People of Kathmandu khaldo are often accused of thinking about the rest of the country only when events outside the valley inconvenience them individually. During last year’s Covid lockdown, we were livid with the hordes of people crossing over into Nepal from India without screening for the dreaded virus. At election-time, we worry about the prospect of the ‘lesser educated’ folks from the outskirts electing the wrong people to govern us. Now, we are blaming all the ‘bumpkins’ who left their fires unattended and had the valley-denizens choking for air.
But accusing the folks of Gorkha or Gaur of carelessness is a touch rich. Of all the big and small places in the country, the valley emits by far most carbon-di-oxide and other noxious gases that contribute to air pollution and are thus responsible for the current haze over Kathmandu. That the country has received a quarter of the volume of rain it normally does this time of the year is also not their fault. Nor is lack of preparation at any level of government to handle these perennial forest fires.
More likely, saving the country’s forests and mitigating climate change has not been high on the priority of the administrators in Kathmandu, as they don’t suffer its worst effects (until they do). This is perhaps why there is no mechanism to tackle these summer- and winter-time fires that destroy hundreds of thousands of Nepal’s green cover every year. Nor do those running the national capital seem keen on limiting the emission of harmful gases from vehicles. Despite strict regulations against it, there is no shortage of vehicles here belching thick plumes of smoke.
We also hear of plans to make the valley cleaner and greener, say, in a decade. But how do we believe these planners when not even the bare minimum is being done to cut greenhouse-gas emissions? Whatever little good we see—cycle lanes in Lalitpur, for instance—has come at the initiative of common folks determined to improve the health of the community they call home. We can now complain about stingy eyes and heavy heads all we like, but things will not change without sustained pressure from below. Otherwise, why doesn’t this potentially life-and-death issue ever become an electoral agenda? Only when the citizens push will their representatives make and implement the right agenda.