversity of the region, and a project has already been launched to that effect.

The protected areas include Royal Chitwan National Park, Royal Bardia National Park and Royal Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve of Nepal, plus Dudhwa National Park, Katarniaghat Wildlife Reserve, Sohelwa Wildlife Sanctuary, Valmiki Tiger Reserve, Swehingaohegi Barga Wildlife Reserve, and Corbett-Rajaji National Park of northern India.

Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Prakash Koirala opening the meet, participated mainly by the locals and local government representatives, expressed the government’s firm commitment to put in place its best of efforts in the direction.

Country Representative of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal Program Dr Chandra P Gurung said, "This is going to be one of the most ambitious and important conservation initiatives in Asia, if not in the entire world," he said. He was addressing the first stakeholders meeting on the TAL conservation.

Dr Gurung added that the program is now a vision, which needs a long-term effort to make it a success. He said, "After a decade the vision will find a shape and will take almost a decade to see full swing of development."

He added that the project needs around six million US dollars for the coming five years. In the long run, it will need a trust of around 20 to 50 million US dollars. He is hopeful that international donor agencies will provide fund for the project. "Agencies like Save the Tiger Fund and other potential major partners are interested to make it a success."

WWF program coordinator, Ukesh Bhuju said that all government institutions, non-government organizations have "technically accepted" the idea and interactions on this issue is going on in various levels. "There has been an agreement between WWF of Nepal and India on this issue," he said.

According to him, TAL Project will not only restore deforested areas outside the protected areas but also address the socio-economic concerns of the local people, who are in fact the major factors to make the project a success.

"The users of the community forest should understand the significance of the TAL and should also be convinced that it will eventually help their economic development," he said.

The Chief Scientist of WWF, Dr Eric Dinestein said that Nepal’s greatest export is visionary approaches to conservation. "This is the prime habitat of tigers, rhinoceros and elephants. This development would provide bigger room for the conservation of the wild animals and will contribute to a global conservation effort altogether."

WWF believes the TAL project is a great opportunity to protect Asia’s remaining habitat for the world’s critically endangered wildlife species. However, the users of community forests are not convinced that their rights over the forest they developed would be protected.

"We should first need to be assured that the community forests would be handled by the government under the Forest Act and our right would be guaranteed," said Hari Neupane, the chairman of Federation of Community Forest Users’ of Nepal. The Ministry of Soil Conservation and WWF NEPAL Program jointly organized the one-day workshop.
[ Kathmandu Tuesday April 24, 2001 Baishakh 11, 2058.]

Sunday, April 15, 2001

Bagmati ghats in dire need of protection from squatters

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, April 14 - The historic stone-paved bank of the holy Bagmati river, stretching from Teku to Thapathali continues to be encroached by squatters, polluting the water and damaging the monuments, thanks to lackadaisical metropolitan unit and drying river.

Bagmati is considered the holiest river system of the Kathmandu Valley which brought civilization in the Valley thousands of years ago. Ancient inscriptions state that the Saint Ne, who gave Nepal his name, used to live at the confluence of Bishnumati that meets the Bagmati at Teku.

But right from Teku, just 100-meter from the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s (KMC) central office, ghats, or steps made with brick-shaped steps to control the river flow and also give space for the pilgrims of the holy river, have been the favourite of squatters.

A three-storey concrete building was made recently right on the 150-year-old ghat behind the Maternity Hospital at Thapathali. It has even barred part of the river with wall and a gate, like it was its private property. An old tree has been chopped off to the root and a vermilion-smeared idol installed next to it.

The regulation to protect the Bagmati states that construction of any building within the distance of 20 meters from the river is illegal.

The owner, Bhim Kumari Shah, who proudly announces that Inspector General of Police Pradip Sumsher Rana is her nephew’s son, claimed that the house has been there for a long time and so it is not illegal. "This is our ancestor’s house and we claim it is legal," she said.

Similarly, a building belonging to Advocate Sundar Lal Chaudhary, next to Bhagbateshwor Ghat is constructed on the river boundary itself. The building’s surrounding wall has covered the stone paved boundary and a small Shiva-Linga is left outside the wall.

Over a hundred make-shift huts have been put up at Banshi Ghat on the dry river bank which not only houses the squatters but also gives shelters to some social organizations, registered in the government, like Nepal Basobas Basti Sanraksyan Samaj at Banshi Ghat and Sahara Sewa Sadan.

