In the month of January 2016, Biratnagar Sub Metropolitan City (BMSC) announced that they would soon be starting the process of declaring Biratnagar a single color zone city. The officials provided an explanation that such a move would make the city a first of its kind in the world and bring uniqueness. Furthermore the government finalized 4 colors without following any procedures and put them to polls on their Face book and webpage. The color would be decided based on the likes received on the pictures. To add to this, the government also announced 30% subsidy for the public to paint their house. It was an arbitrary decision taken by the government without the consent of the local people. Bilkalpa was one of the first amongst the civil society to raise the issue in public and vehemently criticized the government for encroaching upon citizen right to personal choice.
There were many issues that needed to be addressed immediately and it was unfortunate for the BMSC to be involved in such an issue which was not necessary. Far from necessary, the move was also an attack on the personal liberty and freedom of choice. People are emotionally connected to their home and such anarchic dictation by the government is not tolerable in a free democratic society. The biggest issue that the Bikalpa raised was the wastage of public spending that this Color zone project would have caused. The BSMC even announced to subsidize 30% of the painting cost . That money the government was providing as subsidy is the public fund collected from the tax payers. At a time when the city is facing drinking water crisis and sanitation problems, investing such a large amount on such trivial agenda would be equal to playing with the sentiments of the general public. For over 46,000 houses in Biratnagar with an average small amount of Rs. 10000 ($100) per house, the citizens would have to bear the cost of more than Rs. 4.6 billion for painting the house. That is a wastage of individual capital of that magnitude.
Bikalpa coordinated and aligned with other civil society members and organizations who were against the decision of Biratnagar municipality. The organization was quick to take the matter to the local print media and the social media and engaged people to discuss the issue. Bikalpa also conducted a survey poll and regularly update its views on the topic on social media sites. We raised this issue and its repercussion on every our student outreach programs. Press meet was organized in collaboration with civil society members and organizations to highlight the issue. Articles and views were published in Local print news and magazine. Discussion session was also held to understand the issue. Since the BSMC held its poll online through Facebook, Bikalpa also used the same networking site to sensitize the mass and question the authorities about the rationale of that decision. In this way, Bikalpa was able to sway considerable amount of Facebook users. The members of Bikalpa were actively engaged in online and offline debates with other people. This strategy was effective in swinging the opinion.
Due to many obvious reasons, the BSMC has for now abandoned the plan after much backlash on social sites and by the civil society. Bikalpa played an instrumental role in building up an opinion amongst the online and offline citizens as well as Civil Society members which made the BSMC to reconsider the decision. Hence nearly half a billion rupees was saved from being wasted.
By: Sarwagya Raj Pandey