Pokhara’s mayor Man Bahadur GC is a man of his word, and he aims to deliver on all his election promises during his five-year term.
On Monday, GC signed a contract with WorldLink to provide free WiFi in the city’s 10 major tourist centres and public places like Fewa Lake, Davis Fall, Mahendrapul and Manipal Hospital. GC had already launched free WiFi at Pokhara Airport and the Western Regional Hospital.
He is just honouring a pledge he made during last year’s election campaign to turn Pokhara into a technology-friendly city. The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was criticised at the national level for imposing 13% tax on internet services, against its election promise to expand free WiFi across the country. And although GC belongs to the same party, instead of taxing the Net, he had made it free in his city.
After GC was elected last year, Pokhara Metropolitan City installed fiber-optic internet at all its 33 ward offices, ending local people’s ordeal to queue up for hours to pay taxes or have their house designs approved. Now, they can access these services from their own ward offices and do not have to go to the municipality office.
Ever since serving as the chair of Kalika VDC in 1997-2002, GC has been a staunch supporter of decentralisation. He is critical of his own party in the federal government for not handing over education and land revenue offices to local governments. He does not just want Kathmandu to devolve to provinces and municipalities; as mayor, he has delegated a lot of his authority to the ward committees.
The Pokhara Municipality board recently authorised all ward committees to sanction local development projects worth up to Rs1.5 million. And GC aims to devolve more power to ward committees. Pokhara is Nepal’s largest metropolitan city in terms of geography, and it has lots of public landmarks like lakes, forests and other waterbodies which are being encroached upon by businesses backed by politicians. The absence of locally elected representatives for two decades was a golden chance for the land mafia to grab public land.
GC aims to reclaim Pokhara’s public land from the encroachers. He is soft-spoken, and hardly raises his voice during negotiations, but is determined and persistent, some would even call him stubborn. Pokhara has declared this as ‘The year of Public Land Conservation’ and he wants to give back to the people what is their collective property.
“We will first identify all encroached property, then we will demolish all the illegally built structures,” he says firmly.
GC is working to deliver on his other election promises like upgrading roads, conserving rivers, generating jobs and turning women into entrepreneurs. This is why GC always looks like a man in a hurry, and terminates our interview to dash off to another municipal board meeting.