Chhedagad Municipality is the largest and most populous municipality of Jajarkot district. Formed by merging six former village development committees, the municipality is led by Lal Bahadur Mahatara. Mahatara was once a school teacher who resigned his permanent job to join politics and was elected mayor of Chhedagad in 2017 from the CPN (UML). Since his election, Mayor Mahatara claims to have prioritised the development of education, physical infrastructure, health. Our Jajarkot correspondent Sahadev Basnet sat down with him to inquire about his work in these fields. Excerpts:
What have you done since taking charge of Chhedagad Municipality?
Although we have not been able to implement huge projects, we have laid the foundations for future prosperity. For instance, all 13 wards of the municipality are now linked to the road network. We have implemented the ‘one tap per house’ campaign which has expanded access to clean drinking water. We have constructed nine community health centres and have brought a 15-bed municipal hospital into operation to deliver quality healthcare to our residents. We have also established multiple birthing centres to reduce maternal mortality. We are doing everything in our power to guarantee people’s right to health. We are also improving the infrastructure of schools and have implemented the ‘one community, one child development centre’ to improve the quality of education in our local level. In agriculture, we have divided the land into pocket areas to increase cultivation of fruits and have distributed modern equipment and technology to farmers. We will soon see the positive results of all our efforts.
How much budget have you spent till now? Has that spending yielded results?
We may have spent around Rs. 900 million to date. That budget went into constructing schools, roads, health posts, ward offices, education and tourism infrastructure and more. This municipality started from nothing and now it is here, which is a huge achievement. So, I feel that our budget expenditure has yielded results.
What challenges have you faced while working?
We faced a serious lack of manpower in the early days. In the absence of skilled people, we could not figure out how to carry out tasks. This caused a lot of headaches in our first year in office. But eventually, we got a handle on the situation and began to move forward. But then, we faced a lack of budget. This created difficulties in mobilising local resources. Today though, the main problem is the confusion that arises from overlapping government jurisdiction. Some areas fall within the jurisdiction of both the federal and local governments and the laws are not clear on how to manage these overlaps.
What kind of a relationship does the local level have with the provincial and federal governments?
The local and federal governments are distant from each other, both geographically and in terms of relationship. As per the spirit of federalism, we should have had a close relationship with the province but it does not seem interested in cooperating with us. The provincial government does not even inform us of any of its work. It thinks of the local level as a subordinate structure, not an equal autonomous government.
What have you done to control COVID-19 in the area?
We have done all we can. Last year, we built seven quarantine facilities, two isolation centres and managed 1,300 infected patients. We also built a COVID-19 hospital to fight the coronavirus in the municipality. Additionally, we distributed food, medicines and clothes, ensured sanitation, arranged transportation for critically ill patients and constructed toilets. All in all, we have spent a total of Rs. 15 million to date in our fight against COVID-19.
What do you plan to do in your remaining time in office?
Everything that remains to be done. The roads have not been blacktopped; we have to do that. We plan to construct more school buildings, health posts and bridges. We will work towards expanding education to electricity and also towards supportive markets for the agricultural and industrial goods produced in our municipality.
Looking back on the last four years, do you feel you have met the expectations of the people?
The government process is inherently incompatible with people’s desires. The citizens want immediate redress of their demands without any hassle. Unfortunately, that is not possible when following laws and regulations. So, the elected representatives get a lot of blame. Nevertheless, we have tried to meet the needs of the people within the confines of the law.