Road Potholes And PM’s Directives
Recent news reports highlighted that the Office of the Prime Minister was very concerned over the condition of the roads in Kathmandu, particularly the potholes. The PM’s office instructed the concerned authorities to immediately repair the cracks in the drive ways in the capital city. The way the PM’s office showed the concern about the everyday hassles of the general public and took the moves is appreciable. But, unfortunately, this is not the first time that the PM’s office has become so sensitive to this and issued order to the concerned authorities.
The PM’s office had issued similar directives around this time last year. Then it was hoped that all the black toped roads in at least the metropolitan city, if not the Kathmandu valley, would be smooth, without cracks and potholes, during the tenure of the former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’. Alas, despite the order from the highest executive authority, the situation did not change, and now similar kind of order has been issued. Obviously, potholes have challenged at least two PMs, and predictably, they are to grow more challenging with the construction works for Melamachi drinking water projects, road expansion drive, the new job of placing the electric wires underground in some parts of the city.
The way the PM’s instructions have failed to improve the situation exemplifies how development works have been carried out ignoring the plight of the people and how a nasty lack of coordination among the concerned authorities is going on. Generally, the situation is like this: the road department constructs or repairs the road, then the road is dug to lay the drinking water pipes, then the road is repaired, and the road is dug again to lay or repair drainage and then again the road is dug for setting up the electric poles, and irritated road department or concerned authorities just ignore repairing simply because of either lack of budget or vigour. They think no sooner the road is repaired, it is damaged by another authority. This case applies everywhere. Moreover, most development works, such as road repair, black topping are carried out at the end of fiscal year, when rainy season has already started, to use the allocated budget.
There is no proper monitoring and supervision of the construction. Lack of proper monitoring is the main problem, which is also related to corruption. No doubt, corruption is the nation’s chronic disease. When a health facility is over crowded with patients, it may fail to provide treatment to all in time, so is the case with the institutions formed to check corruption. Potholes are just the by-product or symptoms of the endemic corruption.
Lack of proper planning and timely implementation of the plan, especially plans related to infrastructure construction, is another acute problem. The Mugling-Narayanghat road section is a glaring example. During the dry season, hours-long traffic jam in this section is normal because of the road widening, and the road is so bumpy littered with gravels, stone, cracks and construction materials. During the rainy season, it the mudslides from above the road or the landslide below the road that causes road block for days. And this road section is the lifeline of the capital city because most goods imported from India are transported through this road.
Until last year, long traffic jams used to occur due to repairs at the uphill road from Naubise to Goldhunga in the same highway, Prithvi highway. Now, this section is ok, but there is problem in the other part. There have been such problems for decades, but only now construction of the much talked about Kathmandu-Nijgadh fast track has started. There is another example of lack of vision in this, in addition to fast track, planning should have been made and construction started for the railways between the capital city and the terai in this route.
No major highways and other infrastructure developments, except for some hydro power projects, have been initiated or completed in the last 30 years, a time period of the autocratic Panchayat system when all major highways such as Araniko, East-West, Prithvi, Siddarth, Tribhuwan, were made during 1960-1990. The leaders or the political parties that reinstated multiparty democracy and ushered in republican federal system must undergo retrospection as well as introspection in this aspect.
They must ask questions such as why the construction of Karnali highway is taking so long time, why the Kaligandaki corridor is not completed yet, why the mid-hill highway is not completed and why the river corridors in the Kathmandu valley have been frustratingly slow, why it took so long to complete Melamchi drinking water project? They should realise had they built on the highway construction of the Panchayat system and mobilised national resources for infrastructure projects in the last 28 years, there would have been railways linking different parts of the country by this time, and there would have been no power outage. It’s not resources that the country lacked, it’s the absence of right vision and a system!
The Investment Board of Nepal (IBN) has estimated construction cost of the East-West electrified railway to be around 3 billion US dollar, so is the cost for Kathmandu-Pokhara railway. A rail line linking East-West and Kathmandu-Pokhara railway is estimated to cost less than 3 billion USD. So, all these three calculate for less than 9 billion USD. And this much money is not needed at once, but in a time period of ten years, assuming that the construction goes in fastest speed in our case. That means, using 2 billion USD a year, or around 220 billion rupees a year, for such mega projects. Now, the country has been receiving around 5 billion USD annually on average in the last two decades as remittance. We could have used the hard earned foreign currency to buy technology and materials for such mega construction, but we used that for buying everyday goods such as grains, petroleum products, cars and gold.
It seems the golden period of remittance is about to be over with the decline in job opportunities in the Gulf countries. Now, the question is how will we buy materials for such mega projects, how can we even think of such things when the office of the Prime Minister has to be actively involved in condition of the roads, potholes, in Kathmandu and keep issuing directives to the concerned authorities?