Tussle between Kathmandu mayor and Singha Durbar turns filthyBalendra Shah, who often vents his ire on social media, uses garbage as a tool this time.
On Saturday, Kathmandu’s Mayor Balendra Shah announced a halt in garbage collection from the country's administrative hub, Singha Durbar.
Giving an explanation on Monday, he wrote on social media that the decision was an outcome of neglect, lack of responsibility and carelessness on part of the federal government. Shah made 14 allegations against different ministries and how they had not cooperated with the City.
On Tuesday, when the Post contacted Parivartan Sewa, a private firm that looks after the waste management of Singha Durbar, it stated that they had not collected the refuse from Singh Durbar since Saturday.
“Every day we used to collect five metric tons of solid waste from Singha Durbar. But we have stopped collecting garbage from there at Shah’s directive,” said Mitra Ghimire, managing director at Parivartan Sewa. The private firm has been clearing the garbage at the government secretariat for the past 14 years.
“The mayor’s office has strictly asked us not to collect garbage. If we do, it will scrap our licence,” said Ghimire. He also said that the company was also under pressure from the Ministry of Urban Development not to halt garbage collection.
“We are in a dilemma,” said Ghimire.
Constitutional experts, political analysts, sociologists and urban planners are worried that the trend of non-cooperation between different layers of government could do great harm to the country and to the rule of law.
“The KMC has taken an extreme step. This tussle should quickly be resolved through dialogue. Otherwise, this will bring a crisis in our constitutional system,” said constitutional expert and senior advocate Dinesh Tripathi.
He said the three tiers of government—federal, provincial and local—complement each other. “If one component does not cooperate, it will make the federal system defunct,” Tripathi.
On Monday, lawmaker and Nepali Congress general secretary Gagan Thapa, speaking in the House of Representatives, suggested that the government immediately hold dialogue with the KMC.
He asked Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to do so without delay, and suggested that there should be no conflict between Bag Durbar (the KMC’s home) and Singha Durbar (the seat of the federal executive).
The Cabinet meeting on Tuesday took serious exception to the KMC’s decision not to collect garbage from Singha Durbar. After the meeting, Rekha Sharma, Minister of Communication and Information Technology and government spokesperson, termed the move as being against “the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, constitutional experts blame the federal government for its inability to take the local governments into confidence, and the local government for trying to work unilaterally.
“What if the other local units also challenge the federal bodies the same way? Of course, the whole federal system will then fail,” said Tripathi.
This isn't the first time that mayor Shah has expressed his grievances against the federal government. He is seen to be routinely garnering public sympathy with his social media posts citing non-cooperation of the federal government.
In late February, Shah, in a Facebook post, wrote that he was ‘pressured to quit’ the public office. At the time, many ward representatives at the City had criticised Shah for making unwarranted statements.
Even though Shah’s remarks indicated that the leaders of political parties were compelling him to resign, there are no constitutional or legal clauses that can force a mayor to quit. Article 216(8) of the Constitution specifies how the offices of the mayor, deputy mayor, ward chairperson or member can become vacant.
The position becomes vacant only “if the mayor tenders resignation in writing to the deputy mayor, and if the deputy mayor tenders resignation in writing before the mayor, (b) if his or her term of office expires, (c) if he or she dies.”
“Our constitution does not have a provision to force him to quit, so he is becoming even more forceful and displaying dictatorial tendencies,” said political commentator Rajendra Maharjan.
He said mayor Shah’s statements are populist and the KMC's non-cooperation with the central government is questionable.
“This is unacceptable in a democracy,” said Maharjan.
Meanwhile, urban planners blame the authorities for not doing their jobs well. They also accuse mayor Shah of focusing more on social media campaigning than on working to solve the City’s actual problems.
“It shows a lack of coordination among the government bodies. Instead of writing long Facebook posts, if only mayor Shah had reached out to individual ministries, the problems might have been solved,” said Kishor Thapa, a former government secretary with experience of urban planning.
He even cited the example of former mayor Keshav Sthapit (elected in 1997)—how he would reach out to the Army office at the royal palace to solve road encroachment and other serious matters.
“I worked with Sthapit for over half a decade. He was proactive. In the case of Balendra Shah, he is just complaining through social media, which is quite easy,” said Thapa.
He said that being the Capital, Kathmandu is a complex place, with the headquarters of the army and the police and also foreign embassies. “So the mayor should be more sensitive and do a lot more legwork than complaining on Facebook,” said Thapa.
Others charge Shah with engaging in a blame game to cover up his own failures.
“It’s been a year. How many commitments has Shah honoured thus far?” questioned
Guman Singh Khatri, an assistant professor at the Tribhuvan University's Central Department of Sociology.
He accused Shah of using the language of violence. “Whatever the situation, it is the KMC’s duty to collect garbage, but now it is trying to take revenge against Singha Durbar. This is no more than a populist stunt,” said Khatri.
Other experts closely observing Shah’s activities say a major reason behind Shah’s lack of success is his lack of study, preparations, and consultations with stakeholders in his year-long tenure.
Although Shah’s campaign to demolish illegal structures drew cheers from the public at large, many raised concerns too, as he started removing poor vendors from the streets without giving them an alternative means of livelihood. Many structures demolished by the City are still in ruins, inconveniencing pedestrians.
In one year, Shah took up more than half a dozen tasks—he vowed to solve the garbage problem, tried to remove footpath traders, pulled down digital hoarding boards, dug up Tukucha to restore the encroached river, 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. None of these initiatives has been completed. And, just last week, mayor Shah made an attempt to demolish the squatter settlement at Gairigaun, which ended in failure.
After the home ministry refused to help him remove the settlement, mayor Shah retaliated by announcing that garbage would not be collected from Singha Durbar.
“In a democratic society, there is a certain way of doing things but Shah seems intent on bulldozing ahead,” said sociologist Khatri.
“My observation is that Shah is working to please the mob, rather than carrying out his duty. This is a dangerous indication for the society we live in,” he added.