Masking the pollution truth

Published On: July 7, 2019 02:30 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli is making himself the subject of public ridicule by making one after another light remark on serious issues directly affecting the public. If he keeps saying just about anything in public, we are afraid, the time will come when his every public utterance will be understood as a lie and this will, in turn, completely erode his public legitimacy. He has already earned derision for promising things that have not been realized: bringing cooking gas to kitchens of every Nepali household, running Nepal’s own ship within a year and so on. The latest comment to become the subject of mockery has been his reference to pollution-free Kathmandu. Recently, the prime minister claimed that in the past people in Kathmandu had to wear masks while walking around the city, for pollution was way too high then, and that a year after he took office, people do not have to wear masks to protect themselves from pollution. People quickly reacted on social media by posting pictures of pollution-ridden Kathmandu and people wearing masks. Speaking at the meeting of Parliamentary Committee on Development and Technology, Nepali Congress lawmaker Rangamati Shahi responded to this statement sarcastically. In a challenging tone, she urged the prime minister to travel by a scooter along the roads in Kathmandu to see how pollution has affected the general public. “I live in Banasthali. I travel by a scooter. If he [PM] travels by a scooter, he will know whether it is necessary to wear masks while travelling in Kathmandu”, said Shahi at the House committee meeting. 

Prime Minister made another ridiculous remark on Friday to defend his earlier statement. He accused the people of wearing masks to portray the government in a bad light. Here again he has become the subject of harsh criticisms. People on social media have been challenging the prime minister to walk around Chabahil and other busy roads of Kathmandu without wearing a mask.  One social media user wrote on Twitter wall: “Prime Minister, dare to stand at Chabahil intersection for an hour without wearing a mask. The person with health condition like yours might not be able to return home alive.” There is no doubt that the prime minister is lying about pollution in Kathmandu Valley. True, until a year or two ago, Kathmandu was much more polluted than now. Road digging for laying the water pipes of Melamchi Project was going on rather randomly and almost everywhere. This had become the major source of dust pollution in Kathmandu. Likewise, road expansion drive along ring road and in Kalanki had added to the woes. Kathmandu was choking. With near completion of pipe laying and major road expansion works coming to an end, Kathmandu is less polluted than in the past but Kathmandu has not become as pollution-free as the prime minister claims.

Dusts choke the people even today and they are still forced to wear masks. So when the prime minister said nobody has to walk by wearing mask, it sounded like a cruel joke on people suffocating with pollution, which is why they reacted with rage. We have been urging the head of the government not to make insensible remarks and to carefully choose the words whenever he has to make a public statement, for a really serious reason. When the prime minister becomes the subject of jokes and public ridicule, people stop taking him seriously. The consequences of this will be much more serious than prime minister may be thinking, if at all. 

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