Early report card of Mayor Balen Shah

Though waste disposal is the collective responsibility of all valley metros only the Kathmandu Mayor was faulted. How should he conduct himself in the days to come?

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 7 min.

Kathmandu: After the 18-point agreement was signed on June 10 among the agitating locals, people’s representatives and Kathmandu Metropolitan City for the waste management of the Kathmandu Valley at the Banchare Danda Kudule Landfill site in Sisdole, waste trucks have started to collect the garbage piles lying uncollected from the streets of Kathmandu Valley—Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur. 

Wastes were lying uncollected in the streets of the capital city for a long time, even before the local polls of May 13. 

With chairpersons of ward no 1, 2 and 3 of Kakani Rural Municipality of Nuwakot and ward no 1 and 3 of Dhunibensi Municipality of Dhading district agreeing to the deal, there is a hope that it has paved the way for the disposal of garbage from the valley and that we are close to the permanent solution to waste management problem. 

Heaps of garbage in every corner of the valley had made the capital look like a dumping site of a sort, people feared that if left uncollected this could lead to the outbreak of cholera and various life-threatening diseases. 

This was the problem staring at the face of the candidates vying for various positions in the local polls—mayors, deputy mayors and ward chairs. Balen Shah was one of the candidates who came out with a clear commitment to waste management. 

Though the capital city had started to stink back before May 13, there was not much uproar about it because all attention was focused on local polls and results.

Then the local election results came out, and Kathmandu Metropolitan City elected Balen Shah to lead the city for five years. 

The hopes were high that Shah would be able to solve this problem overnight.

He could not, though he made waste disposal the topmost priority of his work.

Relentless efforts 

Balen Shah, however, worked to address the issue from day one. The day after he was declared the Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, he went to Sisdole to talk to and hear the grievances of the locals. 

On May 30, after assuming the office, Mayor Shah summoned the meeting of the municipal executive, which was telecast live, where he made waste disposal a major agenda. 

Balen Shah announced that there would be no celebration of election victory until the wastes are collected.

Meanwhile, the mayor met with all the top leaders of major parties—Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Maoist Center—during which he is reported to have sought their cooperation and support from them to address the problem of garbage disposal.

He also met the Minister of Urban Development and the chief minister of Bagmati province to seek cooperation and support.

Mayor Shah reached Sisdole twice after he was elected, in a bid to solve the problem.

Then on June 6, an agreement was signed between the Ministry of Urban Development and the newly elected representatives, according to which, garbage disposal was to be started right from June 7. But when garbage trucks reached Sisdole, the locals rose in protest.

A scuffle followed between the locals and the police. Some locals were arrested, and a couple of police personnel were injured in the incident.

In the whole saga, only one man was singled out as failing to address the problem–Mayor Balen Shah–though Shah is only one of the actors responsible for the job. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba called the Mayor on Thursday to his office and instructed him to address the garbage disposal problem. The mayor of Lalitpur, nor that of Bhaktapur, was called to the meeting. It was as if only Balen was responsible for the job of waste management in the capital city.

The truth is apart from Kathmandu Metropolitan city, garbage was not collected from a number of municipalities, at least 10 in Kathmandu, at least six in Lalitpur and at least four in Bhaktapur of Kathmandu valley.

Nearly all of these municipalities dump their wastes in Sisdole. As such, the elected representatives of all these municipalities, apart from the municipalities of Nuwakot and Dhading, should have coordinated and worked together for garbage disposal. Their roles or lack thereof should also have been questioned. In both of the documents, that of June 6 and 10, one sees the signature of Balen Shah, not that of the mayors of Lalitpur and Bhaktapur.

The question was raised only about one man: Balen Shah. 

At the frontline of the mission to single him out have been the leaders and cadres of the ruling Nepali Congress and CPN-UML. On a television show, Ram Kumari Jhakri, the minister of Urban Development, pointed out that Congress leaders were obstructing the efforts made by her ministry and Balen Shah to dispose of the wastes. 

The mayor of Kathmandu has been able to act up to some of his promises.  He promised to live telecast the first meeting of the municipal council. He did. He promised to start the operation of an infrastructure ambulance. He has done that too.  

The mayor of Kathmandu has been able to act up to some of his promises.  He promised to live telecast the first meeting of the municipal council. He did. He promised to start the operation of an infrastructure ambulance. He has done that too. His idea of transforming the toilets of hotels and restaurants—with the consent of the latter—into public toilets has met a partial success.  A number of hotels and restaurants have cooperated with him and allowed the public to use their toilets. He promised to start a call center at the KMC to hear the complaints of the people and it has been set up. 

