Mayor at forefront to cater to thirsty Dharan folks, but can he deliver?   

Devendra Karki    

Harka Raj Rai (Sampang) surprised many by winning a mayoral post in Dharan Sub Metropolitan City in the recently held local election.    
But, behind his success, there were longstanding aspiration of local people, who were otherwise weary of empty and shallow promises given time and again by mainstream political parties, for positive changes, and for getting their day to day problems resolved practically. They were desperately searching for a right candidate who could understand their problems and resolve them practically. So, Sampang was a perfect fit to this effect.    
Unlike other candidates from different political parties, Sampang, an independent candidate, was a lone campaigner. In the first place, he seemed not to impress voters as he did not get his election campaign being organised extravagantly, and he campaigned alone.    
It seemed that he was a neglected candidate. But deep down, he being a social workers, who previously (still now) worked together with local people for raising voices against social injustices and for getting their problems resolved and development activities had carried a strong agenda for resolving drinking water problem, a pertinent issue that residents of Dharan have been demanding for its resolution for long, that impressed the voters and they in return silently made him win the position.    
Following his election to the mayor, Sampang is working day and night to execute the promises he made during the poll. With the support of local people, he has launched a campaign to drain and supply drinking water in the city from various small streams in the surrounding.    
As part of the campaign, the project in local Pakuwa river has completed wherein water from the river has been tapped and supplied to the city through water tanks set up at various areas in Dharan. For the construction, donations were collected at home and abroad through Facebook and other social sites while some residents of Dharan donated labour. Sampang himself joined workers in the field during public holidays when his official duty is off. The project cost approximately Rs 7 million, say technicians.    
Following this, he has currently been at work to drain and supply water from another local Nishane river at Dharan-4 along the Dharan-Dhankute section of the Koshi Highway. He through social sites has urged people to join him in this initiative.    
He however sees a sustainable solution to the perennial drinking water issue facing residents of the city being by tapping and supplying water from the Saptakoshi river, approximately 15 km away.    
A study for the project is being carried out and he has a concept of generating energy from the river too by constructing a big reservoir, he said. For constructing a reservoir, technicians and engineers have carried out a study in the proposed area. Engineers at the Purbanchal Engineering Campus have suggested that a soil test in the project area is required.    
According to them, 40 kilowatts electricity could be generated from local Khardu river during monsoon and around six kilowatts during winter, says Sampang.    
Water pumping machines that are used to drain underground water in forests have broken down two or three times a month in general, and it required at least Rs 200,000 each for a repair, he says. So, tapping and supplying water from rivers and streams during monsoon would save extra expenses on repairing pumping machines and electricity used for the purpose, he adds.    
Besides, he has launched various campaigns in different fields. Sometimes, he has been seen planting tree saplings while in other, he has been spotted in the chowks of the city with placards against drug abuses in his hands.    
Destruction of wildlife and human-wildlife conflict have taken place due to deforestation, he believes.     
He relays the progress of his official and personal work to general people through his Facebook page. Providing access to public information and updating general people about government works is the right of people and it must be implemented, he is of the view.    
People have supported mayor Sampang in his initiatives for positive changes in the city, says Hari Shrestha, one of the members of his campaign.    
In the past, people’s representatives did not focus on the drinking water issue in Dharan housing around 300,000 population. So, people of the city elected an independent candidate this time, he puts his view.    
Nowadays, mayor Sampang has spent most of his time on resolving drinking water issue, says local people. Voters have been happy as they have been updated (through Sampang’s Facebook page) about what people’s representatives are doing for the development of the city, according to a local Bishnu Limbu of Dharan-15. “People have reached out to help their representatives with development activities acting on the information,” he says.    
Initiatives in distributing drinking water to the residents of Dharan started back during Rana regime.    
In 1995, the then Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher Rana directed construction of a water tank at Phurse in Dharan-13. Water was tapped from local streams including Sardu-Khardu wetland area and distributed to the local people. The wetland area has been protected by relocating around 300 houses from the area in 2034 BS at the direction of then King Birendra Shah.    
Following an increment in the population of the city, the then Dharan Town Panchayat in 2034 BS had got the responsibility to distribute water. The same year, the Nepal Water Supply Corporation was established in Dharan.    
The Town Panchyat started distributing water in 2035 BS at the fees of Rs 11 per tap.    
In 2045 BS, the Corporation with loans and grants from the World Bank expanded a ductile pipeline to meet increasing demand for drinking water. It also constructed deep tube wells in the forest in the south after water collected from the Sardu-Khardu wetland area did not suffice increasing demand, say local people.    
Shortage of drinking water hit Dharan since 2045 BS, they say. Until the Corporation handed over its properties and responsibilities to the Drinking Water Management Board in 2078 BS, approximately 16,000 consumers of 19 wards of the then Dharan Municipality got access to pipeline water. But it was not enough.    
On May 8, 2012, the Government of Nepal reached a 22 million USD deal with the Asian Development Bank to launch a water project. The Dharan Drinking Water (Restoration, Upgradation and Development) Sub Project was a part of the government’s integrated urban development project. The project contract was awarded to Tianjin Tundi JV and the Wielding Design Authority prepared the detailed project report. To extract underground water, 11 deep tube wells at seven places in the forest were dug.    
The project aimed to distribute water to 28,841 houses and increase it to 30,000 by 2030. But, by mid-2022, the number of consumers has reached 28,000.    

