Gopal Hamal was elected as the mayor of Dhangadhi Sub-metropolitan City in Kailali district earlier in May this year. He secured his win by defeating his arch-rival Nrip Bahadur Oda, a veteran local leader of the ruling Nepali Congress. Hamal is getting popular among the general public for his initiatives including the demolition of unlawfully constructed infrastructures along the local rivulets and roads. In a recent interview with Nepalkhabar in Dhangadhi, which is also the provincial capital of Sudurpaschim, Hamal shared his personal experiences ever since he took charge as the mayor.
Could you share with us your seven-month-long experience as the mayor?
Immediately after assuming the office, my focus was on strengthening the mayoral secretariat because a mayor can't work effectively without having an efficient secretariat. In the first week of every month, we hold meetings at different levels including that of wards’ secretaries. These meetings make the assessment of our works (that) we accomplish in the previous month, and make further plans, accordingly.
What are the significant initiatives that you took after becoming mayor?
Dhangadhi often gets waterlogged during the summer season because rivers have narrowed due to encroachment. Poor drainage has also contributed to further worsen inundation in the city. After I joined office, we started to remove illegally built structures along the river banks. In fact, we began demolition drive along the roads much before Balen Shah in Kathmandu carried out similar works. After the demolition drive, Dhangadhi locals didn't have to face the inundation problem like before. The demolition drive is still underway in the sub-metropolis. Now, we are working to remove the unwanted constructions.
Isn't this demolition drive challenging?
It's very challenging, indeed. People wanted to see this demolition drive 20 years ago. However, due to a series of hurdles and a lack of political will, this could not happen. During the demolition along the Provincial Hospital Road, houses of even some of my close childhood friends, who had played a crucial role in securing my victory, were destroyed. I intensified demolition drive in the area because this is at the heart of the city, and most of the administrative facilities including a hospital, two ministries, district administration office are in the same area. At times, even ambulances are stuck along the roads due to heavy traffic congestion. One day patient may die if ambulance gets stuck in traffic. Dilapidated roads have made the situation even worse while underground drinking water supplies have not been repaired for a long time. Hence, there was a public demand that this road needs to be further widened. Those individuals, who are directly affected by the demolition, are of course, disappointed. I understand their sentiment. I hope the sufferers will also be happy once they get roads widened in their community. Now, we are in talks with a number of businessmen who are running shops along the roads. Similarly, we are planning to build cycle lanes and plant trees along the roads.
Your decision to send medical doctors to the ward level also earned praise. What kind of initiative is it?
We noticed that the general public were deprived of basic health services. Poor people still don't have easy access to health services. Hence, we began to mobilize health specialists at the ward level since August this year. Now, two health professionals visit all 19 wards of this sub-metropolis as scheduled, thanks to Bhatbhateni Supermark that is helping us financially in this regard.
Revenue is a major source of income for local bodies. Has this municipality been able to generate revenue as per its target?
We have mobilized two teams to recover dues. We are asking the general public to come to the sub-metropolitan city office to clear taxes. In future, we ourselves will reach their localities to collect taxes. I believe, this will encourage them to pay taxes.
How is the annual budget allocation from the federal government for this sub-metropolis? Does the allotted budget from the Center meet your needs?
We get around Rs 320 million annually which is not sufficient to meet our expenses. Currently, this municipality generates Rs 200 million annually. However, the capital expenditure stands at Rs 424.6 million. Hence, there is no balance between income and expenditures. It has made us difficult to meet daily expenses. Besides, we are overstaffed.
Local bodies are an integral part of a three-tier government in the country's new federal set-up. Do the federal and provincial governments coordinate with you while carrying out development works?
Firstly, provincial level offices are just adding burden to the country's state coffers. Neither they have worked efficiently, nor have they coordinated with local levels. In fact, provincial units have been mired in corruption. To my understanding, there is a lack of coordination among the federal, provincial and local bodies in terms of expediting developmental works. Provincial units have done little to effectively deliver public services.
Any future plans?
We will come up with a five-year development plan in consultation with experts very soon.