Making Kathmandu great again
Balendra Shah, popularly known as ‘Balen’, is a rapper and structural engineer who was elected Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City. The 32-year-old secured 61,767 votes to defeat candidates from established parties like the Nepali Congress and UML.
Ashok Ghimire and Sharmila Pathak of RSS news agency interviewed him. Excerpts:
You have been elected mayor of Kathmandu. Now what?
Education and health are my first priority. Ninety-two community schools in the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) will be upgraded with special attention to infrastructure like a playground for the students, sanitation and a clean environment. We will bring in experts from abroad to train teachers on the use of technology and interaction with children.
We will revise the curriculum for Grades 1-8 to include the history, culture, heritage, ayurveda and yoga practice. The previous curriculum did not cover much of this. We need to improve the quality of instruction. Students cannot learn much by just video chatting, they will understand the subjects better through 3D visualisations.
Education has become a burden for students, we need to create an environment where learning is fun. They can participate in extracurricular activities like robotics, dancing or music. These skills will also generate income.
But there is a digital divide.
Schools are responsible for providing students with devices and the internet. Maybe we can start at Grade 10 since the students are at an age where they can understand and navigate technology.
If a student doesn't understand or know something or can’t pass the exam, the onus should lie on the teachers and not the students. The school system, culture and quality of teachers need to be improved. Students are punished if they fail which lowers their morale. It is wrong to pile the blame on the students and parents when the children spend most part of the day at school.
How will the level of education improve in the next five years?
First of all we need to change the mindset of people. A parent looks at whether or not a school has an elevator but that has nothing to do with the quality of education.
A lot can be done to improve sanitation, gardens and making them more disabled-friendly. Sanitary pads can be provided for free. The design of classrooms can be upgraded. We will allocate the necessary budget for this and also carry out monitoring.
How will you improve health care?
We will equip clinics in all 32 wards complete with trained human resources and laboratories. We will arrange for at least one free check-up every six months, which will ensure early detection of many diseases and screening for uterine and breast cancer.
We will build parks where people can engage in physical exercises. I also plan to improve facilities in government hospitals. To discourage specialist doctors from going abroad, we need to work on how to best utilise their expertise at home. We can also operate telemedicine services to augment their income.
A part of the house and rent tax can go towards paying medical insurance. This will encourage people to pay their taxes as well.
What about drinking water supply?
We have to increase ground water recharge with rain harvesting. Each household that drills for water will be required to also recharge. Government offices will have to collect rainwater in small ponds in vacant areas to recharge groundwater.
In addition to Melamchi we will use other sources of water including by preserving stone sprouts to meet Kathmandu's demand of 430 million litres per day.
Is there a long-term solution to waste management?
At present we rely heavily on the dumping site in Sisdole. The new dumping site in Bancharedanda comes with an incinerator cell. We will complete the construction as soon as possible. By incinerating waste material, the amount of garbage can be reduced to 1%.
Segregating the waste at source will also help. The organic waste can be made into fertiliser, and be sold to farmers. We will lease arable land in neighbouring districts around the Valley to create farming jobs. KMC will pay them a monthly salary so they will not incur losses in case of crop failure or low market price. The youth will get jobs and Kathmandu residents can enjoy organic vegetables.
What are your plans to manage traffic?
There have been experiments with running public transportation till 10PM. We are planning to change office timings such that some will operate from 12 to 7PM, others from 2 to 9PM. In the first phase, we will install 10,000 CCTV cameras for night security, and provide security training to the city police.
We are also planning to install CCTV and GPS systems in every bus which will help track the whereabouts of buses for commuters. These things can be done immediately.
How will you make public transport safe and reliable?
Buses operated by the metropolitan city and private sector should have the same capacity and be under the same umbrella organisation. No matter whose investment it is, the passengers will be able to use a common card for all the routes and buses, and recharge it when needed.
The main reason for traffic jams in Kathmandu is that buses wait for passengers at the side of the road. If they can be streamlined, there won't be competition and traffic congestion will be less.
There are complaints that the roads are not bicycle friendly.
You cannot designate a bicycle lane by just painting the pavement green. There has to be a separate lane outside of the main lane and a garden in the middle. But as the roads in Kathmandu are narrow, it is not possible to make separate bicycle lanes. Trams, trolleybuses and monorails are not feasible in Kathmandu. Separate cycle lanes can be created when constructing an outer ring road.
How will you get various agencies to coordinate?
The road department builds roads. Roads have definite 'density', 'temperature' and 'compact'. It is monitored by KMC. Since I am an engineer I know that if it does not meet the standards, it can be redone. But who is monitoring the quality of the materials used? The report submitted by the contractor is easily accepted, but now we will test the quality of materials in a laboratory at the KMC office.
We make monitoring effective. We will also arrange an 'infrastructure ambulance' to immediately repair potholes.
How will you make Kathmandu greener?
Trees will be required to be planted in every house, empty land and sidewalk. Every house needs to have at least one tree, KMC will provide fruit bearing plants to the citizens in return for paying taxes. There are about 45 open spaces in Kathmandu which can be made greener. We are also planning vertical gardens, and we will urge government offices to create ponds and plant trees.
How will you promote the art and culture of Kathmandu?
We will spare no energy or expense in promoting the art and culture of Kathmandu. We will work with Bhaktapur Municipality and open a training centre to produce skilled manpower in woodwork and metal-craft.
I myself have been studying the Lichhavi and Malla history of Nepal and am a strong proponent of linking culture with tourism. We are considering increasing the budget of tourism, arts, culture and heritage conservation sectors. This will have a positive effect on the economy.
As an independent candidate, how will you coordinate with local leaders who are from mainstream parties?
Leaders, cadres and people of all parties voted for me. A person from a political party who was elected ward chair also voted for me. Top leaders from various parties have called and expressed their commitment to help. So I believe we can all work together and that they will support me. Moreover, we will be broadcasting the executive meetings live. Who wouldn't want to work for the people?
People of Kathmandu have voted for me and Nepalis from all over have shown their faith in me, I will not disappoint them. I alone cannot make a difference so we will move forward by collaborating with the 18 municipalities of Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu can be a model for other cities around the country.