Why is it difficult to meet Mayor Balendra Shah?Various groups and stakeholders—heritage activists to street vendors—have tried to meet him, but to no avail.
On Monday, heritage activists and locals who initiated the ‘Occupy Tudikhel’ campaign in 2019 to reclaim encroached public spaces reached the Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s (KMC) Office at Sundhara to submit a memorandum against the City’s plan to build an underground parking lot beneath the historical Khula Manch grounds.
When Mayor Balendra Shah refused to see them, they instead met Deputy Mayor Sunita Dangol and handed her the memorandum. (Earlier, in late November, they had submitted a memorandum to the City’s Ward-28 chairperson, under whose jurisdiction the open area falls.)
Then, this week, on Tuesday, a delegation of the Durbarmarg Development Board, reached the KMC to meet Mayor Shah and submitted a memorandum against the City’s decision to ban roadside parking in the Durbarmarg area.
“We waited for three hours on the fifth floor of the JDA Complex at Sundhara, but Mayor Shah would not see us,” said Gopal Sunder Lal Kakshapati, former chairperson of the Board. “Although it’s the mayor who takes the decision, the city officials told us to meet the City Police who have no decision-making role whatsoever,” said Kakshapati.
Kakshapati accused Mayor Shah of acting as if he was more powerful than the government’s executive head. “It will be easier to meet the prime minister in Singhadurbar than to meet our mayor here,” he said.
Kakshapati said the City, starting from this week, had banned roadside parking at Durbarmarg, causing great difficulty for business operators and visitors to the area.
Earlier on September 15, Nepal Street Vendors’ Trade Union had protested against the City’s decision to evict street vendors and reached the mayor's office to submit a memorandum, but Shah refused to see them. They then handed over their memorandum to the Chief Administrative Officer Basanta Adhikari.
“We can meet the country's prime minister, but not Mayor Balendra Shah,” said Rajkumar Shrestha, general secretary of the Nepal Street Vendors’ Trade Union.
“He does not seem to be working like a people’s mayor. Perhaps he is working at someone else’s behest,” said Shrestha.
Likewise, on November 29, following the City’s attempt to demolish their huts in the squatters’ settlement at Thapathali, the slum-dwellers and landless squatters tried to meet mayor Shah and submit a memorandum. They too returned empty-handed.
Just before he was elected as the City’s mayor, Shah had publicly said that the KMC was going to get a new mayor who would work independently and on behalf of the poor, marginalised and deprived communities. In his interviews, he often repeated that while political cadres would be beholden to their parties, he would be answerable only to the general public. In that sense, he would be a ‘true people’s representative’.
However, in the seven months since his election as new mayor, observers say, Shah is already breaking his own vows and acting more like an autocrat rather than a people’s representative.
“The way the mayor has shown reluctance to either meet or listen to activists and other stakeholders is sure to backfire on him in the long run,” said urban planner Suman Meher Shrestha.
Planner Shrestha said the mayor should have the patience to listen to all kinds of views, even those who criticise him, and try to address public grievances. “On every issue, there is bound to be some disagreement. But if someone raises a question-mark over the mayor’s functioning, he should be able to justify his actions,” said Shrestha.
Urban planners say although Mayor Shah’s intent may not be bad, he has failed in execution. Most of his actions have drawn controversy.
Mayor Shah vowed to resolve the garbage problem of Kathmandu, tried to remove footpath traders, pulled down digital hoarding boards, dug up the Tukucha to restore the encroached creek, re-introduced a ban on smoking in public spaces, attempted to remove squatters from Thapathali and decided on an underground parking lot at Khula Manch. But none of these initiatives have reached any meaningful conclusions.
Many are now of the opinion that Mayor Shah is only walking the footsteps of his predecessor, Bidya Sundar Shakya, who was widely criticised for his lack of judgement. Going against the advice of conservationists, Shakya tried to build concrete structures at Rani Pokhari and Kamal Pokhari ponds. He also planned to construct eight concrete plinths on the southern flank of the Nautale Durbar in the Kathmandu Durbar Square to install flag posts.
“When the earlier mayor wouldn’t listen to us, we had to organise the Occupy Tudikhel campaign to make him pay heed, and now Mayor Shah is showing the same aloof attitude,” said Ganapati Lal Shrestha, a heritage activist. “He is not willing to meet us or give us time. This makes me question his intent.”
Shrestha expressed frustration at the elected representatives’ repeated neglect of civil society members and other stakeholders. “We voted him as our mayor, and now he is not even ready to listen to our grievances.”
If only Mayor Shah listened to heritage experts and activists, he added, there was no reason a mutually-agreeable solution could not have been found to solve Kathmandu’s parking problems.
“He has not given us time in the past two weeks. Something is fishy,” said Shrestha.
He accused Mayor Shah of not working according to his own conscience.
Meanwhile, the squatters who returned empty-handed when they reached the KMC to meet Mayor Shah in late November, accused him of being snobbish.
“He didn’t meet us or even try to understand our problems. He, instead, readily labelled us Jhole [henchmen of political parties],” said Min Kumar Magar, the chairperson of the Sukumbasi Utpidit Sunuwai Samiti.
A month ago, the City had tried to forcefully evict squatters from the banks of the Bagmati river in Thapathali, but later backtracked from its decision after a stiff resistance from squatters.
“If only he had met us, we could have given him a realistic picture of our plight and also offered some solutions,” said Magar.
When the Post questioned Bhoop Dev Shah, secretary to Mayor Shah, on why the mayor was not giving time to stakeholders, he replied that it was all due to the mayor’s ‘busy schedule.’
Could the Post at least get a comment from the mayor? “He is now in Indonesia on a personal trip,” came the reply.
“The mayor has time for everyone, but you should be willing to wait for your turn. For instance, right now, he has a packed schedule until January 21,” said Shah, the secretary.