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Mayor’s view: What matters is the work on the ground, solving the problems of local people

Sudeep Paudel, the mayor of Kapilvastu Municipality for the last two years, shares his experience of working with the local people, issues and challenges.

Kapilvastu: Sudeep Paudel has been the mayor of Kapilvastu Municipality for the last two years but his political engagement and involvement in social affairs dates back to the mid-1990s. He actively worked with Nepal Red Cross Society and contributed to the society from whichever way he could.  Then in 2001, he went to South Korea for a job and when he returned home in 2009, after earning enough to take care of his family, he saw that the political situation of the country had become fluid and tense.  The politics of division, along ethnic and regional lines, was troubling to him. 

The Madhesh-Pahad divide was eating away the social fabric in Nepal’s plains and it sometimes felt like the country’s future itself was at stake. It was then that he decided he should try his best to intervene in this politics of harm and work to do something concrete for the society and the community he represented. “That was a major triggering point for me. But I also saw that unless you are in a leadership position at the local level, you cannot really serve the people,” Paudel explained. So, in 2017 local elections, he contested for the post of ward chair from the independent category and he won. It was during this term that he thought much could be done at the local level if the local level representatives work with full dedication. “So, I contested for the post of mayor in the 2022 elections and I am a mayor,” he said.

One thing that he has learned from the experience of working at the local level for the last seven years (first five years as the ward chair) is that what actually matters is the work on the ground, solving the problems of the people.  He has seen how politicians to secure personal and political gains use the rhetoric of divides along caste and regional lines but he does not believe in that. “It might be used to fuel rhetoric during the elections but the idea of Madhesh-Pahad divide has failed. People are not going to endorse those who do the politics of division.”

He says that a mayor can do many more things at the local level but for that there has to be a supporting environment and cooperation from all sides. The mayor of Kathmandu has shown a mayor can do so much, he says. “Balen has shown that a mayor is a power in himself/herself.  Before Balen came, mayors thought they cannot do anything but now the mayors across the country have come to  know that many things are possible to achieve.” 

According to him, the expectations of people from the mayor are too high but the mayor, for that matter the chairperson of the rural  municipality too,  does not enjoy all those powers and not everything is under the jurisdiction of the mayor. For example, the roads. People expect the mayor to fix the main roads in front of their houses or in the main bazaar.  Look at this Gaurichok to Biskshcuchok section of the road in Taulihawa, which is covered with dust and mud. It has not been blacktopped though the work started three years ago, he said. “This is the responsibility of the Department of Road but the local people think that the mayor can fix it. People say to me, ‘what are you mayor for if you cannot do even this much?’”

As an elected representative, a mayor has to listen to all sorts of complaints, stay calm and be in equanimity. People call out to him when the light goes out, when there is no water, when the roads are in bad conditions but not all these are under the jurisdiction of a mayor. “In such cases, a mayor can play a role of coordination. I have led the delegation to Kathmandu to draw the attention of the transport ministry twice,” he said.  But it has been difficult for him to get a positive response. “If you know the minister personally, you might be listened to, if you don’t, they will simply ignore,” he said. 

In the last two years since he became the mayor, his municipality has done two things of which to be proud. One, school education has been made free in all schools.  A student does not have to pay a single penny as a fee. This has helped to increase the number of enrolments in public schools, the dropout rate has gone down, and parents have started to take their kids out from the private schools and put them back in government schools.  “Earlier many poor parents did not send their children to schools because they would have to pay some money now the situation has changed,”Paudel explained.

Second accomplishment is health insurance for the poor.  The insurers only have to pay 50 percent of the premium, the remaining 50 percent is covered by the municipality.  “Before the insurance scheme, I would receive a lot of requests for covering medical treatment costs and asking for financial support. Now with health insurance, people don’t have to look up to the mayor for this,” he said.

One big regret he has is that he has not been able to do much for the development of Tilaurakot, which is the sacred tourist spot.  He once wanted to upgrade Tilaurakot but the Lumbini Development Trust stopped the project.   According to him, the federal and provincial government must allocate enough resources and show the political will for the development of Tilaurakot.

Kapilvastu Municipality has a plan of its own for tourism promotion of Kapilvastu. He has been leading the process of coordination with all municipalities in the district to beautify Tilaurakot.  One such plan is about putting up the images of Buddha’s family along the street, another plan is to help upgrade the facilities of the hotels so that once the tourists come here, they would at least stay for a couple of days.

Just like monkey menace has made it difficult for farmers in hills to grow and protect their crops, stray cattle have become a serious problem in Taulihawa. “To manage stray cattle, you have to have a huge area of pasture land reserved for them, you need to feed them and hire cowherds which is difficult to do because of resource constraints,” he said.  “Once the plantation season starts, the farmers will chase away the stray cattle from their fields and they will all come to the main road, defecating and creating disturbance in traffic, which can become a cause of road accidents.”

And once the stray cattle destroy the wheat crops and rice crops, the farmers come to complain to the mayor: ‘Why are you doing nothing about it?’. “We really need a well-thought out plan to solve this problem,” he said.