-- By Madan Lamsal
Nepal indeed has become a developed country with more city- dwellers than village-dwellers. This miraculous transformation, virtually overnight, became possible by Nepal's original mantra of development innovated by the Panchayat regime decades ago. Bikasko mool futaune (or unleashing the spring of development) is the evergreen strategy innovated then which has worked through the ages of constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy to federal republican anarchy. The world renounced-institutions like The World Bank, the UN and IMF have validated a theory that the more city dwellers a country has the more it is developed. Nepal's politicians and planners are perhaps the best subscribers of these theories, without questioning them at all. They duly implement these panaceas not only wherever possible but even where the problem looks or looked absolutely impossible to solve. And, yes of course they do add some highly creative ingredients to customize these fit-for-all policies in our context.
What is so original that Nepali mandarins at the Ministry of Urban Development have innovated, to make more than 50 percent of Nepalis as urban residents, and that too at such an impressive pace? Many might think that, this ministry headed by a PhD holder in planning as the minster-in-chief might have invested heavily to develop many cities with world-class facilities, before declaring them municipalities. But, Nepali creative minds have much simpler solutions than that. Instead of taking trouble of developing infrastructures and facilities, they rather changed the name of every possible village that has some human settlements into the ‘municipality’ assigning them the names that sound like a greatly pious heavenly incarnation, generally carrying prefix or suffix of some Hindu gods or goddesses. Real kudos for creating names that infuse development with culture.
With many villages converted into cities overnight, the country has now about hundred and fifty municipalities. This means more than half of the entire population is now city dwellers. Thus Nepal is now at par with Portugal, Italy or Spain where proportion of city and village dwellers is almost equal to that of Nepal. The grapevine also has it that the government has further plans of declaring many more municipalities which will make Nepal a country where almost one hundred percent people will then live in city, like in the US, UK or Singapore.
People who pose a question whether these villages are actually qualified to be municipalities in terms of infrastructure, population density and many other prerequisites, are those who actually don’t understand the real Nepal. Names and positions here are more important than the qualification. Is our incumbent prime minister (like most of his predecessors) qualified enough to run this country? Are our CA members qualified enough to write a new constitution? Are our planners and bureaucrats qualified to take responsibility of making this country more prosperous? I would better leave these questions unanswered, as everybody knows the fitting answers for them, all better than I do. So, where does the petty issue of villages qualifying to be the municipalities arise?
Facilities! Who cares about them? Kathmandu, a 300-year old city is yet to get some basics of them. So, how can the just born babies raise the voice asking for all facilities of a modern city just because they are declared municipalities? Besides, Kathmandu is known as a museum city. Therefore to showcase how the functioning street-lights look like in this museum, some solar powered poles have been erected around Baneshwar, Babarmahal, and Lazimpat areas. The new municipalities can replicate the Kathmandu model of urban development by littering the main roads, polluting the rivers if they have any and illuminating a small part of city by solar lights to explain how clever we are not to exploit so abundantly available water resource to generate electrify and resort to far less effective but sufficiently ultra-modern and hi-tech sounding solar alternative.
All these achievements in Nepal are likely to break many records. First of them is: Nepal could easily be the fastest urbanizing country in the world. Here, a village can turn into city within hours. Second, Nepal will be the first country among the LDCs to achieve the target of making one hundred percent of its citizenries, city dwellers. Third, these are the most unique cities in the world where main modes of city transport are mules and donkeys, or you have to walk for hours to reach to the next ward through two-feet wide trails. Yet we all will continue to be proud residents of cities, truly Nepali style.