Print Edition - 2015-03-14  |  On Saturday

Protecting Pokhara’s crown jewel

  • After years of negligence, Phewa Lake finally seems to be receiving the care that it badly needs
- ISHWORI NEUPANE
Protecting Pokhara’s crown jewel

Mar 13, 2015-Khagraj Dhakal, a retired police officer, was recently arrested for connecting his drain to Phewa Lake. He was kept in custody for one night and then released on a bail of Rs 10,000. Interestingly, Dhakal is the first person to have been penalised for polluting the lake under the Pollution Control Act of 2011.

Also, since the act doesn’t allow construction works within 65 metres of the lake, the sub metropolitan has now started to clamp down on contractors and businessmen operating  bulldozers and other heavy machinery in the restricted area around the lake. ‘’Construction works that are carried out around the lake have destroyed the beauty of the place,’’ says Mahesh Baral, executive officer at the sub-metropolitan city office.

The shrinking of the lake is something that the locals have always been aware of. The geographical survey of the lake carried out in 1957, for example, calculated the total area of the lake to be around 22,000 ropanis. By 2000, the lake had shrunk to 9,955 ropanis. Some experts have even predicted that if encroachments were to  continue, the lake could cease to exist in some 75-100 years from now.

Similarly, recent studies have shown that the water body contains excessive nutrients (Eutrophication), harmful chemicals like mercury and  disease-causing bacteria like coliform. A study carried out by the Environment and Public Health Organisation (ENPHO), based in   Thapagaun, Kathmandu, found that using water from the lake could lead to more than 50 diseases, including typhoid, diarrhoea and jaundice.   

But it has only been a few months that the authorities have finally decided to revive the lake. The reason: even until the recent past, no governmental body, be it the VDC in which the lake lies, or the Pokhara sub-municipality, was ready to take ownership of the lake.  As a result of this apathy, the lake faced gross neglect from the government bodies for a long time. Finally, two months ago, the sub-municipality established an empowered authority in the form of the Lake Conservation and Management Office to protect and manage the lake. After this body came into existence, things seem to be moving in the right direction.    

“We didn’t want the city to lose its crown jewel,” says Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya, the chief administrator of the Western Development Region, explaining the reason for creating the office.

The preservation and management office has employees from the regional and district administration offices, along with officials from different VDCs and the sub-metropolis to carry out its duties.  “With the establishment of a dedicated office, we are hopeful that steps will be taken to protect the lake,” says Keshab Raj Subedi, a resident of Bangaladi neighbourhood, which abuts the lake.     

For this year alone, the sub municipality has earmarked a budget of Rs 11,300,000 for the conservation and management of the lake. And it plans to spend more in the future. Also, the office is trying to promote the participation of the locals as well as different NGOs and INGOs to tackle the pollution and encroachment issues. Further, Mahendra Godar, engineer at the office, says that they have come up with both short-term and long-term conservation plans for the lake. “For now, we want to focus on encroachment and pollution issues,” Godar says.

Along with demolishing the buildings around the lake, the conservation and management body is also trying to weed out, as soon as possible, invasive aquatic plants like Pistia stratiotes (Jalkumbhi jhar in Nepali), that have infested the lake,   

But some locals are of opinion that the conservation authorities have not taken their problems into consideration. And foremost among their problems is the compensation issue. “You cannot just evacuate the people who have been living in the surrounding areas for generations,” says Shiroj Koirala, a local. “People whose lands the conservation office wants to acquire must be compensated properly,” says Koirala.

After many years of inaction, the lake is finally being revived. The challenge for the newly appointed body is to now protect the lake and appease the locals at the same time.    

 

Published: 14-03-2015 07:50

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