KATHMANDU, June 20: In a significant decision, the Supreme Court (SC) has mandated the removal of approximately 500 hotels and restaurants that were constructed through encroachments on the boundaries of Fewa Lake in Pokhara. The court has ruled that the area surrounding Fewa Lake should be maintained at a distance of 65 meters, prompting the demolition of all unlawfully built structures. The order has been directed to the federal government, Pokhara metropolis, and all relevant agencies.
The verdict has created a challenging situation for tourism entrepreneurs, whose investments worth billions of rupees now face uncertainty. Advocates Kumar Regmi and Hari Phuyal presided over the bench and responded to a writ filed by Khagendra Subedi against the decision, effectively revoking the order issued by the Pokhara Metropolitan City (PMC) through a writ of certiorari.
Previously, despite the Supreme Court's directive on April 29, 2018, to dismantle all structures erected in 2030 BS during the reign of King Birendra, the order was not enforced. Instead, on March 30, 2022, the Metropolitan Executive Board led by Man Bahadur GC, the former head of Pokhara metropolis, revised the standard distance of Fewa Lake from 65 meters to 30 meters. The number of encroaching entities increased from around 500 in 2018 to an estimated 1,000 presently, following the Supreme Court's initial protection order for Fewa Lake.
In response to the PMC's decision to reduce the standard to 30 meters, Advocate Khagendra Subedi filed a writ in the Supreme Court on July 6, 2022. The bench, comprising Judge Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada and Til Prasad Shrestha, issued an interim order halting the implementation of the metropolis' decision. However, the bench ultimately decided to enforce the 30-meter standard based on the committee's report.
Back in 2065 BS, the Supreme Court issued an order stipulating nine specific actions for the protection of Fewa Lake. These included establishing the char fort of Fewatal within six months, canceling land registrations associated with lake encroachments within a year, and prohibiting any construction within 65 meters of the lake.
The then Fewa Lake Study Committee, led by Bishwa Prakash Lamichhane, conducted a thorough assessment and recommended maintaining the lake's standard at 65 meters. The committee also identified specific heritage sites, including Ratna Mandir, Himagriha, Fish Tail Lodge, Basundhara Park, Komagane Park, and Camping Chowr, that should be preserved within the 65-meter limit. Additionally, the committee's report proposed the demolition of government buildings, such as the tourism board, police facilities, and metropolis hotels.
However, on November 5, 2020, the government, headed by KP Sharma Oli and under the coordination of UML leader Punya Prasad Paudel, established an area mapping committee for Fewa Lake. Based on this committee's report, the Pokhara Metropolitan City (PMC) decided to adopt a 30-meter standard.
According to the PMC's report prepared in 2076 BS, if the 65-meter standard is implemented, it would necessitate the demolition of 493 permanent and temporary hotels and other structures. Currently, approximately 1,200 ropani of land within the 65-meter zone is registered under various individuals. The metropolis's study team estimates the land's value to exceed 10 billion rupees based on property valuation and 40 billion rupees at current market rates.
Advocate Khagendra Subedi filed a writ on July 7, 2011, against Water Front Resort Pvt. Ltd. owner Karna Shakya, as well as the Company Office, Cottage Industry, Pokhara Tourism Office, and the Ministry of Tourism, for permitting the construction of the resort within Fewa Lake. Subsequently, on April 29, 2018, the bench of Judges Sapna Malla Pradhan and Om Prakash Mishra, after hearing the writ, ordered the removal of encroached houses and restaurants. The judges emphasized that the federal, provincial, and local governments have both separate and joint responsibilities to protect the natural resources of Fewa Lake.