Tukucha river: Hopes resurface in Kathmandu’s water system thanks to the assertive young mayor

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A dozer at the premises of Jai Nepal hall in Nagpokhari area. Photo: Shankhar Giri

On June 7, 2009, Kathmandu metropolitan city issued a notice asking people to remove all structures that were built by encroaching the Ikshumati river (commonly known as Tukucha river). Despite issuing the notice, the city did not mobilise its staff to go to the field and see if people had done what it had asked.

In 2019, the city government wrote to ward number 1 and the Kathmandu Valley Development Authority to search the river that had gone missing. The team of KVDA went out to look, but the local government never followed up on what their findings were.

The Tukucha river’s issue has been raised time and again. But, every time, it subsided–making itself a prime example of how the capital city is passively witnessing haphazard encroachment on its water systems. One of the reasons was the river’s disappearance from Jai Nepal Hall to Kathmandu Mall.

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A dozer digging on the premises of Jai Nepal hall to find Tukucha river in Nagpokhari area. Photo: Shankhar Giri

Between the two points, there are numerous commercial buildings and residences. Since these buildings had to be removed to search for Tukucha, the city or other government bodies just did not have the courage to do anything.

The river flowing underground for some 450 metres is an open secret. But, how it flowed was something no one knew.

After Balen Shah became the mayor, the city government yet again issued a notice asking people to remove structures encroaching the Tukucha river. The notice said that if the owners did not remove it, the city would do it by force.

Many had felt it was a bluff and the owners did not pay much attention. But, when the city government’s team reached Jai Nepal Hall with an excavator for the river, people were left shocked. An,d the official found it too some 15 feet below the surface of the hall.

Where did it go?

The Tukucha river flows from Chundevi behind Nirmal Niwas and flows through the Narayanhiti Palace Museum. But, it disappears after the boundary wall of the museum and appears again to the south of Kathmandu Mall.

No one knows how this happened or who is responsible. The federal government is unaware as the local one is. The land above the river is under the names of different people. They even have certificates proving that the land is theirs.

Kathmandu Valley Development Authority’s former chief Bhai Kaji Tiwari blames the Department of Survey which despite knowing there was a river did not do anything.

“How can there be a river in the origin and end and not be one in the middle? It makes no sense and they need to answer who did it,” says Tiwari, adding the city government should also bear the blame for allowing buildings to be built above the Tukucha river.

The city, however, says that none of the buildings built above the river is legal. An official says the office did a survey of the area in 1976. Yet, the officials did not point out there was a river flowing in the area. Following that, the land could easily be bought and sold.

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A dozer digging on the premises of Jai Nepal hall to find Tukucha river in Nagpokhari area. Photo: Shankhar Giri

“KMC didn’t give people the authority to build it knowing there was a river. Some people build buildings at a distance, but some have built just above it (Tukucha river). These should be demolished,” says the KMC official.

Kathmandu ward 1 chair Bharat Lal Shrestha says the locals do not know when the river was buried but says they are going to find the river.

“I have heard how the river flowed with ease. We will make sure that it once again flows as it did in the past,” says Shrestha.

Ward 3 chair Prem Thapa says the disappeared part is the Tukucha river’s bottleneck.

Because the river has been put underground, this regularly impacts areas in wards 2 and 4. “We have fash floods in ward 2 every year during the monsoon,” says Thapa.

Commitment to revival

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Tukucha river after discovery in the premises of Jai Nepal hall in Nagpokhari area. Photo: Shankhar Giri

Mayor Shah’s secretariat says the Tukucha river will be revived anyhow. It says the part that has been put underground will be put on the ground.

After the Department of Mines and Geology marks the areas where the river has been put underground, the city government with the help of metropolitan police will take excavators and bulldozers and open it up.

The excavation will take place every day for around 12 hours. 

This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.

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Chimariya is an Onlinekhabar journalist primarily covering local governments.

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