On 10 January, 24-year-old Dilip Mahato was killed for opposing the ‘Crusher’ industry in Dhanusha that was illegally mining sand from a river. This week, another Dhanusha native, former president Ram Baran Yadav, spoke to Nepali Times about the Chure conservation program he initiated.
Nepali Times: Dilip Mahato was murdered in your home district, and your former constituency. What does his killing tell us?
This is a grave crime. Dilip had been mobilising the villagers and talking about Chure conservation. The people were responding to it positively. Those who were earning millions from illegal mining of the river beds were alarmed. So they murdered him.
Read also: Crushers of Justice, Editorial
Why does the trade in boulders and sand have to lead to murder?
The price of aggregate and sand for construction is sky-high right now. The materials are even exported to India. Money is at the crux of the matter. Everyone wants to become rich quickly by selling natural resources. Businessmen, mafia dons, police, local administration, and elected representatives are all complicit. One river is contracted out for Rs50-70 million. Malpractice increased after the practice of allocating money for Chure development shifted to the local administration.
The crusher industry is also influential in politics: many have parliamentarians on their pay roll, and some owners are even MPs themselves. They do not care what the exploitation of rivers will do to the environment, or what kind of earth we are leaving behind for future generations. Dilip was fighting to protect our future, and he paid for it with his life.
What environmental impact does this river extraction have on the Tarai?
More than half of the Chure’s forests have been destroyed in my lifetime. Rivers and wetlands are drying in the Tarai, and the groundwater table has receded. Water scarcity is increasing in the eastern and central Tarai. In summer, people come to the highways carrying drums on bullock carts to fetch water. Fewer migratory birds winter here now. Human-wildlife conflict is increasing. The Tarai used to be our breadbasket, and we used to export grain till 40 years ago. That is no longer the case.
Read also: Crushing tale of the Chure, Sameen Raut and Dinesh Panthi
While you were President, you established the President Chure Conservation Program, and there is also a Chure Conservation Master Plan. But the present government has not heeded the reports.
The 20-year Chure Conservation Master Plan outlines activities to conserve the Chure. The government has included it in its National Pride Projects, but Parliament has not made any laws pertaining to it. That shows that the government is not serious about it.
All the construction projects in the Chure negatively impact its natural resources, for example the East-West Highway that was built right across the jungles. An east-west railway is being constructed at a distance of 20-30 km from the highway. The proposed mid-hill highway runs parallel to it, and the postal highway is under construction too. Another proposed highway, the Madan Bhandari Road, is being built from Jhapa to Dadeldhura. The impact of these 4-lane highways on the environment was not considered. That shows the government is not serious about the environment.
What do you say about the proposed Nijgad airport?
The government just wants to destroy our last remaining jungles. It wants to chop down the forest to build a new capital in Kailali. Do we need a fourth international airport when international airports are already under construction in Bhairawa and Pokhara? This is just immature. If we don’t listen to conservationists, the Tarai will become a desert in a few decades.
Laws should be made to implement the Chure Master Plan, and an environment-friendly policy drawn up. But this subject is never raised in the federal Parliament. All three levels of the government should be active, and the government should understand that once you tamper with nature, the effects are irreversible.
Read also: Help save the Chure Hills, Tirtha B Shrestha