Illegal sand mining, soil erosion threaten Sleshmantak forest

- ANUP OJHA, Kathmandu

Feb 17, 2019-

The illegal mining of sand and soil in the eastern and northern parts of Vishwarup Temple, near the Sleshmantak forest, is proving to be a great threat to the area and to its status of being a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Illegally extracted sand was being used to build concrete walls for the reconstruction of the earthquake-damaged Vishwarup Temple. But after widespread criticism from conservationists, activists, and locals, the Pashupati Area Development Trust, who has undertaken the responsibility of reconstructing the temple, removed the concrete fills on February 12. However, sacks of illegally mined sands can still be seen in the premises of the Vishwarup Temple.  

“When I requested them to not use the sand from the area, the contractor threatened me and told me to not associate with things that do not concern me,” said a security person, who has chosen to remain anonymous and has been taking care of the Vishwarup Temple for the past three decades. “They told me to keep quiet, as it was not my property,” he said.

The illegal mining has invited more problems. Because of the mining, numerous landslides alongside the Sleshmantak jungle—between Tilganga to Tamaraganga—have been taking place. However, despite the risks the landslides impose and despite the Supreme Court’s order to shut down such operations in 2016, the extraction of sand has been rampant.

“This is a great threat to the World Heritage Site. If the trust itself uses sand from the protected area, then erosion will surely collapse many important temples in the Sleshmantak jungle, including Vishwarup,” said Dinesh Kumar Dangol, ward-8 Chairperson. He said the Trust has shown indifference towards the upcoming hazardous consequences. “The 2015 earthquake has destroyed half the part of Vishwarup Temple and if the mining and erosion continues, the place will be destroyed completely,” said Dangol.

The area was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997 and according to stipulations from the Unesco, sites need to maintain their historical aesthetic in order to continue being listed as a World Heritage Site.

Talking to the Post, Kedar Man Bhandari, the main priest of Pashupatinath Temple who is also the founding President of Pashupati Creative Youth Club, said another factor adding to the soil being eroded is the opening of the Tilganga-Tamaraganga road.

“Many trees on the roadside are being cut down and sold, and sand is being illegally mined, but the Trust has done nothing to prevent it,” said Bhandari. The 675-metre Tilganga to Tamaraganga road section is riddled with landslides, soils and mud.

The Trust had opened the road section in 2007 to manage traffic congestion between Tilganga and Chabahil. The move was later highly criticised by locals and cultural activists. Even Unesco had asked the Trust to cut off access to the road immediately, but the Trust has till date left both the Supreme Court and Unesco’s orders unheeded.

After seeing the Trust’s indifference, advocate Tulshi Sinkhada, in 2014, had filed a writ at the Supreme Court. Two years later, the Supreme Court judge duo Aananda Mohan Bhattarai and Anil Kumar Sinha ordered the road section to be closed. Before the court had made the decision, it had sent a team to inspect the road section in 2016. Despite all these efforts, every day, hundreds of vehicles ply the road section, mostly tipper trucks, and water tankers, threatening to damage a historic site that has deep religious, cultural and historical importance.

“More than preserving our cultural heritage, the Trust is proactive in destroying it. If this happens, the site will be removed from World Heritage Site zone,” said Dangol.

When the Post inquired about the issue with Member Secretary Pradeep Dhakal, he said he was unaware about the fact. “Now that I know about it, I will do my best to end any kind of illegal activity in the area,” said Dhakal.

Published: 17-02-2019 11:00

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