Before being elected as the mayor of Kathmandu, Bidya Sundar Shakya had said that he would change the face of the city.
“I’ll make sure we complete 101 things in 100 days,” he said before being elected.
Believing in his vision, people voted for him as he became the mayor of Kathmandu with Hari Prabha Khadgi from Nepali Congress as his deputy.
It has been over 1,800 days since the two were elected by the people of Kathmandu metropolitan city. But during this time, they have not been able to work as effectively as they had promised with the city government failing to complete major projects it had planned.
Kishor Thapa, who had contested the mayoral elections with Bidya Sundar Shakya feels that the leadership at KMC has failed the citizens of the city.
“The city should have become a beacon of hope for the other local units in the country. But, it did nothing in the five years. It could have changed the development model of the city, but they didn’t even try,” says Thapa.
During Shakya and Khadgi’s tenure, the KMC has not been able to spend more than Rs 5 billion. The money the KMC has not been able to spend on development work has been put in a fixed deposit account as it gains interest out of it.
At a time when spending has gone down, the city’s arrears have gone up and stands at Rs 4.48 billion, states a report prepared by the Office of the Auditor-General.
Bidya Sundar Shakya, in his election manifesto, had promised to build a monorail around the ring road. He also had an ambitious plan of starting a metro train service in Kathmandu. He said he would do it within three years of his term.
A team of Chinese engineers had even studied the possibility of setting up a monorail. But after experts warned of the project being a white elephant, Shakya dropped the idea.
“The KMC’s focus should have been on developing the city’s transportation system. They didn’t work enough on it,” adds Thapa.
Apart from the monorail project, Shakya had other projects too that would have been completed within his five-year tenure if he had pushed hard.
Bidya Sundar Shakya had the vision to make Kathmandu a cycling city. To push it, he even hopped on a bicycle. But in the five years, the city was not even able to make a cycle lane. This was embarrassing for Shakya as his counterpart in Lalitpur was successful if making a cycle lane in the metropolitan city.
Another candidate who lost to Shakya was Pavitra Man Bajracharya. He says that Shakya even failed to work towards making Kathmandu a better commercial city.
“We could’ve made the city favourable for businesses and consumers. But, they didn’t work efficiently,” says Bajracharya.
Deputy mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi accepts that the city officials did not work effectively enough when it came to monitoring the market.
“We’ve recently passed an act regarding market monitoring,” she says.
The city government had a plan to build a commercial building at Dharma Path too. But even that did not go ahead. Instead, a complaint was filed at the CIAA accusing KMC officials of working in cahoots with traders to build an administrative building in Teku. They were also criticised for trying to demolish the historical Bagdurbar.
There was also a plan on starting a smart vertical car parking and vehicle-free zone. Both projects did not start. The KMC instead gave the responsibility of managing parking in the New Road area to a private company. It was free before this.
The Bidya Sundar Shakya-led KMC was also weak when it came to coordinating with other sectors of government. The central government had sent a secretary to work with the KMC when it came to development work. But, Shakya said he did not need a secretary and that a joint secretary would be enough. Following that, the government removed the position of secretary from the KMC.
Former secretary Dipendra Nath Sharma says that the KMC should have taken Kathmandu Valley Development Authority as a facilitator and worked on development projects. Unless coordination on this level does not happen in the city, nothing will change, says Sharma.
“We still work like we’re in the Panchyat era,” he says.
The city government had also planned to cover the potholes in the city and make it dust-free. But, that also has not happened as the city is only the most polluted in the world.
One thing the KMC officials including Bidya Sundar Shakya have been able to do is to be in the news for the wrong reason.
The municipal government’s first meeting came under scrutiny after it decided to use the city’s budget to buy smartphones. The staff also started to take out as much money as they wanted in the name of salaries and other allowances.
They also faced a lot of criticism when they decided to demonish the old bus park to build a commercial building which to date has not been completed. The local government shifted one of the biggest bus stations in the city to Khulamanch. But, after the contractors built shutters and leased them, the city office and Shakya faced heavy criticism.
Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya had said he would set up a food bank too. But during Covid, when humanitarians were distributing free food, Shakya told humanitarians not to do that at Khulamanch.
Shakya was criticised by the Newa community who did not like how he had commissioned reconstruction projects like Ranipokhari, Kamalpokhari, Kasthamandap and Bagdurbar. Number two on his election manifesto was the reconstruction of the Sorakhutte Pati. He has not talked about it since he was elected.
The manner in which road expansion was done also shows how bad a leader Bidya Sundar Shakya was. He had said he would make sure to listen to the people. But, during the expansions of the Balaju Bypass road, many people lost their homes and the KMC did nothing about it.
Shakya knows he could not do much work when it came to infrastructure development. But, he says he has done good work when it came to the development of society. He initiated a yearly allowance of Rs 12,000 for elderly people over the age of 84 and Rs 3,000 for differently-abled citizens per month. However, it was discontinued, the reason being the KMC losing its money.
The city government has also talked about deploying volunteers to help senior citizens. But, the only thing it did was send the volunteers last year for health checkups of people over the age of 84.
The only thing that did garner him praise was how he started a collaboration with Manav Sewa Ashram to help people living on the road.
Helping the rich to get richer
Like every politician, Bidya Sundar Shakya and Hari Prabha Khadgi also promised a corruption-free city. But, that did not happen. Both were actively handing out aid to the organisations they were close with as they handed out aid to organisations opened in the name of CPN-UML and Nepali Congress leaders.
The city in the fiscal year 2020/21 alone handed out aid in excess of Rs 226 million each to over 25 organisations. Despite having a hall, the municipal government conducted most meetings and events in five-star hotels.
Bidya Sundar Shakya and Hari Prabha Khadgi would have left behind a legacy had they cleaned the city. But, during their time, waste management has been dire as the city stinks more. There had been talking about privatising waste management. But, this did not move forward even in the past five years.
Two campaigns – Clean the city and No Mask City – were envisioned. But, they did not materialise.
The city officials were not able to manage the roadside vendors who over the past few years have been treated like stray dogs by the city officials as metropolitan police regularly harass them.
The city’s internal revenue in the four years has increased to Rs 8 billion from Rs 3 billion. Despite this, the city increased the tax rates.
“People who didn’t pay tax continued to not pay tax. But, people who paid taxes had to pay more. This is unfair,” says Bajracharya.
Some impressive jobs
When it comes to justice, nonetheless, the Kathmandu metropolitan city has been doing good. The judicial committee has been solving around 300 disputes every year. Currently, there are only 75 complaints at the city office.
The Bidya Sundar Shakya-led city has done some good work too. The city office played an important role in the promotion of Nepal Bhasa in schools in the city. But, it could have done more to improve the quality of education in government and community schools, but this is seen as a positive thing. The city office is also building a fire station in Basbhari along with starting health insurance for the elderly. Health clinics were also established in all remaining wards of the city.
The KMC also helped to set up a dialysis service at Birendra Sainik Hospital. During Covid, the KMC donated 46 ventilators to government and community hospitals. But, Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya was criticised for staying at Soaltee Hotel when he contracted Covid. People say he could have done more to help the people of the city.
The KMC has also stepped up efforts to reconstruct ward offices using traditional building methods. It has also started to construct parks around the city. Around 50 parks are being constructed right now.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.