- Pratik Pradhan
In the heart of Kathmandu, once known as Kantipur, a significant departure from the norm in political leadership has taken place. Breaking away from the long-standing tradition of electing mainstream party politicians, the vibrant and cosmopolitan capital city has chosen an energetic, educated, and dynamic youth as its mayor. Balen Shah, an engineer by profession and a rapper by passion, took on the monumental role of leading the largest metropolis in the country. His journey from no political experience to mayoral responsibilities is a testament to his dedication to tackling the numerous challenges and opportunities inherent to his position.
Kathmandu, with a population of over one million and a multitude of homes, faces the consequences of being densely populated and developed without strategic urban planning. Shockingly, about 85% of buildings lack the necessary “construction conclusion” certificates due to their non-compliance with the city’s planning regulations. The city’s transformation from a serene cultural hub to a congested, overpopulated concrete jungle, plagued by pollution even prior to the pandemic, underscores the gravity of the situation.
Balen Shah’s ambitious agenda centers on addressing these deeply entrenched issues. His commendable efforts to remove illegal structures, while deserving applause, also invite critique due to concerns about process adherence. Reports suggest that his expedited demolition methods bypass due process, depriving building owners of proper notices and opportunities to rectify their violations. By sidestepping established legal procedures, these actions undermine public confidence in the justice system.
One regrettable instance is the hasty demolition of a building in Anamnagar, which sheltered vulnerable individuals. While the necessity of eradicating illegal structures is unquestionable, the urgency should not overshadow the importance of due process. Balen Shah’s bypassing of court orders in favor of his own strategies, such as using bulldozers, weakens the principles of law and order. His actions blur the distinction between right and wrong and ultimately diminish the effectiveness of his own office.
Another noteworthy concern is Balen Shah’s unilateral decision to ban Bollywood movies in Kathmandu theaters, an action that projects an authoritarian use of power. While the impact of Indian cultural influence in Nepal is a valid concern, such decisions must be made with a long-term, strategic perspective. The ban, implemented without considering the livelihoods of theater owners and distributors, demonstrates a lack of diplomatic foresight and an understanding of the delicate balance in Nepal’s international relations.
Furthermore, the plight of street vendors and cart traders in Kathmandu remains a pressing issue. These marginalized individuals, often lacking formal education or financial stability, engage in informal economic activities out of necessity. Balen Shah’s policy approach, characterized by restriction and exclusion, fails to address the underlying issues and showcases a lack of compassion and long-term vision.
Although Balen Shah’s entrance into Nepalese politics has ushered in a new wave of hope, his actions need to reflect a more holistic approach. His focus on demolition and displacement alone will not restore Kathmandu’s beauty. To truly enhance the city’s allure, historical significance, cultural richness, and the well-being of its people must be at the forefront of his initiatives. As a young leader with immense potential, Balen Shah should seize this opportunity to not only bring about tangible change but to also set an example of inclusive and empathetic governance.