So far, 95 percent of the project work has been completed. But the contracting company relieved itself from the responsibility of testing and operating the project by handing over it to the Board earlier ending it up without expected results. The project deadline also expired on December 31, 2021.    
The Board Managing Director engineer Raju Pokharel blames water leakages for its failure to resolve water problem in the city. At present, over 25 million liters water is in demand on a daily basis, he says. “During winter, around 18 million liters water has been produced from 11 tube wells and the Sardu-Khardu wetland area. Of the 11 tube wells constructed, currently 10 are functioning well as one has broken down. This has also led to low production of water,” he says. During monsoon, 20 million liter water will be produced, according to a projection.    
Old and rusted pipelines, water pumps and generators have contributed to problems in water distribution, he is of the view.    
Who is Sampang    
Born in Khartamchha in Khotang district on 27 February, 1983, Sampang later in    
2056 BS moved to Dharan to pursue higher education. He was a SLC graduate from local Shukrabare Secondary School. He got his Bachelor’s degree in politics and sociology from the Mahendra Multiple Campus, Dharan. He also taught English language at a local institute. He spent six years at foreign jobs (in Afghanistan and Iraq). However, driven by patriotism and zeal to serve at home country, he returned Nepal from foreign jobs and started off as a social worker and a campaigner.    
He has been speaking up for development, justice and freedom. Determined and dedicated, he involved himself in the campaign that spoke for the local people affected by the Madan Bhandari Highway that goes through the Dhankute Highway in Dharan. For him, this incident was a turning point to become popular among local people.    
Since then, he started gaining popularity among local people as one who spoke for common people. He has raised his voice against corruption, anomalies, inflection and Sardu watershed encroachment and for issues like drinking water and unplanned excavation of the Sardu river. He has protested ‘corruption’ in the B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences and anomalies in the drinking water project in Dharan.    
‘Janasarokar Manch’, a local social organisation, under the leadership of one Krishna Narayan Palikhe had led a campaign against land mafias who tried to take public lands at the Sardu wetland area. Sampang later joined the campaign. After death of Palikhe, he took over the leadership.    
Before being elected as the sub metropolis mayor, he earlier fought for the deputy mayor position in the sub metropolis as an independent candidate in the previous local poll. But he lost. It did not deter him however.    
“For the holistic development of the country, political parties and leaders should correct themselves and corruption and commission system should come to an end,” he stresses.