Yangwarak Gaunpalika is one of the eight local levels in Panchthar district. The Gaunpalika has six wards and is located in the north-eastern part of Panchthar. Spread across an area of 208.63 square kilometres with a population of 18,281, Yangwarak has many natural, religious and historical places. The starting point of the Mid Hill Pushpalal Highway Chiwa Bhanjyang also lies here. Lekhnath Ghimire was elected the chairman of this Gaunpalika in 2017 from the then CPN - UML. Our Panchthar correspondent Narayan Tumbapo talked to Ghimire about his experiences so far and his plans for the future. Excerpts:
What has been your experience while leading a local level in the new set up? Obviously, travelling a new path is always difficult. Leading the local government in the early stages of this new experiment raised many challenges. We are having to meet the unlimited aspirations of the local people with severely limited resources. Various disagreements at the grassroots level have also hindered progress. However, we have been trying to deliver government services to the citizens while staying within the boundaries of rules and regulations. My focus is on establishing a prosperous Yangwarak. We are playing a coordinating role in everything and moving forward without any disputes.
What are the major development works you have done till now? First of all, in order to provide effective services to the citizens, we prioritised the construction of an administrative building for the Gaunpalika. We have also constructed the office buildings of Ward Nos. 2 and 5. We have built a health post in Chauthi Hill of Ward No. 5 which is ready for inauguration. The post has a birthing centre and will directly benefit 700 people. Similarly, we have constructed a campus building in Tharpu, in Ward No. 4, a secondary school building in Chyangthapu, in Ward No. 1 and a lower secondary school building in Ayom, in Ward No. 3. A total of seven such educational buildings have been constructed in different wards, to the benefit of 3,000 students. Chiwa Bhanjyang of Ward No. 1 borders India. This sensitive Nepali territory had been without security, due to which, we on the Nepali side had been facing various problems. But now, a border outpost (BOP) has been set up and security personnel have been stationed there. A BOP has also been set up in Torifule Lamapokhari of the same ward. Furthermore, we have established a cheese production centre in Aiselu of Tharpu, in Ward No. 4, to promote animal husbandry. Hundreds of farmers from the neighbouring Hilihang Gaunpalika will also be able to take advantage of this.
How many promises that you mentioned in your election manifesto have been fulfilled? Works mentioned in the manifesto are being steadily carried out. Motorable roads, which are the backbone of development, have been constructed as local pride projects in all the wards. We have constructed around 100 kilometres of such roads that shall be in operation in all seasons. For the development of sports, a playground has been brought into operation in Nagi of Ward No. 6. We have also carried out many works in the fields of agriculture and tourism. We have completed 35 per cent of the works mentioned in our election manifesto. We have also formulated a five-year master plan to carry out other works that we had promised during the election.
Almost all local levels have been accused of corruption. What do you say about that? We hear cases of corruption at many local levels. We also hear of local level heads, deputies and employees being involved in misappropriations. But that is not the case here at Yangwarak. Neither will I embezzle nor will I allow others to embezzle fund. I am ready to take immediate action against anyone found to be corrupt. Corruption is the main obstacle to development. It must be eradicated. We are constantly warning the employees, service seekers and elected representatives of Yangwarak Gaunpalika of direct action if they commit any irregularity. Moreover, we have also conducted orientation programmes against corruption. Despite all this, there have been a few corruption complaints filed at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). I am committed to helping the commission investigate the facts and punish the culprits.
The haphazard development works carried by the local levels have caused extensive damage to the environment. Is this the case in Yangwarak Gaunpalika too? We in Yangwarak have not allowed development to damage our environment. For this, we are very strict with the consumers, technicians and other stakeholders. If we find that any work is causing damage to the environment, we stop its budget. We have stopped the destruction of large forested areas. We are serious about environmental conservation.
What kind of policies and programmes have you formulated for the prosperity of the Gaunpalika? We have formulated a five-year master plan. We plan to promote agriculture, health, education and tourism, which are the basis of prosperity. We are encouraging commercial farming by designating pocket areas for various crops. Cardamom, Argeli, Chirato, paddy, maize, millet, orange, lemon, ginger, tomato and chili can be grown here. Similarly, the Gaunpalika also considers the health of its people as one of its main assets. We consider a healthy human resource the foundation of development and have, hence, been managing health facilities.
What plans have you made to strengthen the Gaunpalika’s economy? We have not made any concrete policies yet but we will make one soon. Our goal is to strengthen Yangwarak’s economy by mobilising local resources. At present, the main source of the Gaunpalika’s income is the royalty received from three local hydropower plants. The extraction of riverine materials and the export of herbs and forest products also generate revenue. Agriculture, tourism and forests are major income sources. We will introduce policies and programmes to strengthen the economic aspect of the Gaunpalika by developing these sectors.
What initiatives are you taking to control the spread of the coronavirus? Yangwarak Gaunpalika is on high alert regarding the virus. A help desk has been set up in Chyangthapu which borders Sikkim, India. Awareness leaflets and pamphlets are distributed from all the wards. We have also sought the help of security agencies. The people’s representatives have also been reaching each and every community to disseminate information about COVID-19. We have arranged quarantines as well as five-bed isolations in all the wards.
What potentials does Yangwarak hold? How have you been working to exploit these potentials? Agriculture, tourism and forest (mainly herbs) sectors of this Gaunpalika hold great potential. There are many natural, religious and historical sites here. There are streams and rivers which can be used for hydropower generation. This area produces huge quantities of cardamom. There is an abundance of fertile soil ideal for growing many kinds of cash and food crops. Exploited scientifically and commercially, it could create employment for thousands of local residents. This will, in turn, help in poverty reduction. We can reap immense benefits by developing agriculture-, tourism- and forest-based enterprises.
What are the problems and challenges faced by Yangwarak? Barme and Beteni in Ward No. 2 and Yangling, Kholaghari and Samarjung in Ward No.1 are very remote and isolated. Similarly, we also have problems like child marriage and emigration of youths. There is a lack of market for our agricultural products. It is also very challenging to manage transportation, communication, education and healthcare in the remote parts of the Gaunpalika. Barme is the most remote area. It is almost impossible to build roads here because of the steep cliffs and inclines. There is no source to obtain clean drinking water. It is difficult for the Gaunpalika to deliver facilities here. The people have to rely on Sidingwa Gaunpalika in neighbouring Taplejung for services.
What works are being done to promote culture and tourism in the Gaunpalika? We are carrying out many culture and tourism promotional works. We have facilitated the establishment of homestays in Chiwa Bhanjyang, built Timbu Pokhari track for trekking, constructed temples and monasteries and have carried out yak shed improvements in Barme. We have also asked the budget from the federal and State governments to conduct promotional activities. We have continuously been allocating budget for the conservation of culture of various local ethnic groups.