Similarly, scores of traditional rest houses or dharmasalas, built by the Rana prime ministers and their families for the people who wished to die by the holy river have been turned into private houses, schools or police residences.

According to article 96 of Local Self-Governance Act 1999, the duty of conserving the rivers cultural heritage falls upon the municipality but KMC has so far not introduced any such programs to safeguard this ghat area from squatters.

"We should immediately make the site free of the squatters," Deputy Mayor of Kathmandu Bidur Mainali said. But he admits that no programs to clear the area have been launched.

Hutaram Baidhya, the 80-year old activist for saving the Bagmati says that only a strong superpower can save the river from the clutches of the squatters.

He says, "Unfortunately, the Bagmati has been a target for all opportunity-seekers who have no sentimental attachment to its the religious and cultural values. This is the only reason behind the continuous deterioration of our beloved river."

He blames the local representatives for this domination of squatters. "They are indirectly protecting this practice, in hope of securing votes in the local election, though at the cost of these heritage sites," he said.

Heritage expert Oj Man Singh Shrestha, presently working on the Bagmati area heritage, said the locals should be aware of this and know who loves Bagmati. "This area should be declared protected monument zone to prevent it from the squatters," he said.

This ghat area houses sixteen major temples, built in pagoda and dome style, in the period between 1812 and 1950 by various rulers, government staff and people in general. In 1996, a study was done to renovate four temples of the ghat, which was never realized. Bend von Droste, the then director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre said then that "the Teku-Thapathali group, on the banks of the Bagmati, has social problems associated with squatters in the surrounding dharmasalas".

The longest stone paved ghat of the country was made by the first Rana Prime Minister Junga Bahadur Rana by 1850, in mourning of the massacre he initiated to take over the power. According to the architects, this is a unique blend of the traditional Newari architecture and the neo-classical Rana architecture.

Friday, April 13, 2001

Bisket Festival turns a shame for Bhaktapur

By Razen Manandhar

BHAKTAPUR - Though Bhaktapur proudly proclaims of being the World Heritage Site, and free of unplanned urbanization now and then, it blushes in shame every year after the biggest local festival of Bisket starts.

This 1400-year-old festival is the identity of this cultural city which has now turned into a means to show the extent of barbarism against own fellow-dwellers, depending mainly on agriculture and handicraft business.

This year alone, around two dozen participants of the chariot festival, that later turned into a "gang-fight" were injured right on the first day. Even police had to be rude in an attempt to take the situation in control.

The secretary of Bhaktapur Municipality sheds off his shoulder by saying that the administration did its best to prevent any such unwanted incident but it simply failed.

Buddhi Lal, an old man of 70s, ironically said that it is not a fight but only "a game, a merry-making." But there is a pain in his comment. They, however, have realized that it is certainly not an occasion to be proud of .

Even today, the residents, proud of their culture, wait eagerly for the festival but they have become used to with this "ritual" dark side of the joy so much so that the locals do not go to fetch the vandals after the incidents end, neither they even go to report to the police; they say it is their unity. Locals say it started in 1969, which somehow became an annual event.

Everything was planned this year. Bhaktapur Municipality, Chief District Office, District Police Office and political parties committed to make this year’s festival riot-free and set up a group of 800 volunteers. They indeed made a history last year by completing the festival peacefully, but they failed to continue it this year.

Local witnesses say the dispute started when the supporting beam of the chariot cracked at Taumadhi, in front of the famous Nyatapola temple by 7.30 p.m. It had proceeded around the half of the city, so the locals of the other half charged at the organisers. It was only an immediate cause which led a mass of around 60 to 80 people suddenly attack the participants and buildings with stones and bricks. They turned into demons and plucked bricks from all nearby temples, including that from the Nyatapola temple, which they love so much.

Police came late, when the situation went out of their control. So, the mass showed their anger at the police force too, leveraging them to use tear gas cells and even to shoot out. The nightmare lasted till 2 a m in the morning.

When the people woke up next day, they saw a carpet of brick pieces around the Nyatapola temple and many buildings damaged. Only those buildings, protected their doors and windows with plywood and iron sheets, were safe. This has become a routine to save their shops in this way, for some vandals target shops with expensive commodities too.

The target of the vandalism were the guest houses, local houses and temples rather than the people. Pahan-Chhen Guest House, with finest carved windows and doors had its all the window glasses shattered. The owner Ramji Prajapati said, "Even saving our life was difficult. The shower of bricks came from all directions."