 Reason for resistance

Yet, why has there been what looks like a collective opposition and non-cooperation from the political parties toward the mayor of Kathmandu?

Observers say it’s a deep sense of fear, challenge and insecurity that Balen phenomenon has posed to the politics without delivery which the political parties have practiced for years.

“This is because the political parties were doing the politics without delivery for years. And people like Balen challenged this kind of politics and promised the politics of delivery,” Anjali Subedi, a commentator and freelance journalist told Nepal Live Today. “When someone starts delivering, those who do not deliver naturally feel a threat.  There is no other reason than that.”

According to her, Balen gave a message that the kind of politics that the traditional parties have been doing for the last several decades has taken the country nowhere. And only politics that succeeds and should succeed is the one that actually delivers. 

“Once Balen starts delivering, it will expose the incompetence of the political parties and they will be seen as a worthless bunch of people. This is the fear they have,” she said. 

Sarala Gautam, the author of Dumero, who has been closely following the rise of independent candidates in the local polls, is disappointed with the way the leaders of the political parties are trying to discredit Balen. “The way political leaders tried to behave with him, their gestures, tone and statements are objectionable,” she said. “Come to think of it, the political parties which are not cooperating with Balen were the ones who created the mess, way back in the past before Balen was even born.  They should actually have been thankful to people like Balen that they are emerging and are trying to clean up that mess created by them.”  

She argues that the political parties should have collectively apologized to the new generation of people like Balen for the mess they created.  “Our generation is suffering because of the politics without accountability that they almost institutionalized. Instead, they have been trying to create hurdles. He is having to knock the doors of every political leader and ask them to cooperate.  Citizens are having to raise their voice that Balen should be allowed to work. He is trying to clean up the mess that remained for over 30 years,” said Gautam.

According to her, Balen’s way of doing politics marks a shift from leader-centric politics to people-centric politics. “He has started a new phenomenon that politics should be about addressing the needs of the people rather than satisfying and fulfilling the needs of the leaders as individuals.” 

Gautam believes the political leaders think when Balen succeeds they might lose in the upcoming federal parliament elections. “They are spreading the message that he cannot do anything without the support of the political parties because they feel threatened. They are worried that when Balen succeeds they might lose the federal and provincial elections and more independent and honest youths will rise in politics,” she said. 

Because they have been failing the people and failing to deliver they want to prove that independent candidates also fail. In her view, it’s a continuation of trying to succeed in politics by making others fail. 

“They had not thought Balen would win. And when he did win, they were shocked.”  

One positive thing, she says, about the whole story is that people are watching and they are not going to tolerate any shenanigans on the part of the political parties against Balen. 

What next?

So how should the young mayor tackle the challenges that he may have to confront in the days to come? Both Anjali Subedi and Sarala Gautam have their recommendations. 

“He should continue to work with the current spirit. Balen has been trying to seek support from every stakeholder. He is not blaming anyone.  This is a good sign. He seems to have foreseen the kind of obstacles that could be posed by his opponents,” said Gautam. According to her, he should do everything in a transparent manner.  “He has been working tirelessly. He has been demonstrating leadership qualities.  He should continue with that,” she said. “If he continues with the current spirit, he will continue to receive overwhelming public support.” 

According to her, we the people should also be watchful and perceptive. Now that there are signs of Balen succeeding, some political leaders are trying to give the impression that garbage disposal became possible because they supported Balen. “Let us not be misled. This is the sign of these leaders slowly accepting the leadership of Balen.” 

Anjali Subedi believes that Balen should work carefully and should never deviate from his goal, come what may. He should be coordinating with relevant stakeholders.  “He should be mindful of what the people need and want from the leadership.” According to her, a person cannot know everything. “Thus it would be better for him to form a team of experts of various sectors who would provide him advice in good faith. And he should guard himself against falling into the trap of dirty politics,” she said.

Most of all, says Subedi, he should distance himself from the interest groups and sycophants who might encourage him to take decisions to serve their personal interests. Accordion to her, even the leaders who start well soon lose the momentum and begin to fall into the vicious circle of interest groups and they fail to deliver. “This is something he needs to really be mindful about.”  

The main idea is not to deviate from his goal and the promises. “Most of all, he should not fall for populism,” she concluded.