After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Manoj Gautam visited the Kapurgaon village to assess how the villagers could be relocated to a safer place. He and his team also treated domestic animals that sustained villagers in the wake of the disaster.

I’ve been bedridden for almost a month with Covid-19 and its lingering effects. Lately, my online engagement has been limited to condolences, obituaries and consoling messages. While I believe I am out of danger now, hearing news about Covid 19 continuing to take lives of people I have known, people I am related to and people I have loved, especially when people thought they were doing better, continues to scare me. I have had amazing support and care from my family during this horrid time, I owe them a massive gratitude and hence obedience to their suggestions to stay away from any activity that can take up my energy, physical or mental. I am indebted to friends and well-wishers who have sent messages to lift my spirit. I have restrained myself on many things, thanks to the extreme fatigue that comes with the Covid-19 infection but also because of the unpredictable nature of the infection that can strike back when you think you are doing much better. Scrolling through news, social media and so on has been my baseline activity lately, and although many things instigate an emotional response from me, I try to let go of them. In this space of heightened awareness, however, I had to muster some energy and voice my opinion....

The National Budget Plan for the new fiscal year is the talk of Nepal. As divided as our nation is today, rants and chants against and in favor of this or that budget allocation occupy an outsized space on social media. At a glance I must commend the budget team for an excellent looking budget plan, pro-people, ambitious, progressive, and unprecedented in its empowerment of people. People have called it populist approach in the eve of election, unachievable, fantastic, full of unrealistic dreams. I say give them the benefit of doubt and then hold the government’s feet to the fire to make sure they stick to the plan and find sustainable ways to manage resources to fulfill this ambitious plan.

To generate revenue to finance this progressive budget plan, the government intends to allow rampant excavation of rocks and minerals from our natural rivers and floodplains.

Unfortunately, to generate revenue to finance the budget plan, the government intends to allow rampant excavation of rocks and minerals from our natural rivers and floodplains. The practice, while it is illegal in most places, yet carried out with impunity, causes irreparable damage to soil integrity causing extreme erosion, compromising our rivers, both biotic and abiotic, jeopardising people's lives by instigating floods and mudslides.

What would giving a governmental green light to such a destructive practice do to what is already one of the most exploited, yet most ignored natural environments - the Chure-Siwalik watershed and associated drainages.

These practices have accelerated erosion and degraded the dynamics of the retention, tabling, and flow of water so critical to wildlife habitats and human livelihoods.

Native dolphins, gharials, otters, turtles, muggers and many other species are already under extreme environmental pressure and are at the brink of a precipitous population decline. The extraction of larger rocks from the riverine areas in the past four decades in Nepal is the primary factor in changing the landscape of Lowland-Midland Hills. Not even the road construction has had a more destructive effect.

Now most of the larger rocks are gone from the rivers and commercial extraction of whatever remains from the riverbed continues unabated. These practices have not only changed the outlook of the area by accelerating erosion, but have significantly impacted the hydrological regimes and the dynamics of the retention, tabling, and flow of water so critical to wildlife habitats and human livelihoods.

Knowing this, if the current national budget plan means that we must allow the watersheds of our nation to be mindlessly exploited to satisfy the insatiable hunger of commercial enterprises of a neighbouring country as big as India, the future looks bleak. This aspect of the new budget plan is clearly evil and we all as Nepalese citizens and as sons and daughters of Mother Earth must fight to stop it.

We need to build a larger movement around this concern. This crisis made me deflect from my previous narrow focus on river dolphins and shift to building a wider movement based on a network of informed and empowered local people who can raise a voice against further exploitation. We need a wider discussion with diverse stakeholders. This must be the next cause taken up by our civil society after we resolve the impact of Covid-19.

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