Your search keywords:

Bagmati Cleanup Mega Campaign: A massive effort of volunteerism

In an interview with Pratik Ghimire of ApEx, Leela Mani Paudyal shares his insights into the various facets of the campaign, shedding light on its journey, challenges, achievements, and future endeavors

Bagmati Cleanup Mega Campaign: A massive effort of volunteerism

This Saturday, May 19, marks the completion of 11 years of Bagmati Cleanup Mega Campaign. Initiated with the simple yet powerful concept of encouraging people to volunteer for at least two hours every Saturday morning to clean the Bagmati river, the campaign has evolved into a movement of sorts, thanks to the dedication and commitment of countless individuals who have tirelessly contributed their time and effort to this cause. The impact of this initiative has transcended its original scope, inspiring similar clean-up drives not across the country. 

Leela Mani Paudyal, former chief secretary of the Nepal government and former Nepali ambassador to China, is one of the campaigners of this cause. He has been actively involved in the campaign since its inception. In an interview with Pratik Ghimire of ApEx, Paudyal shares his insights into the various facets of the campaign, shedding light on its journey, challenges, achievements, and future endeavors.

The Bagmati Cleanup Mega Campaign has now completed its 11th year, spanning an impressive 575 weeks. Let’s delve into the inception of this remarkable initiative.

Before the start of the Bagmati Cleanup Mega Campaign on 19 May 2013, several efforts were made to clean the Bagmati river, but unfortunately, none of them sustained continuity. Despite the government’s plan to mobilize 1m volunteers annually for various tasks, including the Bagmati Cleaning Campaign, it struggled to maintain momentum. However, the landscape changed when a coalition of individuals and organizations, such as the Gayatri family, ESGS, Arjun Dharel of Ace Travels, the Advertising Association, and the Artist Association, approached me with a proposal to bring 500 volunteers from India to assist in the Bagmati cleanup effort.

However, I found it uncomfortable to mobilize Indian volunteers to address the pollution issues plaguing our river, which we, as Nepalis, had contributed to. It became clear to me that it was our duty to rectify the damage we had caused. Subsequently, I engaged with the Secretary of the Urban Development Ministry and initiated the mega campaign, coinciding with the Ministry’s foundation day on May 19. Although the campaign was initiated by the government, we opted to continue it on a voluntary basis, maintaining its momentum and spirit to this day.

I must highlight the invaluable contribution of Arjun Dharel, who generously shouldered the promotional and advertising aspects of the campaign at his own expense, as part of his company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts. Numerous other individuals and organizations have played crucial roles in sustaining and advancing this campaign by making it huge each day.

Do you believe that involving the younger generation in the campaign will enhance its sustainability and ensure its continuation for many more years?

The Bagmati Cleanup Mega Campaign operates solely on the spirit of voluntarism, devoid of any formal committees or leadership structures. There are no financial donations collected, nor are there any associated bank accounts. This campaign is driven entirely by volunteers, with no designated leaders; rather, each participant assumes personal responsibility for the task of cleaning the Bagmati river.

Although there is no formal leadership, those who were heavily involved in the campaign from its inception and continue to participate regularly convene weekly. During these meetings, we used to review the progress of the previous week’s efforts and strategize on how to mobilize volunteers for the upcoming week as with each passing week, more individuals and organizations joined the cause, contributing to the campaign’s momentum and impact.

Involving the younger generation in the campaign will indeed significantly enhance its sustainability and longevity. We have actively worked to encourage their participation by promoting the campaign in schools, colleges, and universities. Many young people have responded positively and joined the mega campaign. From the outset, we have maintained an open invitation policy, welcoming as many individuals as possible to join our cause. Despite the absence of formal leadership, we are more than willing to hand over the reins to the youth, empowering them to lead and drive the campaign forward.

How far has the campaign come in these 11 years?

Many people believe that our efforts have solely focused on collecting waste from the river, but that is not the case. In addition to removing approximately 20,000 metric tons of waste, we have also contributed to the revitalization of the Bagmati river corridor by planting over 6,000 trees. Furthermore, parks and walking pavements have been constructed along the riverbank, with various organizations taking the lead on these initiatives. For instance, Sankha Park was built by the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA). We have organized many promotional campaigns to invite people to join the campaign by organizing poem, essay and photo competitions. 

Moreover, the impact of the Bagmati campaign has extended beyond its immediate surroundings. Inspired by our initiative, numerous cleaning campaigns have been initiated across the nation. While we initially spearheaded these efforts, local communities have since taken ownership and continued the work to this day.

It would be unjust to claim sole credit for the success of this campaign. It has been achieved through the tireless efforts of thousands of campaigners, even in my absence. This collective dedication and hard work have been the driving force behind our progress.

The High Powered Committee for the Integrated Development of the Bagmati Civilization (HPCIDBC) receives budget allocations annually, yet significant progress has been lacking. Additionally, there have been accusations of irregular activities. What are your thoughts on this matter?

According to reports, the HPCIDBC has spent approximately Rs 20bn thus far. Initially established with the purpose of improving the sewerage system, it has made some progress in building this infrastructure. However, there have been challenges in effectively collecting sewage within the system, resulting in untreated sewage being directly discharged into the river.

Since the inception of the project, we had raised concerns about the technical feasibility of extending the sewerage system along the two lanes of the entire 27-kilometer stretch of the Bagmati river in Kathmandu valley. Such an undertaking would entail massive infrastructure development and pose difficulties in collecting sewage from across the valley to a single point. Instead, we had suggested that the HPCIDBC focus on constructing sewage collection and treatment facilities at shorter intervals, perhaps every two to three kilometers. However, the committee has allocated significant funds to large-scale projects that appear to lack viability. I continue to emphasize that the primary responsibility of the HPCIDBC should be the improvement of the sewerage system. The government should task it solely with this responsibility, rather than involving it in beautification and other projects. 

It is disheartening to see that the HPCIDBC has transformed the Bagmati river into what resembles more of a canal, primarily due to the construction of walls along both sides of the river. This alteration not only disrupts the natural flow and ecology of the river but also diminishes its aesthetic and recreational value.

Regarding the allegations of irregular activities, while I cannot personally guarantee their veracity, given the rumors surrounding them, it is imperative that the government’s investigative institutions thoroughly examine the matter.

Where do you envision in the next 12 years of Bagmati Cleanup Mega Campaign?

In the coming years, we are poised to expand the mega campaign beyond solely cleaning the Bagmati river; it will evolve into a volunteer-driven initiative dedicated to preserving our heritage as well. Over the next 12 years, we anticipate a growing network of individuals and organizations rallying behind this cause. Alongside, we’ll witness the influx of younger generations, bringing with them fresh ideas and innovative approaches to the campaign.

I extend an earnest invitation to everyone to join this movement because, as the saying goes, ‘If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem’. This campaign is not bound by finite start and end dates; rather, it is a continuous effort with ever-expanding goals.

Furthermore, I urge individuals to adhere to the 5R rule—Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle—as a guiding principle for waste management. By embracing these practices, we can collectively contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable environment for ourselves and future generations.