Harkaraj Sampang Rai: ‘My first priority as a mayor is to solve the drinking water crisis in Dharan’The newly appointed mayor won the mayoral seat in Dharan as an independent candidate. Sampang Rai has created a major upset this election by defeating party candidates. He secured 20,821 votes to defeat Kishor Rai of Nepal Congress who got 16,059 votes.
The newly appointed mayor won the mayoral seat in Dharan as an independent candidate. The 39-year-old social campaigner, who has been pressuring the local government for the past decade in Dharan to resolve chronic drinking water problems, poor road conditions, illegal extraction of riverbed materials in Sardu-Seuti rivers and management of the chaotic BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, among other problems, says he will work multilaterally with all parties for the betterment of Dharan. Sampang Rai has created a major upset in this election by defeating party candidates. He secured 20,821 votes to defeat Kishor Rai of Nepal Congress who garnered 16,059 votes.
Sampang Rai, a resident of Buddhachowk in Dharan-18, talks to the Post’s Pradeep Menyangbo after his election victory.
How do you feel about defeating party candidates and being elected as the mayor of Dharan?
The candidates of the Congress and the UML have not lost the election. I have won the election as their voters voted for me this time. So, in a sense, we all have won the election together. This is the victory of a non-partisan movement so it’s the victory of all. I feel that it is a victory for an independent and common candidate.
An independent candidate has been elected mayor. The Congress and the UML have a majority in other elected positions. Will they let you work?
How won’t they let me work? Who won’t? A person cannot work alone. For instance, even in a family, everyone works together as a unit. One member does not make a family.
I will work in coordination and cooperation with the other elected representatives. It is not possible to run such a big sub-metropolis alone. I will not be working unilaterally, I will include all the political parties in all decisions.
We might have talked against one another during the election campaign but I need their support in the future. Political parties, various organisations and civil society should work together to build a better future for Dharan. I’m confident that the representatives of all political parties won’t trash my proposals just because I’m an independent candidate. We have to take them into confidence for good governance and mainstream development. I am capable of doing so. I believe in people’s choices. They wouldn’t have voted for me if they had doubts about me. People talk about the budget but forget that the budget comes from tax money and not from the pockets of the political party leaders.
What is your first priority as the mayor of Dharan?
My first priority as a mayor is to solve the drinking water crisis in Dharan. There is leakage on a massive scale and a lack of proper maintenance in the existing drinking water supply lines. There are both organic and artificial water problems in Dharan. I will be in the field until the drinking water problem is resolved. It is my work priority. I will also be working for the betterment of the health sector—BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences needs reforms. And then there are issues of education that need to be tackled.
You are rebellious by nature. You used rebellious language in the past while voicing the problems of Dharan. Will you be as rebellious when you sit on the mayoral chair?
My role has changed now. I will not be shouting to be heard anymore. I will get the job done with a smile on my face.
Most people (leaders) give in to corruption after they reach power positions? What will you do?
I won’t be corrupt. Such a huge number of people backed me to emerge as mayor victoriously. It would be sinful to betray their trust. I struggled without political backing but in the people of Dharan I have found unrelenting support. I will not let them down.
You struggled to end irregularities in the sub-metropolis and BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences. How will you resolve such irregularities now?
I am aware of the irregularities in the sub-metropolis and at BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences. I raised my voice as a campaigner earlier and I will continue to raise my voice against irregularities but my approach will change now that I am the mayor.
What will you do if the federal and provincial governments do not allocate budget to the local level since it has an independent mayor?
What is the use of federal structure if the federal and provincial governments do not support democratically elected people’s representatives in the local body? I won the elections with a majority vote. The federal and provincial governments will certainly support me. We have to get rid of the old mindset that the government does not support independent candidates. All the elected representatives come from various political backgrounds and I will take them into confidence and work together with them to bring reforms.
What do the people expect from you?
The people of Dharan do not have many expectations. They have simple wants and needs–they want the local government to listen to their problems and resolve them. I will do that.
The candidates of the political parties are known to promote cronyism by appointing their activists and relatives after their election victories. What is your take on that practice?
I don’t have activists. I will first have to see the workload in the offices to determine the workforce I will need to hire. What is the use of having a huge workforce if there is no workload? It is meaningless to appoint four supervisors in a team with a single worker. Also, we will not hire people just because they voted for me. There will be free competition to join the workforce and the one who is most qualified and suitable for a position will get the job.
What will you do about the illegal river mining in Sardu?
I will stop it. But I heard that a contract agreement has already been signed so I will have to look into it.
How does the sub-metropolis plan to collect revenue if you stop illegal river mining?
First I will have to have a deeper understanding of how these things work. But I don’t believe that we have to sell our country to generate revenue. It is like a person selling his/her kidney to manage food. Sardu and Seuti rivers should not be sold to increase the revenue of Dharan Sub-Metropolitan City. It is detrimental to the environment and also ruins the beauty of Dharan. We will find other sources to generate revenue.
You have become a mayor from a campaigner. Will you receive perks and allowances?
I will use my own motorcycle while moving around Dharan. But I will use a vehicle when I have to travel outside Dharan since it would tarnish the image of Dharan if the mayor is seen riding around on motorcycles. I will have to inquire about the salary and facilities provided to a mayor. I won’t say I will not receive them just yet.