Weekly Musings: Control The Chaos : Shyam K.C.

A walk in the busy thoroughfares of the city, such as New Road, Indra Chowk, Hanuman Dhoka, Makhan, Asan, Bhotahity, Mahaboudha (to name only a very few localities) will be enough to convince the powers that be that all's not well with the city and that the city administration is turning a blind eye to the problems the people are facing.

While we the people are also to blame for the situation that prevails in most parts of the city, those who are elected to wield power and those appointed by them in the municipality administration at the cost of the taxpayers’ money must take the lion's share of the blame. For they are there to ensure that life in the city remains peaceful and devoid of problems that one faces even when walking in the streets.

Chaotic streets

One cannot walk in the streets in these and other similarly crowded places without pushing or bumping into each other. The Kathmandu Municipality which styles itself as a "metropolis" (one hopes the powers in the municipality knows what a metropolis is) seems to be blind to all that goes on in the city, which is really nothing less than chaotic, with thousands of four and two wheelers roaming the very streets which pedestrians, who number many more than vehicles, must use. The few pavements in the city that were used by pedestrians are now occupied by street vendors, and those who walk have no alternative but to use the streets.

And then there is the air and noise pollution that combine to earn Kathmandu the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluted cities in the world. (Kathmandu ranks fifth in terms of pollution after Kabul (Afghanistan), Chongqing (China), Accra (Ghana) and La Paz (Bolivia). The least polluted, according to a survey, is Gold Coast (Australia). Among the Asian cities, we are the "proud" third most polluted city.)

It's not as if the government and the municipality are unaware of these things. The authorities who live and carry out their duties in the city must be fully aware of the situation, and yet the situation here in the capital, and probably in other urban areas of the country, has not been rectified. Why is this so? Are our elected government leaders and officials as well as city authorities eyeing the short term benefits rather than thinking about the long-term benefits of the residents and taking appropriate measures to correct the situation? Political leaders need to realise that they cannot - and should not - try to create vote banks by turning away from the problems and directing government and city officials to do the same.

Compared to just a decade ago, the capital city has become virtually unliveable with noise and air pollution affecting the people's health, and the human and motorised traffic being forced to co-exist in the streets. But then health problems and accidents make much sense to hospital owners and operators. The people's loss, after all, is their gain.

The pedestrian pavements around Tundhikhel have been under repair for months, and as a result have caused untold problems to the people. The repair work that began from New Road Gate is still unfinished, and at many points the people have to use the one-way Tundhikhel road in order to avoid portions of the pavement under repair. No one really knows why the repair and maintenance is taking so long to complete.

And then there were dividers along the stretch of New Road that made certain that the people crossed the streets at certain points only. This brought about a certain amount of order in the street. But with the coming of such great occasions like the SAARC Summit, the dividers were gone, never to come back (at least till date).

The No-Vehicle Zone in the Basantapur area (which I consider to have been a good and far sighted move) is not a "No-Vehicle" zone for white, yellow and blue licence plates. When other vehicles are blocked there, two wheelers use the footpaths on the Fire Brigade and the hotel sides to take their machines to the area, unconcerned about the mass of people who use the footpaths. And there is no real enforcement of the "No-Vehicle" zone.

The situation in the Mahaboudha area, especially the so-called "Chinese market", is even worse and verges on the horrific side. And then we have the noise pollution. In the middle of the city and many other places, night bars play music at full volume, disturbing all those living in these areas. Neither the police nor the local authorities do anything about it. While playing music at night and dance bars should be permissible, such bars must be made to observe the minimum norms, and the volume of music must be kept within limits so that it does not disturb others outside the establishment.

Long-term interests

The need to control such a chaotic situation cannot be overemphasised. The time to act is now, even though some of the measures that the government and the local authorities take may not be popular. The long-term interest of the city and its long-time residents must be taken into account and action taken accordingly. The local authority, in this case the Kathmandu Municipality, must realise that it has to use public money in the best manner possible so that the people benefit the most from it. It make little sense to be building multi-storeyed structures (such as the one being planned at the Bus Park at Tundhikhel) when there are more important tasks to be accomplished. We must learn to say "no" to easy money and "yes" to hard work. Then only will we be able to control the chaos that is called Kathmandu.



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