Durga Bhagwati Rural Municipality, one of the 18 local levels in Rautahat district, faces inundation every year. While campaigning for last year's local election, Shambhu Kumar Singh of the CPN (Maoist Centre) promised to address this problem and promote the rural municipality's tourism destinations at an international level. The people believed him and made him the Durga Bhagwati chairman. But has he been able to deliver on those promises? The Rising Nepal's Gaur correspondent Sanjay Kumar Mishra talked with him regarding his performances in a year. Excerpts:
It has been one year since your election. What have you been able to do in this time?
My first year in office has been very challenging. Due to a lack of coordination among the elected representatives and party politics, we were not able to hold our rural municipal assembly for seven months. Then, the provincial and federal elections arrived and, by appealing to the leaders and using our own discretion, we were finally able to hold the assembly in our seventh month in office. I acknowledge that even after the assembly, we have not been able to work as planned but we have prioritised education, health, agriculture and physical infrastructure and promise to always work to fulfil the interests of the people.
Residents of the Matsari Village in Ward No. 3, still do not have deeds to their land. What is the municipality doing to address this?
We are working to get the people of Matsari and Vadharwa, who are residing on land provided by the Red Cross in coordination with the National Land Commission and the local government, their land ownership certificates. We have written to the joint team comprising officials from the local administration, Red Cross, Survey Office and Land Revenue Office to get this done. I am committed to overcoming all legal hurdles and concluding this process within my tenure.
Durga Bhagwati is surrounded by rivers on all sides. This causes massive flooding in the rainy season. What policies have you formulated to find a long-term solution to this problem?
Floods are this rural municipality's biggest problem. The Bagmati River flows from our east, the Jhanj River from our west and south and the Dori River is on our north. We are like an island. The Jhanj River, in particular, inundates settlements and destroys crops every year. We need to build embankments on that river but the local government does not have enough resources for this. The federal and provincial governments need to step up. We have talked to the federal government and have received a positive response. So, we are hopeful. Controlling the Jhanj River will not only benefit us, but also control erosion and flooding in the Rajdevi Municipality, Gaur Municipality and the Yamunamai Rural Municipality. We plan to conduct a comprehensive campaign to address the problem of flooding in Durga Bhagwati.
When will you hold the rural municipal assembly for the fiscal year 2023/24?
We already have. We could not hold it on June 25 so we held it on July 13.
The Pipra Market, one of the oldest markets in the district, is unmanaged and undeveloped. Why?
Pipra is a significant market and is popular all over Madhes Province. However, the land it is built on is under private ownership. The local government cannot do anything on private land until the market reaches an agreement with the federal and local governments.
The market did not even have a toilet. We recently built one after signing an agreement with the landowner. If we are able to reach a similar arrangement for the whole market then I promise, I'll turn it into the pride of Rautahat in six months.
A newspaper recently called you a fugitive. What are the people of the rural municipality to make of this?
Earlier this month, a newspaper wrote a news story labelling me a 'fugitive local level head'. I have never walked the path of violence and have always been in social service. Yet, it chose to sling mud at me like that. I guess it was driven by political prejudice. Yes, I had a case against me but it was baseless and the Government Attorney's Office dismissed it. It was a conspiracy to defame me and was able to proceed because of the carelessness of the District Police Office, closed-door 'settings' by my opponents and the exchange of money. I was preparing to go to the court against the District Police but the head assured me that those who broke the law to entrap me would not be spared and formed a probe committee. The case troubled me very much and I even fell ill. I strongly object to the false news published against me.
I still call on all elected representatives, ward chairs, members of the local government and those who were not able to secure a victory in last year's election to unite for Durga Bhagwati's development. Come to us with your plans, let's discuss them and do what is best for the rural municipality. This will also allow you to go in front of the people tomorrow and say you got this project done. Let us all contribute to building our Durga Bhagwati, not raise baseless issues and obstruct development.