All eyes are suddenly on a small, hidden river in Kathmandu.
The Tukucha river flows underneath tall buildings in the city’s core areas. It drew national attention on Thursday after KMC’s bulldozer – actually an excavator – entered the courtyard of Jai Nepal cinema hall, moved the earth and ripped apart an ancient brick structure that covered the river for around a century.
Similar structures have been covering the river from public sight.
No more. KMC Deputy Mayor Sunita Dangol said that Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) wants to clear all encroachments, including several tall buildings, and reclaim the river’s banks. There, it plans to develop walking trails where people can ride bicycles too.
The message from Jai Nepal is this: Mayor Balendra Shah’s bulldozer is unlikely to stop any time soon. After targeting buildings encroaching parking spaces and pavements, the bulldozer has started clearing river encroachments.
In all, there are 57 rivers flowing down the valley of around 5 million people. As the urban sprawl expands, most are beginning to face problems of encroachment and pollution.
Tale of Tukucha
But as far as Kathmandu is concerned, municipal officials say, the bulldozer will roll on and on, and throughout Balen Shah's five-year tenure. After Tukucha (see photos of Tukucha then and now, above), the earth-movers will head to other river banks and do the same: clear encroachments.
Back to the Tukucha. By 2027, KMC plans to clear all encroachments, including the hidden and never-seen-before banks of the lifeline of core Kathmandu. The river literally flows through the city’s core areas, all the way from Maharajgunj to Narayanhiti and Jai Nepal cinema hall to Bagbazaar and Tripureshwor.
It’s probably the country’s most heavily encroached urban river. Also called Ikchhumati, the Tukucha empties into the Bagmati at Kalmochanghat west of the Thapathali bridge. That spans Kathmandu and Lalitpur.
The river has its headwaters in Bansbari-Dhumbarahi area north of Maharajgunj. From there, the Tukucha begins its urban journey meandering into the rapidly city, with a dense concrete jungle at the centre.
“The Tukucha encroachment clearing drive has just started,” said Sunil Lamsal, an engineer at the mayor’s secretariat, adding, “In the next few days, we are going to verify the actual route of the river. Then we will start awarding contracts to builders.”
Residents wonder how long will it take to clear all encroachments in the city’s core areas such as Hattisar, Bagbazaar and Tripureshwor, where the river literally remains covered up underneath tall buildings?
“There are four buildings standing on top of the Tukucha, they will need to go first,” Lamsal said, adding: “Then works will begin to reclaim the river’s banks” from all encroachers.
What that means is that owners of hundreds of buildings all the way from Maharajgunj area to Tripureshwor will have to pull down their structures standing right atop or along the banks of the Tukucha.
Lamsal said: “It may take five years to complete the Tukucha river corridor development project.”
But critics fear obstacles from various interest groups who might come in the way of reclaiming Tukucha’s lost banks.
Be that as it may, but KMC’s new leadership, including Mayor Balen Shah, 32, and Deputy Mayor, Sunita Dangol, 29, and Chairpersons of various wards, seem determined to go ahead.
Once the Tukucha banks are cleared, securing up to 10 metres of width all along its six-kilometre stretch in the core city, officials plan to develop walking paths on both sides of the river.
The Tukucha is not the only river suffering from urban encroachment. You can see the sea changes the valley has seen in the before and after image made public by ICIMOD, ablove. As the valley rapidly urbanises, dozens of rivers - in all, 57 of them - flowing down the valley, are beginning to face similar problems. They have one thing in common: all of them flow down into the Bagmati.
Just recently, another authority, the High Powered Committee for Integrated Development of Bagmati Civilisation, commissioned a report on ways to reclaim the encroached banks of the Tukucha. KMC officials say they will be working together with the Committee to revive the glory of the Tukucha.
See a futuristic image of Tukucha banks recently drawn up by the High Powered Committee: