As Rani Pokhari restoration project nears completion, reconstruction authority are unsure how to replenish the iconic pond

The National Reconstruction Authority has said that nearly 85 percent of the Rani Pokhari restoration work has been completed in the last four years, during which the project witnessed several failed starts, delays and obstructions.

While the authority has claimed that the iconic pond, situated in the heart of Kathmandu, is near completion, it has no clear plan on how to replenish it. Rani Pokhari spreads across 63 ropanis of land, and the officials say it would require 32.1 million litres of water to fill it. The authority plans to maintain five feet two-inches water level in the pond.

“If we get enough black cotton soil, we can finish the upper layer brick lying task within 22 days. Then water can be poured into the pond. But there is no concrete plan to restore water in the pond,” said Raju Man Manandhar, who has been assigned by the authority to look after the reconstruction work of Rani Pokhari. He said the two 240-feet deepwater boring pits had been dug to supply water to the pond, but one of the pits was not generating enough water.

Manandhar said the groundwater gushing out from the boring also may not be suitable for sustaining fish. “Boring water might not be enough to fill up the pond. It may not be suitable for fish as well,” said Manandhar. A report submitted by Tribhuvan University Teachers’ Association to the Ministry of Environment, Science, and Technology in 2012 under the historical and environmental study of Rani Pokhari states that there were seven wells inside Rani Pokhari, which worked as water rechargeable agents.

“I don’t know how they are going to fill the pond. I don’t think they will get enough water from deep boring,” said Bishnu Raj Karki, former chief at the Department of Archaeology, who also led an 11-member expert committee formed to study the reconstruction work of Rani Pokhari in 2018. The reconstruction authority had planned to refill water in the Rani Pokhari through a dedicated pipeline of Melamchi Water Supply Project, but there is a slim possibility of that happening anytime soon.

The reconstruction authority had started the Rani Pokhari restoration project with 40 workers from Bhaktapur under the direct surveillance of the consumers’ committee, the Department of Archaeology, historians, locals and ward chairpersons of wards 27, 28 and 1 of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, but later the authority had used excavators, stating that the humans alone could not clean up the pond.

“The reconstruction work of this ancient pond is finally going on at a good pace, but all the nature-based water recharge systems are blocked. The reconstruction authority used excavators for restoration works, and this has already destroyed the surface structure of Rani Pokhari,” said Alok Siddhi Tuladhari, a heritage conservationist.

The pond, built by King Pratap Malla in 1670 for his wife, was severely damaged in the earthquakes of 2015. It has been wearing a deserted look ever since. President Bidya Devi Bhandari, during her first presidential tenure, had laid the foundation stone for the reconstruction work, on January 16, 2016. But the project suffered many roadblocks and controversies causing delays after delays.

After the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s failure to implement the reconstruction work in January last year, a Cabinet meeting had handed over the responsibility of reconstructing Rani Pokhari and the Balgopaleshwor temple to the National Reconstruction Authority. The authority resumed the reconstruction work last year after the city removed a 10-feet concrete boundary on the southern side of the pond following widespread protests from the locals and heritage conservationists. 

Source: The Kathmandu Post, 5th March, 2020