Rallying on Empty
This morning, at 7AM, the heart of Kathmandu was certifiably “Unhealthy.” The Air Quality monitor in Phora Durbar ranked the air quality at 180. It was worse than air in major Indian cities; Delhi was at 152, Kolkata at 142. In fact, Nepal was second in the subcontinent only to Hyderabad, which was at 183. Around the same time, hundreds of motorcyclists were gathering in two different parts of the city for a rally. The rally was called for by the office of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC). A circular had been sent out asking all city staff to participate. Irrespective of the cause – in this case, to celebrate and promote its own ‘No Horn’ policy – this was not a carefully thought out event. It was rash.
“It was excellent!” Gyanendra Karki, spokesperson for KMC , told Onward Nepal after the rally. “We had at least 800 people participate in the rally.” The rally was about 8 kilometres long, the official added.
This morning, the rally covered 5,600 kilometres. For no real reason.
“In order to make their No Horn policy more effective, Kathmandu Metropolitan City office is going to hold a motorcycle rally tomorrow adding pollution, increasing traffic, and making noise! Oh, dear! We urgently need a good mayor,” well-known urban planner, Bhushan Tuladhar, had tweeted yesterday.
“नो होर्न” प्रभावकारी बनाउन कामपाले भोलि धुँवा फाल्दै, जाम बढाउंदै, हल्ला गर्दै मोटरसाइकल रयाली गर्ने रे। हरे! लौन छिट्टै गतिलो मेयर चाहियो pic.twitter.com/3piiqIssqm— Bhushan Tuladhar (@BhushanTuladhar) April 26, 2017
After the rally, Health Minister Gagan Thapa, who has been working on air quality issues for many years, also publicly condemned the rally and urged the cancellation of such rallies including in the upcoming local elections.
“The problem is we simply have not internalised the gravity of our air quality crisis,” Minister Thapa said over phone. “If you saw the air quality readings this morning, or anytime in the last few weeks since we have had readings, you know what we need to do is reduce the number of vehicles on our streets. As it is, the valley’s air quality in the morning has been found to be poor. Today’s rally, and rallies like these are nothing short of a public hazard.”
Given Kathmandu's dangerous air quality, Mahanagarpalika's motorcycle rally plan is public hazard, highly irresponsible. Cancellation urged. pic.twitter.com/Ou5yDWhYpK— Gagan Thapa (@thapagk) April 27, 2017
Kathmandu is scheduled to elect a Mayor for the first time in 20 years on May 14. So far, two candidates from new political parties have fielded candidates. Based on their media engagements , it appears Kishore Thapa of Sajha Party, and Ranju Darshana of Bibeksheel Nepali, have a list of problems and promises, but nothing concrete to address those problems or deliver on their promises. Bibeksheel Nepali has not responded to our initial request from a week ago to interview Ranju Darshana. On the other hand, Sajha Party has confirmed an interview with Kishore Thapa.
The crisis of Kathmandu is such that we cannot place blind bets on who will manage it for the next five years. All candidates must face rigorous public scrutiny. This is all the more important because the election schedule allows very limited time for campaigning. Polished and self-produced videos are good campaign tools for candidates but not for voters. Same goes for catchy slogans and playing the opposition and outsider card.
“In just two weeks we have collected at least Rs 1.5 million in fines from ticketing over 2,500 people for not following the No Horn policy,” Mr. Karki of the Metropolitan office proclaims proudly.
The streets of Kathmandu have indeed become quieter since the introduction of the policy. And yesterday, there was also silence from the candidates who promised to clean up Kathmandu’s air.
As Kathmandu Metropolitan City planned and conducted the motorcycle rally, neither the Sajha Party or Bibeksheel Nepali candidates took to their social media accounts, their self-chosen platforms for public engagement, to express their views.
Meanwhile, here are some public reactions from today.
Absolutely! This should stop! Please! https://t.co/UtL37bc0im— Hima (हिमा) (@himabista) April 27, 2017
ध्वनि प्रदुष्ण कम गर्ने सचेत कार्यक्रम को लागि मोटर साइकल रयाल्ली गर्दै महानगरपालिका, धुवा बाट हुने प्रदुषण चाही के? समय आयो राम्रो चुन्ने— Dibyesh Giri (@imdibyesh) April 27, 2017