Officials need to clean up their act, not just tidy up the town for the Modi visit
The town that is the birthplace of Sita was getting all spruced up in preparation for the visit here of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
next week. But the cancellation
has focused attention on the neglect of this town.
As in the capital, Kathmandu, rapid progress has been made in recent weeks to clean up the garbage, corral and remove the herds of semi-feral wild pigs, paint the buildings and repair roads that should have been upgraded and made fit for purpose months, if not years ago.
Some of the activity has been the work of a popular campaign to clean up the famous ponds of Janakpur, but some has been the result of an unusual concern on the part of the government to improve the visible appearance of the city.
Minister for Physical Planning and Transport Bimalendra Nidhi has been more active than most in the last few months, orchestrating a welcome for the Modi visit on 25 November. It seems that representatives from the local business community, district leaders of various political parties, security chiefs, CDOs and LDOs and other big-wigs in government and the administration, as well as civil society leaders from Dhanusha, Mahottari and Sarlahi, were all present at a preliminary meeting held at the Local Development Training Centre at Mujheliya on 14 November.
A civic reception was to be held in honour of Modi when he arrived perhaps along one of the recently upgraded roads from the border. Minister Nidhi, who is himself from Janakpur, had taken the opportunity to announce that negotiations were underway to twin Janakpur with Ayodhya (marrying Sita with Ram, as it were) and to bring in Indian assistance for the development of the Janakpur Ring Road and the construction and renovation of local religious sites.
The proposals were first announced in July when a meeting of the Greater Janakpur Area Development Council decided to request support from India to beautify the areas of three key temples of Janakpur and the religious ponds. Nidhi apparently hoped that announcements would be made regarding this anticipated Indian aid during the visit, but all that is up in the air now.
Still, many will be asking whatever happened to the funds promised by the Asian Development Bank a few years ago for the urban development and reconstitution of Janakpur.
Journalist Nirjana Sharma last year asked ‘What ails Janakpur?’ and drew attention to the massive misuse, and disappearance, of funds for the maintenance and development of the town. He pointed out that Dhanusha stood last in the list of all the 75 districts of Nepal in the Minimum Condition Performance Measures (MCPM) of the Ministry of Local Development and Federal Affairs (MoFALD), receiving just 27 out of 100 points, failing to meet the satisfactory development criteria. None of Dhanusha’s 101 VDCs and the Janakpur Municipality met ministry targets.
Dhanusha was one of the only nine ‘failed’ districts whose development budgets were reduced by 25 per cent as punishment of malfunction, the accounts had not been audited for two years. Locals blamed the municipality and the district government, and talked privately of massive corruption. The LDO was reported as saying that development work was minimal ‘due to the interference of vested groups’.
There were at that time 22 political parties in the all-party mechanism of the DDC. The local political leaders for their part blamed rival parties or the central body for the political situation and the backwardness in development. Many pinned their hopes for improvement on the agreement the Ministry of Urban Development signed with the ADB in July 2013 for a four-year road project worth Rs 1.6 billion.
The project was based on a study called Unleashing Economic Growth: Region-Based Urban Development Strategy for Nepal (2010), one of whose authors was eminent Nepali geography professor, Pushkar Pradhan. The project document prepared by the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works for the ADB proposed the following components: storm water drainage, roads and lanes improvements and solid waste management. Community Development Programs were to be defined during implementation in poverty pockets and guided by the Resettlement Framework prepared for the project.
More than three years after this proposal was published and more than a year after the agreement was signed, there is little sign of any progress either with the ADB Urban Renewal project or effective disbursement of government funds for maintenance development.
Where has the money gone?
It seems that it is time for those officially responsible for the management and improvement of the rich heritage area of greater Janakpur to clean up their own act, and not just the visible features of the city and its surroundings.
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