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Pokhara city’s efforts to save Phewa lake from encroachment are futile. Here’s how

File: Phewa lake, Pokhara

Last Saturday, Pokhara metropolitan city’s excavator ran over the wall built by local restaurant operators in Khapaudi. The business owners trying to build some new structures adjacent to the popular Phewa lake were not informed of the action in advance.

The city government’s team that arrived with a security squad returned after demolishing the wall).

Mayor Man Bahadur GC says, “Despite repeated warnings, the construction did not stop. That is why we destroyed the structure. We will not allow any structure to be constructed there now.”

Interestingly, neither this incident nor the mayor’s statement is new.

Repetition without result

An excavator destroys illegally-built structure adjacent to Phewa lake, Pokhara, in December 2020.

On January 4, 2017, people’s representatives, administrators, and security personnel had gone to Khapaudi with another excavator. Then also, they had demolished the temporary structures under construction at Gairako Chautara on the bank of Phewa lake. The construction materials were confiscated by the government.

At that time, it had just been around a year since the election of the new city officials. Mayor GC had said then, “Don’t even think about constructing the structure by encroaching on the lake and earning out of it. It doesn’t work like yesterday, people’s representatives have come to the metropolis and now no one’s illegal business will be running.”

Further, he had announced that “Decisions on how the structures were made earlier may not be considered. But, from now onwards, no illegal structure will be formed in the future.” This incident and the statement brought him into instant fame.

However, by now, more than 10 restaurants are operating on the banks of Phewa, illegally, according to locals.

For example, a restaurant named the Palm Beach and Lounge is in operation now in the same place where Mayor GC had demolished the structure three years ago. This restaurant with a big bird’s nest-like chair has become a centre of attraction in the area.

The team that went along the same road this time, however, did not see this lounge and construction works happening there. It only saw a foundation of a structure a few metres away from there.

Soon after the metropolitan team returned from the site, the construction works resumed. The restaurant operators there say if the government is demolishing the structure, all other illegal structures will also have to be demolished.  

Khapaudi’s attraction

Structures built on the shore of Phewa lake, in Pokhara, as of December 2020.

Hotels, restaurants, and bars in the lakeside had been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. Even though the lockdown has ended by now, the businesses there have not caught up with the pace that they had earlier. However, in the eastern part of the lakeside, including in Sedi, Khapaudi, and Pame,  flocks of people had started to gather even during the lockdown when all the businesses were shut down.

After the lockdown was over, the people who were stuck at home for months began coming out to enjoy and rejoice. This trend skyrocketed during the festive season. The restaurants around Khapaudi began to fill up. When people from different parts of Pokhara and Nepal, having their own means, started going out, the restaurants in the area became very busy.

Around 1,500 people came to Palm Beach and Lounge on the same day to take photos in the bird’s nest. Built by encroaching on the lake area, the Alfanzu Resort attracted hundreds of visitors.

The area around the road from Lakeside to Pame has become people’s choice only recently. Businesspersons in the lakeside were also surprised when people started flocking to Khapaudi and Pame.

Along with the popularity and the influx of visitors, many new structures are being constructed in the Khapaudi-Pame area by encroaching on the lake. The restaurants have also become more expensive and the activity of leasing the land has been skyrocketed.

Resistance

A view of Phewa lake. The lake is being encroached by local businesses gradually.

These acts have been criticised. Lakeside businesspersons also repeatedly drew the city government’s attention towards such illegal acts.

A few days ago as well, at the convention of Pokhara Tourism Council, lawmaker Rajiv Pahari had said that illegally constructed structures in the area were becoming a challenge for the future.

The Supreme Court had ordered the government to protect the lake on  April 29, 2018. Two and a half years after the court ordered to demarcate the Phewa lake and maintain the standards, the government has formed a demarcation committee under the coordination of Punya Poudel.

According to a study done by the local government itself, more than 500 structures have been built by encroaching on the lake area and more than 1,000 ropanis of the land of Phewa lake will have to be maintained.

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Amrit Subedi is a Pokhara-based correspondent for Onlinekhabar.

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