CPN-UML candidate Bidya Sundar Shakya was elected mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) on Sunday, defeating his nearest rival Raju Raj Joshi of Nepali Congress. With Shakya all set to assume the top post in the country"s largest city, Republica"s Gyan P. Neupane talked with him about his vision and his plans to make the capital “a beautiful, safe, prosperous and lively city” as promised in the election manifesto. Excerpts:
What are your priority tasks immediately after taking the oath of office and secrecy as mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City?
There are lots of works to be done in Kathmandu. We envisioned developing Kathmandu into a beautiful, safe, prosperous and lively city in our election manifesto. These will be our priorities in the coming days. Also, Kathmandu has been facing various problems like pollution, waste management, slow pace of post-quake reconstruction, and traffic congestion. I will try to translate my plans into action right from my first day in office.
What kind of city do you want Kathmandu to be?
Kathmandu is known as a cultural city of Nepal. Its precious culture and history have made this city known the world over. This heritage should be preserved. Kathmandu should remain a heritage city well into the future.
Do you plan to hand over responsibility for reconstruction of damaged heritage properties to the community?
Recently, reconstruction work on Kasthamandap temple was handed over to the local community. I think the government should involve the locals in heritage rebuilding in other areas too. I will put emphasis on community involvement in heritage reconstruction. Handing over the reconstruction of heritage property to just any private contractor may not be wise. Community involvement in heritage reconstruction would not only help preserve originality but also ensure sustainability.
I will correct some policies and promote community participation in heritage rebuilding. Each community in Kathmandu has a number of artisans who are expert in ancient arts and designs. They can help restore our monuments to their original glory.
Do you have plans for tackling the pollution that has been choking Kathmanduities for years?
Heavy vehicular traffic is one of the main reasons behind the pollution in Kathmandu. This calls for a comprehensive plan. KMC is capable of tackling the dust pollution. Proper use should be made of existing resources. Changing the working style of KMC staffers would be enough to make the city clean. We will use machines for cleaning the roads and tap existing manpower and resources.
Right from my first day in office, I will start to work on the dust pollution, and launch effective initiatives within a month. People will see the visible impact of my work within a month, although I do not now know how long it will take to completely solve the problem. However, we will need to first remove the legal hurdles. Although the constitution has granted a number of powers to the metropolitan cities, there is no Metropolitan City Act in place as yet. We will be able to work as we would like to only after there is a Metropolitan City Act.
Will you give continuity to the Bagmati River cleanup campaign?
KMC has spent a huge amount of money on Bagmati River cleanup. The public has also supported the campaign. But it has been largely limited to removing plastic bags from the river banks. Sewage is still being discharged directly into the river. The river should be made sewage free. So, we will introduce alternative plans so that sewage does not end up in the river. I dream of a sewage-free Bagmati .
What plans do you have to tackle traffic jams?
Traffic jams are one of the major problems. It is the main reason behind air and sound pollution. Road expansion alone is not enough. The government has expanded dozens of roads in Kathmandu. But vehicle parking on roadsides continues. As the problem continues, it is clear that road expansion is not enough to prevent traffic jams. That is why we have to introduce other means of transport such as mono rail and metro rail.
A large number of business malls have been built in Kathmandu. But none of the developers seem to be interested in building parking malls to minimize traffic congestion. Parking malls can be promoted as another lucrative area of investment. I will focus on making some legal provisions for this sector. Parking malls can also reduce traffic jams.
Do you have any plans to promote public transport?
The CPN-UML, to which I belong, envisions developing mono-rail and metro rail. These are suitable for Kathmandu and can be developed on the ring road as well. We will implement this plan if we do not face any obstructions. Also, we have a plan to use delux city buses for public transport. I hope this will attract the public and they will start choosing public transport over private vehicles.
Squatters are a common problem in most cities around the world. Kathmandu is no exception. Do you have any plans to resolve this problem?
Squatter management cannot be handled by KMC alone. In fact, it is beyond the capacity of KMC. It is a national issue. Keeping this in mind, the government has formed a separate commission to address this problem. I believe we can work with the commission.
Kathmandu lacks open spaces. This was felt during the earthquakes in 2015. Do you have any plans to alleviate this problem?
We have plans to save the public spaces. Not only KMC but other municipalities inside Kathmandu Valley should also work towards saving the open spaces. They can be used during natural disasters. The growing population in Kathmandu is the reason behind the present situation. The government bodies concerned should launch effective programs to stop migration into the Valley by developing services and facilities in other areas of the country.
Absence of people's representatives for almost two decades has badly hampered service delivery at KMC offices. There are complaints that people are not able to get any services in time. How do you plan to address this?
I know this problem very well. All that has happened because KMC staffers are not accountable to the people. No one can punish the permanent staff other than transfer them from one department to another.
I believe the problem will be automatically solved now that the people have their elected representatives in the local bodies. As we are accountable to them, we have to work in their interest. If we fail to address the concerns of our voters, we may face defeat in the next election. So, it is important for us to serve the people properly. I will coordinate with all the ward chairpersons and members to make the KMC offices pro-people service stations.