Now that the local level election for Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) is round the corner, the campaigning has come to an end, with the voters ready to cast their vote on Sunday. One of the reasons this position has enticed so many people from diverse backgrounds is because of the colossal budget running into many billions for KMC. It could also be the passion to resolve the daunting challenges the city faces. Let us hope the reason is for the latter one.
The challenge today is how to make the city a place for respectable citizens. First and foremost the city needs to be made more habitable, particularly the inner core where infrastructure has fallen apart, particularly after the Great Earthquake of 2015. For the past decades Kathmandu has been fighting a losing battle, be it air pollution, water supply, sewerage system, solid waste management, traffic congestion, public transport and endless list of things that needs to be fixed. Although the tasks of fixing the problems in the city appear insurmountable pragmatic strategies and dynamic leadership can bring about meaningful changes like one shown by Kul Man Ghising in ending load shedding.
Forty years ago the city was regarded as a Shangri-la, serene, spectacular, and picturesque. For the tourists it was love at first sight. The rivers and streams were pristine and seniors even recall swimming in Dhobi Khola, Bagmati and Bisnumati. To pay tribute to the glory of the city movies in English like “ Ways to Kathmandu “ made, songs written in English (Katmandu by Bob Seger) , Nepali (Kathmandu Sahar by Danny and Hindi – Chal Chal re Kathmandu). But now it has degenerated to such an extent that the city has gained the reputation of being called “Dustmandu”. It is very disheartening to state that everything in Kathmandu has become chaotic due to mismanagement and callous attitude of the governing bodies. Besides horrible air pollution and acute shortage of water supply in the city there are other severe problems of haphazard traffic, congestion, solid waste disposal, improper housing development, bad governance, inept and non-functional service to the people, contagious corruption, stray dogs, wandering cows, potholes, and overflowing drainage. These issues have persisted for decades and the concerned authorities have not been able to fix them making life in the city miserable. The city is very rich in financial resources. It is just a question having dynamic leadership and managing the resources effectively and efficiently.
With so many problems to be sorted out the challenges for the new mayor are very daunting. Whoever is elected the mayor of the city will need to deal with these issues urgently. If not, it will be like a saying in Nepali – “Mare pachi aushadhi” (Medicine after death). As soon as the mayor assumes office the mayor and the team will need to set priorities in tackling the woes of the city urgently. The first among the list of priorities is curbing air pollution caused by vehicles. A law needs to be passed immediately banning diesel operated vehicles from plying in the city. All diesel vehicles must be converted to the ones run by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as a short term measure.
For this to materialize infrastructure of using CNG like filling stations, workshops for conversion and others need to be put in place. CNG vehicles emit 25 percent less green house gases than diesel ones. Plans must be prepared to revive the electric trolley buses from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur and construct electric buses within the city and beyond to enhance the public transport sector. Cartels on bus routes must be abolished and environment- and user-friendly buses must be allowed to run in the city. These two issues along with traffic snarls in the city must be resolved urgently so that the target of attracting 2 million tourists by 2020 can be realized.
Recently, instruments to monitor the level of air pollution were installed in the city and it is obvious the pollution has reached an unacceptable limit, thanks to the inaction by the relevant regulating agencies, including the Ministry of Environment. The amount of smoke emitted by the vehicles can be detected with naked eyes. Laws do exist to prohibit polluting vehicles on the streets, but they are evaded. The second priority to be addressed immediately is the supply of water in the city. With the completion of Melamchi Water Supply Project in the near future it may be a partial relief to the residents of the city. However, the additional supply of 180 million litres per day is not adequate for the exploding population. Construction of additional water supply projects needs to start urgently to augment the water supply in the city. If not, we will face the same difficulties in water supply.
The prospective mayor needs to be a game changer to enhance the image of the capital to reposition it to bring back the glamour of being a haven for tourists. He will be the one to lead the municipality and the people to make the city a model of governance and management determined to stamp out the evils of the society prevailing in the city. For this to happen there is a need for a visionary who is selfless, dynamic, people oriented, honest, and sincere.
If he is going to be like the former ones, there is not much hope for changes in the city. If the mayor with the above attributes is elected only then the city has a bright future for it to be fit for decent living.
The Himalayan Times, May 13, 2017