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‘Dear Fewa, you have encroached upon us’

‘Dear Fewa, you have encroached upon us’

“I may be living on the banks  of Fewa Lake, but I have never encroached upon it. Instead, the lake has encroached upon me,” said Som Jalari, a member of the indigenous fishing community living in Khapaudi area near Fewa Lake, as a group of locals prepared to take out a motorbike rally to protest the Supreme Court's order to remove encroachments around lakes in Pokhara Valley.

Jalari explained that his century-old ancestral house was built in a time when boundaries and encroachments were not issues. “I have no idea why the government is forcing us to leave our ancestral home without any consultation with us. Neither the government nor the court is bothered to hear our story,” he said. “How could they label us as encroachers just like that, without even talking to us and hearing our story?”

Jalari’s sentiments echo those of all the indigenous locals around Fewa who have raised their voices against the Supreme Court’s recent order to set 65 meters from the shores of Fewa Lake as the lake’s boundary. They argue that the verdict does not do justice to the people living on the lake’s shores for centuries. “If we are to be relocated, we must receive compensation,” Jalari said.

The locals living around Fewa have formed a struggle committee to fight for their demands.

The Supreme Court recently ordered the local government to remove all encroachments and maintain a 65-meter distance from the lake shores as the lake’s boundary. The apex court issued the order in response to a writ filed by advocates, including Khagendra Subedi, and in accordance with laws governing international wetland areas. 

Pokhara Valley Lake Cluster, which includes all nine lakes of the Pokhara Valley, was declared as Ramsar site in 2016.

Locals say they won’t leave their ancestral property as they have made a lot of social, economic and emotional investments in their homestead. “Why did the government collect tax from us if our houses were illegal? Why were the banks allowed to extend loans by accepting our land and houses as collateral. We must be compensated if we are forced to leave this place,” the locals say.

Hari Bhujel, another affected local, said he invested all his property in his hotel as tourism started flourishing in Pokhara. “I was never bothered by local government authorities or tax collectors,” he said. “I don’t know why the government remained silent for decades, and why it is suddenly active.”

Bhimsen Bhujel, 65, said he should be compensated to cover the bank loans that he has taken by pledging his property as collateral if he is to be displaced. “My grandfather built this house almost a century ago, even before the lake was first measured. The government should consult with local residents before taking such important decisions,” he added.

Pokhara Mayor Dhan Raj Aacharya has already stated that the metropolitan city will comply with the apex court’s order to remove encroachers.

Nabin Baral, coordinator of the Fewa Lake Concern and Struggle Committee, said they should have special rights as long-time residents, who have voluntarily contributed to the lake’s beauty through clean-up and related activities for generations.