By Razen Manandhar
KATHMANDU, Sept 8:It is not only the public who encroach on open space in the capital. Even government bodies can break the law, by squatting on religious land. The famous Risheshwor temple, located at the heart of the capital has been a possession of Nepal Transportation Corporation (NTC) for the last three decades.
Moreover, NTC even tried to sell-off the 37 ropanis of public land to distribute salaries to its employees.
Every year the shrine is visited by thousands of Hindus on Rishi Panchami, the fifth day of bright fortnight of late August or early September (next Wednesday this year). Unfortunately, the shrine is in the compound of NTC, a terminated government body these days.
Balbhadra Bhatta, a priest of the shrine said, "This happens every year. Thousands of women visit here on the day of Rishi Panchami, but the shrine lies in the government body’s premises. It is shame, the government does not even leave ‘God’s land’ free."
The holy area lies in Teku and to visit the shrine people have to walk through the now abandoned NTC garden, down a corridor of an empty office building and then into the ground where the shrine is cramped between ugly compound walls.
Some security persons live behind the compound and the whole area is littered with junk, left by the government.
The 63 years old priest said that the shrine used to be surrounded by jungle until the city expanded to surround it. "Meantime, it dramatically went into the possession of a government body and it has become difficult for us to practice daily rituals too," he added.
"This holy area must be free from control of any government body or any other. Rather one must take steps to construct a temple over it. As you are seeing I cannot even sit properly when I come to worship the deity every morning," he told The Kathmandu Post.
Bhatta said that he has heard the government wants to sell-off the commercially valuable land. The government has no provision to pay for the three priests, who depend solely on what the pilgrims offer at the temple.
Since NTC is not functioning, the area is full of unmanaged vegetation. Just before the annual festival, a local authority cleans up the area and prepares the shrine. Then it goes back to ruin for the rest of the year.
Surprisingly, officials at the Department of Archaeology, the only government body to conserve monuments of religious and cultural significance, has not taken any step to free it, neither have they any plans to conserve it, taking its religious and cultural value into account.
An officer at DOA said, "I have not even heard about the shrine of Risheshwor. Where is it, anyway?" Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has tried repeatedly to free this shrine from the clutches of the government body.
Niranjan Shrestha, past ward no. 8 chairman of KMC, said that KMC and NTC had a long battle over the Risheshwor issue some five years ago.
"It must be by 1998 that NTC finally agree to spare at least the shrine and provide a way to reach the area. But it demanded KMC should pay for all the construction it needs. This was beyond our possibility and the issue cooled down without bearing any fruit," he said.
Shrestha added that the area must be used for public purposes or at least should be easily accessible to the pilgrims throughout the year.
[Kathmandu, Monday September 09, 2002 Bhadra 24, 2059.]