Mayor Balendra Shah (Balen) of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) positioned himself as a champion of the impoverished during his mayoral campaign for the May 13 local elections last year. ‘Garib ko chameli bolidine kohi chhaina’ (there is no one to speak for the poor!). The remix rap version of this popular song sung by KMC Mayor Shah was widely circulated on social media and in the door to door canvassing. There is no denying that the emotionally-charged song garnered significant support for Shah during the local elections.
However, his actions have since revealed a stark contrast to his rhetoric, leaving the urban poor of Kathmandu feeling disillusioned and let down. By imposing a ban on street vending without providing any alternative means of livelihood, Mayor Shah has effectively displaced thousands of individuals who relied on street vending as their sole source of income, from those selling vegetables and food items in the inner city to sandwich vendors on Durbar Marg. It seems, Mayor Shah is determined to displace the poor from the city of Kathmandu by making it impossible for them to live here. We find it hugely problematic from the point of view of social justice.
However, of late, Shah has disappointed even the elites of the city by banning vehicle parking in the Durbar Marg area. This ill-considered move has stripped the once bustling shopping hub of its vitality and left it with a desolate appearance. Additionally, Shah’s recent actions, including his unauthorized use of bulldozers on the private property of core city residents who once supported his bid to evict the landless squatters from the banks of the Bagmati River in the city, has disappointed the same core city dwellers. The city’s core dwellers, once supportive of Shah, came together last Sunday in a demonstration against Mayor Shah at Maitighar Mandala to voice their opposition.
In the dawning of his tenure, Mayor Shah offered glimmers of hope to the denizens of Kathmandu with his proactive approach to waste management, traffic regulation and his efforts to convince the private sector to let their restrooms for public use. However, his recent actions have elicited criticism even from those who once backed him during the election. It seems the mayor refuses to acknowledge the scourge of multi-dimensional poverty that plagues our society, failing to understand that street vending is often a last resort for those suffering from extreme poverty. Despite pleas to reconsider his actions, Mayor Shah remains aloof, shunning media interaction and expressing his views solely through social media, where he seems impervious to critique.
Similarly, Mayor Shah’s controversial plan to build an underground parking facility in the historic Khula Manch has also drawn criticism, leading to protests by heritage campaigners who have mounted pressure on the mayor to protect and preserve Khula Manch, which has an important place in the country’s political history and the people’s struggle for democracy. The campaigners organized a sit-in on KMC premises recently and wanted to meet the mayor and hand him a memorandum. But the mayor refused to meet them. Mayor Shah must realize that such activities only serve to distance him from the people, including those who supported him and voted for him in the elections.
We don’t doubt Mayor Shah’s intentions right now. We still would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. But we would definitely like to suggest to him that even intentionally-good endeavors fail without proper homework and planning. For example, his intention to restore the Tukucha stream to its natural form. The mayor’s intention perhaps was not wrong but before digging the ground at Jaya Nepal Cinema Hall, he did not consult with the stakeholders concerned including the Department of Archaeology to find out if restoring Tukucha to its original form was viable or even needed today. As a result, the unplanned and haphazard attempt has only created a mess for the passersby and a controversy for the mayor.
Perhaps the only brighter side to this otherwise dark story is that things have not gone beyond repair and are not out of Mayor Shah’s hands yet. Mayor Shah has not completed even the first year of his five-year term. There is still much time for Mayor Shah to do many things he promised the Kathmanduites during his election campaign. He started off well and we want to finish him well. But it seems Mayor Shah has been distracted from those promises after making a good start. So, perhaps it’s time for him to stop, turn around and have an analytical view to his actions so far, before setting future plans.