Minister’s Pledge For Cleaner City
The induction of Mr. Lalbabu Pandit, a famous minister for his valiant leadership and a real change maker, as the Minister for Population and Environment has created much ripples across the nation. At a time when the hope of a better governance was gradually fading owing to the long transition from the last elections till the election of the new government, the latest political development has restored the public faith to some extent.
In no time since his assumption of the office, the public expectation of a pollution free city and a clean nation has soared. Interestingly, people have started talking about the prospects of traveling in a mask free city and inhaling some fresh air in the near future. Moreover, the new minister has explicitly stated that none of the polluters would be spared and the necessary actions will be taken after studying the recent status of the environmental policies and programs in Nepal.
Taking a relatively low profile ministry to improve the existing situation of environment is a positive indication Mr. Pandit wants to make a difference in the lives of the people. With his habit of turning words into actions, it would not be unwise to believe that things will definitely be better than today. Moreover, the prospect of a stable government emerging in the country will help to achieve the stated goals. Having said that, a profound analysis of the current situation of the environment pollution is significant to inform the policy decisions.
Generally speaking, the problem of pollution in Nepal has been increasing. Excessive pressure on the environmental resources, ineffective policy instruments, waning public ethics among others have contributed to the deterioration of environment. In recent years, lack of effective coordination among the various line agencies of the government, increasing unaccountability and the culture of ad-hoc decisions have added woes. While there are policy lacunae in enforcing the system of reward and punishment to maintain a clean environment, the level of public awareness and their everyday environmentally unfriendly actions are equally a matter of serious concern.
Particularly, the problem of air pollution has aggravated the situation. As per the global environmental performance index published last month, Nepal was placed at the bottom of the table among the 180 countries in terms of air-quality, behind Pakistan, China, India and Bangladesh. Likewise, in the Pollution Index 2017, Kathmandu was ranked the 5th most air polluted city in the world.
In this situation, the lives of Kathmanduites have become really troublesome in the last few years. The haphazard road expansion drive to install the pipes of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project have exacerbated the problem. With plenty of potholes around the street and the release of harmful dust particles during the construction work, the ordinary people are finding it increasingly tough to cope up with the situation. Worse, the state fails to realise that it is directly infringing the rights of the people to live in a clean environment and is defending its move saying that this has been taken for the improvement of the people’s lives in the future where they will get access to clean drinking water.
Equally crucial is the issue of transportation management in Kathmandu. With so many old vehicles still plying on the roads, the blanketing carbon gas emissions have created all sorts of environmental troubles. Although the state had already shown its interest to address this problem through a proper policy, this hasn’t happened yet in actual actions. It is also ironical that any decisions that the state has taken becomes difficult to put into action in our context due to the resistant behavior of people. Take an instance of the ban on plastic bags. The government has reiterated its commitment to make Kathmandu a plastic free zone twice in terms of policy decisions but still the issue remains unsettled. It can be argued that the hastily made decision without providing alternatives for the people might have resulted in such defiance on the part of the public, but the general public behavior has become bitterly exposed.
Against this backdrop, the new minister needs to adopt a ‘carrot- and -stick’ approach to bring the violators of the environment rules and regulations under the state legal system. Mulling over the phase-wise elimination of the age old vehicles and installation of the eco-friendly vehicles through a strong incentive mechanism could be significant in materialising our dream of a clean and green city. In the same way, banning of the stone quarries and sand mines that have been conducted illegally without complying with the state rules would be the milestone achievement towards the realisation of this goal.
Nevertheless, the burgeoning problems of environment pollution can’t be resolved taking only a few immediate steps. It requires not only short-term but also mid-term and long term vision of planned intervention to alleviate this problem. More importantly, without adequate public support whatever action the government takes may not help in finding sustainable solutions. The public must be accountable to their actions in the environment and should abandon the careless behavior and the status quoist mindset.