CHITWAN, June 27: Government negligence and the failure to adopt safety measures coupled with the delay in its upgradation have made the Narayanghat-Mugling road section, considered to be the country's lifeline, 'the highway of death'.
At present, Kathmandu has no alternative to the Narayanghat-Mugling road where at least 10,000 vehicles ply back and forth every day. The 36-km road section connects the country's southern, eastern and western parts with the tourist-hub Pokhara and capital Kathmandu. Big and small passenger vehicles to massive lorry trucks delivering the vital essentials operate on this road, essentially establishing it as the country's lifeline.
The road is currently being upgraded into two lanes while meeting the criteria for Asian standards. Ever since the contractors cut the hills to make space for the upgradation works, landslides in those areas have been posing severe threats to the lives and properties of commuters and locals during monsoon.
Locals also blame the contractors for prolonging the risk as they failed to meet the deadline to complete the construction works. A two-year contract was signed back in 2015 to upgrade the road. Only around half of the work has been completed so far though the deadline passed three months already. Lack of sufficient human resources and machinery, among other problems, are said to have resulted in the slack work progress.
Authorities act as 'mute spectators'
Following the onset of monsoon rains, landslides have been occurring along the Narayanghat-Mugling road section almost on a daily basis. Such landslides have not only created chaotic traffic snarls, but also claimed a few lives.
Following the human causalities, Chitwan's Chief District Officer (CDO) Narayan Prasad Bhatta called an all-party meeting on Sunday, which was attended by officials of Narayanghat-Mugling Road Section Project Office and the contractors' team. However, the project office's chief Chandra Narayan Yadav was absent.
The absence of the project's head bothered the CDO and when he inquired why Yadav did not attend the meeting, he was told that Yadav is in the USA on governmental work. Then CDO Bhatta sarcastically reacted, “Maybe the government provided him the opportunity to visit the USA due to his wonderful performance in the road project.”
When somebody in the meeting asked how many workers have been deployed for the road construction, the project office's acting chief Govinda Khanal looked at the representatives of the construction firm.
Only on Thursday, a massive landslide along the road had buried a police van with four police personnel inside. As of now, the dead bodies of three policemen have been recovered while the fourth policeman is still missing.
Amid such critical hours, the slack response from the officials concerned made the participants of the CDO-called meeting feel that the stakeholders have not paid enough attention to the early upgradation of the road.
Moreover, it has come to light that decisions taken by similar meetings in the past have not been implemented. Three such meetings had been held before the police van met with the disaster. The previous meetings had decided to deploy a Rapid Response Team (RRT) in the leadership of the project office and in collaboration with police.
As per the decision, about 3-4 officials of the project and police would have formed RRT and monitor the road to identify the reasons behind the traffic snarls and the risks and likelihood of landslides. However, the decision was never implemented and the RRT was never formed.
“Had there been an RRT, maybe Thursday's unfortunate incident could have been prevented. Moreover, contractors did not adopt safety measures while slashing the hills and rocks. We didn't deploy preventive measures seriously and this should not be repeated again,” added CDO Bhatta.