The root cause of the yearly hooliganism is division of the ancient city into two parts : Thaane (the upper part) and Kwaane (the lower part). This helped them develop their localities competitively in the past ,but the modernisation has taught them only to envy and destroy each other. They wait for the festival to show off their sordid anger at the other half. And in this barbaric exhibition of the ego, residents of Taumadhi, the middle part of the city, become the bull’s eye.

Historian Dr Purushot am Lochan Shrestha said that the tradition of Bisket Jatra started from the later Licchivi Period, by the 7th Century. The original form of the festival is erecting a wooden pole that symbolizes Biswaketu Bhairava. The festival is named after this diety. As time passed, chariot festival of Bhairava and other episodes were added, making it the biggest festival lasting for nine consecutive days.

This savage fighting could never be the culture of the residents of Bhaktapur, who spend their money, time and even life to decorate the city, and have been living in harmony. The locals blame jealousy, "imported" modernization as well as political parties in this regard. Should this continue and defame the world reputed city again in the future? Only the city-dwellers of Bhaktapur can give answer.

[Kathmandu Friday April 13, 2001 Chaitra 31, 2057.]

Saturday, April 07, 2001

She is now widow after 13 months of marriage

By Razen Manandhar
KIRTIPUR, Kathmandu, April 6 - When 30-year-old Dhanshobha Maharjan, who is in her eighth month of first pregnancy, saw over 50 relatives visit her mud-and-brick home Thursday, it was a consolation for her aching heart that she was indeed a brave man’s widow.

She was married to thirty-three years old Sub-Inspector Purna Bahadur just 13 months ago. And, Purna was one among the 30 policemen massacred by the Maoists Sunday night at Rukumkot.

Her dry and mute eyes could be seen searching something on the ceiling. When the final floodgates opened, a middle-aged woman by her side caressing her said, "You must not let a single drop of tear come out. You know you were married to a martyr. Remember, the whole of the town crowded in on during the funeral."

The dead body was brought to Kirtipur and cremated at the local Dikhu river Tuesday evening.

After a long silence, Dhanshobha opened her mouth: "I know everybody must die one day but..."

Her eyes glanced over the wedding gifts still lying packed in the small showcases. She was ruminating with herself, while her relatives were narrating tales of other local women whose husbands too had died in their early youth.

Purna was the only bread-earner of the six-member family. The Maharjans were hereditary farmers but their association to the land was "snatched away" after their fertile 20-ropani land was taken over by Tribhuban University. After this, Purna’s father became a mason and retired from work few years ago due to old age.

Apart from this, Purna’s second brother Kiran is working with a medicine firm to earn his pocket money and the youngest one Sharan is studying. All his three sisters are married.

Kiran said that his brother was scheduled to return home next month. "When he came here last time, he told us that he was safe there and would come back soon ."

His father Hiralal Maharjan, who is in his 70s, putting a brave face says, "Indeed, my son was a brave man. Every son should have courage like him."

It was just by co-incidence that a young man from an indigenous farmer’s family chose to join the police force 11 years ago, just before the popular movement broke out. His friendship with Dinesh Paudyal, lured him to don the policeman's uniform.

The locals of Kirtipur have always been against the government. They had to suffer tyranny right from the time this small town was defeated by King Prithvinarayan Shah. They actively participated in the popular movement of 1990 and the area is also believed to be a major sheltering ground for the Maoists. And, ironically, a resident of the so-called ‘Rebels’ hill’ became a victim of the Maoist rebels.

Grieving father Maharjan could never understand when Purna all of a sudden told him that he wanted to join police. Nobody from our family had ever been in police, so he could not decide what to say.

Now he understands the joy of being a policeman. He said that Newars love their children so much that they can’t tolerate even a short departure from traditional professions. But being a policeman is something, each son should try, he adds.

However, his youngest son Sharan, who passed physical test and is waiting to appear in the written exams, is not sure whether his father would again really agree to see another son wear policeman’s uniform.

He said, "I can’t say anything about it. Let’s see what ba (father) will say in future."

And, father Maharjan is proud that his son had done something, which nobody in this town had ever done. "If a real son has to die, he should die like my son," he said, trying to wiping off his teary eyes.
[Kathmandu Saturday April 07, 2001 Chaitra 25, 2057.]