Once he protested wide old roads on film. Now he’s the one widening them.Nilkaji Shakya, now chairman of Kathmandu’s Ward 25, is facing the same kind of problems he presented 25 years ago as an actor in the MaHa teleserial ‘Kantipur’.
In the teleserial ‘Kantipur’, starring Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya, Nilkaji Shakya played a despicable character.
Nilkaji in the film, which was broadcast 25 years ago on Nepal Television, would oppose any and all development works in his neighbourhood, obstructing plans to widen the neighbourhood roads and stealing public works. One day, a fire breaks out in his home but fire trucks are unable to reach the blaze because the roads are too narrow. Shakya’s character watches as his home burns down, finally regretting his actions.
Twenty-five years later, Shakya is on the other end of the stick. As elected chairman of Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s Ward 25, the 62-year-old, a veteran of the Nepali film industry, is now pushing to widen roads in his neighbourhood while the locals protest.
“There has been no change in the mindset of the people here in 25 years,” Shakya told the Post.
In the two years since he was elected, Shakya has faced numerous obstacles and hindrances from locals when it comes to infrastructure development in the ward. Local level development in Kathmandu works along a 60-40 model, where the local government provides 60 percent of the budget and 40 percent is raised through locals. But locals do not even want to contribute 30 percent to development works, said Shakya.
“This 60-40 concept was developed so that locals can take ownership over the development works happening in their neighbourhood,” said Shakya.
In the years since Kantipur aired, not much has changed in Ward 25, whose boundaries encompass Ason, the heart of old Kathmandu. The roads remain as narrow as when they were built-three feet across, barely enough for a car to pass through. Rickety old houses remain, only now they’ve grown taller and narrower.
“We do not have any safety measures when it comes to disasters like earthquakes and fires,” said Shakya. “There are no large open spaces in the entire ward.”
The 62-year-old, a veteran of the Nepali film industry, is now pushing to widen roads in his neighbourhood while the locals protest. Post Photo: Elite Joshi
Even the numerous bahals and chowks that once provided a semblance of open spaces in densely populated Ason have been encroached upon by locals, said Shakya.
His office has been struggling to bring these open spaces under public ownership, holding several meetings with locals on the importance of wider roads and open spaces. So far, his ward has managed to reclaim a number of these bahals and is working on keeping them open and public, said Shakya.
Locals are divided over their new ward chairman. While some appreciate the initiative that Shakya has shown, others are more wary. “I’ve seen his films and I’m fond of his acting,” said Sanjaya Man Tamrakar, a 55-year-old local from Mahaboudha. “But I am not so fond of his role as elected chairman of this ward.”
Tamrakar said that for all of Shakya’s initiatives, minor nuisances remain unresolved. A stone slab covering a sewer was once stolen from outside Tamrakar’s home, but when he asked Shakya to replace it, he was told to purchase one on his own, he said.
“Why am I paying taxes to the metropolis if I have to buy my own sewer slab?” said Tamrakar.
Locals like Tamrakar agree that the ward has numerous problems—waste management, lack of drinking water, sewage management, intermittent electricity, dangling cables and wires, and risk of disease outbreak due to cramped living conditions—but not much has been done to fix them.
Shakya said he is attempting to do what he can, but that he needs support from the community. Four-inch pipes have been laid in the narrow alleys to allow a water supply should a fire break out, just like in the film he’d starred in. And a number of his constituents seem appreciative of his efforts.
“We do not have to pay any money for garbage disposal but by 9 am, our streets are cleaned and the litters is taken away. Under his initiative, iron pipes have been laid to supply water during a fire,” said Sunil Karmacharya, a 44-year-old from Keltole. “I don’t think any other ward in the metropolis has done this.”
He’s leading by example and soon hopes to call a meeting of all the ward chiefs so that he can share how laying pipes in narrow alleys can save lives during fires. But when it comes to widening roads in ancient Ason, that’s a battle he’s lost both on and off screen.