Friday, 31 May, 2024

Completing Lumbini Master Plan

Uttam Maharjan


It has been over 40 years since the Lumbini Master Plan was implemented in 1978 AD. Lumbini is the birthplace of Lord Buddha. It carries archaeological and historical significance. Now, it is also a tourist destination. The then UN Secretary-General U Thant visited Lumbini in 1967 AD. He was so highly influenced by the birthplace of Lord Buddha that he conceived of developing it as a major Buddhist destination. He then talked to King Mahendra and held discussions with the government of Nepal on developing Lumbini as an international pilgrimage and a major Buddhist destination. The government was very positive and decided to go ahead with the proposal made by the UN Secretary-General.
In the same year, an international committee of thirteen countries was constituted under the initiative of the UN Secretary-General to study and work towards developing Lumbini as a Buddhist centre. Accordingly, renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange prepared the Lumbini Master Plan in 1978 AD. The master plan was approved by the government and the United Nations in the same year. With the master plan ready, the Lumbini Development Trust was established in 1985 AD in accordance with the Lumbini Development Trust Act, 2042 BS (1985 AD) to implement the master plan.

Religious centre
The master plan includes, among others, exploring, excavating and conserving archaeological sites in Kapilvastu, Rupandehi and Nawalparasi (now Nawalparasi East and West). The basic thrust of the master plan is to systematically develop Lumbini as a religious centre and attract people of faith from all over the world. As per the master plan, the Lumbini area has been divided into three segments: the Sacred Garden, the Monastic Zone and the Cultural Centre and New Lumbini Village, each segment occupying one square mile in area each.
The initial target of the master plan was to complete all the works on Lumbini by 1995 AD. Now over twenty-five years have elapsed since the first deadline was missed. Owing to the snail-paced progress in the construction works of Lumbini, the Lumbini Development Trust has frequently drawn brickbats. In fact, most of the development projects face delays in completion in Nepal. The Melamchi project took over two decades to get completed.
The Lumbini Development Trust is headed by the Minister of Tourism. Only deputy chairs are appointed to the trust. There is frequent change of the guard in governments. With the change of the guard, both chairs and deputy chairs may change. This has hampered the smooth execution of the master plan. Lack of a sufficient budget and resources, government apathy and inaction on the part of national and international committees are, among others, attributed to a delay in the execution of the master plan.
However, a flicker of hope has emerged on the horizon. As per the Lumbini Development Trust, only fifteen or seventeen per cent of the works on Lumbini remain to be completed. The trust is planning to complete the project within two years. For this, Rs. seven billion is required. The government has allocated Rs. 1.5 billion for the master plan as well as for the Greater Lumbini Development Master Plan. The detailed project report for the latter is being prepared and is expected to be completed within one year.
The Greater Lumbini Development Master Plan covers Rupandehi, Kapilvastu, Nawalparasi East and Nawalparasi West. These districts lie within the periphery of the world heritage site. The master plan is aimed at including in the greater Lumbini region other sites relevant to Lord Buddha. The region contains hundreds of archaeological sites, some of which are directly related to the life of Lord Buddha. Under the supervision of the Lumbini Development Trust, a consultancy agency has been surveying the above peripheral districts after the formation of the Greater Lumbini Area Development Planning Committee.
The fame of Lumbini as the birthplace of Lord Buddha has now spread across the world. In the past, the Indian government used to claim that Buddha was born in India. This fallacy has now been torn to shreds. Now, people from across the world have come to know that Buddha was born in Nepal. Lumbini is among the world heritage sites in Nepal. It was listed on the World Heritage List in 1997 AD. Being acclaimed as a heritage site makes it imperative to develop Lumbini as a religious hub. So it has been more than necessary to complete the master plan as soon as possible. The development of Lumbini will have collateral benefits as well; the surrounding areas can also develop and attract tourists. A description of some surrounding areas is given here.

Surrounding areas
There are many surrounding areas associated with Lord Buddha. These areas include, among others, Dohani, Niglihawa, Sagarhawa, Chhatradev, Ramgram, Devadaha and Tilottama. Tilaurakot houses the remains of Kapilvastu and is designated a UNESCO tentative site. The famous Ramgram Stupa houses the relics of Lord Buddha. At the Ramgram Stupa, the remains of an ancient pond and a Buddhist vihara were found in 2018 AD. Devadaha, the capital of the ancient Koliya Kingdom, is the maternal home of Queen Mayadevi.
It follows that the completion of the Lumbini Master Plan will develop not only Lumbini but also its surrounding areas. There has been an inordinate delay in completing the master plan, though. Such a delay leads to cost overruns and may also tarnish the image of Nepal in the international arena. Lumbini is now one of the cynosures of religious centres around the world. After all, procrastination is the thief of time.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000)