Biratnagar is developing master-plan as industrial city: Mayor
The industrial city Biratnagar is also known as the centre of various political movements. It is the homeland of renowned political leaders, including BP Koirala, Girija Prasad Koirala and Manmohan Adhikari. But the city bears no such impression. The city that is also the gateway to the eastern hills and mountains, with lots of touristic attractions, needs multidimensional development efforts to make it a true metropolis. In this backdrop, Modnath Dhakal of The Rising Nepal talked to Bhim Parajuli, mayor of the metropolis. The newly elected leader shared the vision for the development of the city, status of resource mobilisation, Local Level Governance Act, industrialization and its impact on the economy and public life.
What is your road-map for Biratnagar’s development?
The first responsibility of the elected local government was to fulfil the promises that we made during the elections. We have carried out many programmes within the first 100 days since we assumed the office. Road potholes have been filled, free cataract operation services were provided and allowances for senior citizens are being distributed from the ward committees and door-to-door services are in operation for the physically challenged senior citizens. Similarly, programmes are being implemented to eradicate the discrimination between son and daughter, with such campaigns as ‘Save Daughter’. Terai has rampant abortion practices -- if the conceived child is a daughter, it has severe repercussions on the mother’s health as well. I would tell you, Biratnagar is the only metropolis that has concluded the Municipal Council meeting unanimously. I am personally working for maintaining transparency at the metropolis, no elected representative is taking benefits from the state or local government’s coffers. When the government officially announces it, we will accept it.
What about long-term development?
So far as long-term development is concerned, the metropolis is developing a master-plan for this industrial city. An expert group has been formed with the participation of experts from various sectors, from economics, health, education, disaster risk management, business, urban development, language, art and literature, and civil society. The first round of discussion with the experts has recently concluded. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is likely to support us in the digitisation of the local government -- talks and correspondence are underway for this. Currently, with the support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) about 76 kilometres of road is being blacktopped. I think about 200 km road will be blacktopped within 2 years from now and by the end of the third year, the city would be free from the menace of dust and mud.
Our first priority is education, since it is the prerequisite for all development. Therefore, we are planning to make revolutionary changes in the educational sector with the creation of model schools in the city with better management, infrastructure, quality education and results. The modality of such schools can be replicated in other schools and areas. We also would like to focus on technical education so that the educated youth could be employed or self-employed, and even if they go abroad in search of education, they would get better payment and other facilities.
What is the share of internal sources in the budget of the metropolis? How do you think the resources for development will be managed?
The size of the budget of Biratnagar for the current Fiscal Year is Rs. 3.38 billion. The city is considering inviting the private sector in infrastructure development as per the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model. Resource scarcity can be an issue since we have myriads of plans and programmes as well as demands from the people and we need to address them. But, resources are limited as only Rs. 240 million is managed by the internal sources. However, we are getting support from the ADB and Federal Government in infrastructure development which has been a great support for us, and currently, various infrastructure projects worth Rs. 7.5 billion are being implemented in the different parts of the metropolis. Detailed Project Report (DPR) is being developed for another 14 road projects.
Do you have any plans and programmes to make the city self-reliant?
Yes, the metropolis is making internal arrangements to expand the tax base. If we could expand the tax base and bring every liable individual and organisation into the tax net, the income of the city could go much higher. I am confident that we can at least double the current revenue of Biratnagar within a couple of years. Similarly, Integrated Property Tax will be implemented more effectively. The city office is mulling to use the students of Bachelors’ and Masters’ degree in creating awareness about the taxes and generating support in raising taxes with door to door visits. Since Biratnagar is an industrial city, more industries, vehicles, groceries, shops, commercial buildings, schools, colleges and many businesses of informal sectors can be brought into the tax net. To remove the loopholes in the revenue system, the entire system will be digitised within a few years.
Please share your impressions on the autonomous state of the local government at present.
The local government is autonomous compared to the previous practice as it has more rights, from developing its own plan and programme, budget, to creating own policy and by-laws as well as working with the development partners. We can talk to the diplomatic agencies and mobilize the resources from the International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs). If the financial resources are unmet, PPP models could be applied by the local government. So, the local governments are more autonomous and empowered, it has never happened before.
The government has not yet formulated the by-laws for the implementation of the Local Level Governance Act. What sort of limitations are you facing in the absence of the by-laws?
The biggest problem is the thematic offices in the district are not handed over to the local bodies, which has created a huge duplication and complexity in budget and programme execution. Local bodies and the District Coordination Committee both have education officers and the one that is in the district headquarters doesn’t listen to the demands of the local bodies as he is accountable to the federal government no to the local one. Education, health, agriculture, livestock, irrigation and many other sectors have been handed over to the local bodies but the district structures are intact. Such duplicate offices must be annulled at the earliest to activate the local governments fully. All the responsibilities and functions should be given to the local bodies. However, for the time being we have urged the district bodies to run each programme that has come under the reign of the local bodies in close collaboration and coordination with the local bodies.
More industries are being established in and around Biratnagar as the city was comparatively less affected than other cities such as Birgunj and Janakpur during the Madhesh Movement and on similar other occasions. What is being done to manage the industrial and commercial sectors?
The metropolis is forging collaboration with the Morang Byapar Sangth, Udhyog Sangthan Morang, Retailers Association and other trade and commerce organisations for the development and management of the industrial and business sector. The industrial sector is being revived. Development of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is proposed in Biratnagar-Itahari Industrial Corridor. Once established it will attract many export-oriented industries and create employment opportunities. As the railway line can be developed up to the SEZ, import and export activities can be run smoothly from there. We are holding talks with the federal government for the land management for the project. An exhibition centre is being developed in the city. We also like to attract hospitality and entertainment business and industries in the city. A multi-stakeholders meeting, involving the trade unions and political parties, will be called soon to declare the city strike-free area.
And what is the impact of industrialisation on the environment and public health?
Establishment of industries will be regulated and they will be allowed to run in certain locations. Industrial and business hubs will be created in the city. New programmes will be developed and implemented to fight with global warming. The city has begun to work to reduce the dust problem and to enhance greenery.
The construction of the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at the Nepal-India border has been delayed. When will it come into operation? Has the metropolis been playing any role for its development at the earliest?
We are pushing the project and it will be completed at the earliest. At the same time, a road connectivity is needed from the Jogbani to Kimathanka border point to create India-Nepal-China links. It will also promote Nepal-Bangladesh trade.