Impossible is nothingContrary to general impression, public policies in Nepal can be surprisingly effective
As children in the playground, we would now and then grandly state with an exaggerated display of braggadocio: ‘Impossible is not a word found in my dictionary.’ Having heard it repeated by countless others before us, we would proudly proclaim that the statement came from Napoleon. The childish bragging and attribution were more or less correct even if what the French conqueror actually said was: ‘Impossible is a word only to be found in the dictionary of fools.’
As we matured into adulthood, it became clear that real life can rarely stand up to such a test. It seems though that not everyone has given up on Napoleon’s maxim. I am referring to the individual or group of individuals who thought they could impose a ‘no-horn’ rule in Kathmandu.
Among the many things that assaulted one’s senses in the crowded streets of the Capital, the automobile horn certainly stood out. There were those whose hands would veer towards the honk position every time they got behind the wheels or the handlebars; others who believed honking could somehow clear the road for them; and, of course, the most abominable were those who tooted equally at an elderly woman taking her time to cross the road or a pushcart struggling up a slope or children using the zebra crossing—in fact, at anything, just because they had a horn.
In a country where traffic rules are more often substituted by a free-for-all on the streets, to even imagine that the threat of a smallish fine could deter the horn-happy to change their ways would have seemed foolhardy. Coming soon after the sudden announcement that prohibited littering in and from public transport, there was enough reason to feel sceptical about how well this initiative would turn out. Yet, the effort has succeeded and kudos to whoever was behind it.
We can only hope that there will not be a relapse and that sound-free traffic will gradually become the norm and spread to other parts of Nepal as well. Talk of Nepali exceptionalism for it will certainly be something to set us apart from most other Third World countries that continue to suffer the cacophony that was the lot of Kathmandu till recently.
The anti-jaywalking campaign is going to be far more difficult and will require far more effort and time. But, as we have found out, nothing is impossible.
Extending it further
The main lesson to take away from this new rule and the earlier one against drinking and driving is that, unlike the general impression, Nepalis can be cajoled or coerced into respecting the law.
Fortuitously, this experiment also comes at a time when local governments have been set up and it should give heart to the Valley’s newly elected municipal fathers and mothers to undertake measures to better the quality of urban life.
For instance, the warnings issued every now and then against dumping waste in public spaces can perhaps now be strictly enforced, on pain of a fine. The long-awaited waste management-cum-energy generation plan might finally come to fruition as well. The law against littering can also be gradually enforced although it will require preparations such as putting up waste bins all over the cities. And, maybe we will finally receive some succour from the scourge of the Valley’s fine dust that finds its way through the tiniest of
And, why stop at the street noise pollution? The police have ensured that loud music ends at 9 in the night in restaurants and party halls. But it should be part of city council rules as well, and should extend to all kinds of noise that is disturbing to others. In particular, the monotonous drone emanating from loudspeakers at pujas that extend into days, and sometimes weeks, is something that requires regulation as well.
Being bombarded with religion during all the waking, and working, hours is bad as it is, but for some reason, it is the ignorant wont of the religiously inclined to believe that their devotion is shared equally enthusiastically by everyone in the neighbourhood. Hence, everyone is subject to religious chants and devotional song from the early hours on. Just like the 9pm curfew on music, there should also be something similar for the mornings. It would be good for the devout in the spiritual sense as well, since I cannot help imagine that the intensity of curses they receive from those roused unceremoniously from slumber in the wee hours cancels out the blessings they hope to elicit from the almighty.
Reading the reflections of some of the candidates in the recent elections, it is apparent that the main aspirations of voters concern mundane matters such as cleanliness, public transport, water supply, etc. Larger development processes can take their time, but since action on some of these matters can lead to instant results, the bosses at the city halls would do well to focus their attention on such areas immediately. It will be a sure sign that responsible governance has returned at the local level, and will also prove an easy way to earn the gratitude of a populace that voted them to power. And, I sure wish at least some of them have read Napoleon’s words.