Potholes seen on the Gachhepani-Kotrekhola section of the Prithvi Highway (above). A micro bus and a tractor trailer involved in a collission a few days ago (above right). The collision occured while one of the vehicles allegedly tried to avoid a pothole. Photo: Binod Dhungana/Republica
TANAHU, June 20: A cyclist Kamal BK, 21, of Dulegauda lost his life in an accident at Gachhepani on Sunday morning last week. The same day, Hum Bahadur Sapkota, 66, of Raipur died on the spot in another accident a few kilometers away from Gachhepani in the evening.
Just 15 days ago, a Nepal army personnel Sailesh Limdum had also died in an accident at Gachhepani after the motorbike he was riding was hit by a jeep. During the last 30 days, three people have been killed in road accidents around the Gachhepani area of the Prithvi Highway.
These accidents are blamed on the poor condition of the road from Gachhepani to Kotrekhola. Though this road section was blacktopped two years ago, the black pitch is hardly visible. The road is full of huge potholes coupled with the narrow and risky bends. Locals lament that the highway which is the only road to connect Gandaki Province to the capital Kathmandu has become a death trap.
Following alarming numbers of accidents, locals had staged demonstrations on April 9 against the poor road condition.
During a meeting with the concerned officials, they had pressed for immediately repairing and blacktopping the section of the highway.
A follow-up meeting that was participated by all the concerned stakeholders at the District Administration Office had decided to repair the section of the road within 20 days. However, the decision is yet to materialize.
“There are many big and small potholes throughout this road section which are filled by water if it rains. Such potholes make it even more dangerous for vehicles to ply,” said a local of Gachhepani, Harilal Rimal. “And yet, the authority has turned a deaf ear to the issue.”
Rimal expressed dissatisfaction toward the authorities concerned for its sluggish approach toward such an important issue and not complying with its own decision to fix the road within 20 days. “The Department of Roads (DoR) has been utterly sluggish and irresponsible toward public and road safety. If it continues working the way it has so far, I don’t see the road being repaired even in the current fiscal year,” he said.
There is just one month left for the current fiscal year to end. Most of the development projects get momentum at this time as the authorities are under pressure to spend the allocated budget. However, ‘the road department is not showing up around the road even now’, Rimal noted.
However, the DoR blamed the locals for the pathetic condition of the road. “We have not been able to work speedily because the locals are not cooperating,” said Bishnu Prasad Kafle, chief of Road Division Office, Damauli.
Kafle stated it wouldn’t be fruitful no matter how many attempts of repair are made unless the water is removed from the road. And for that locals have to cooperate, he said. “We are trying our best to repair the road as soon as possible,” he claimed.
When the road was upgraded two years ago, it remained in shape only for a few months. According to locals, the road turned like a newly dug track within six months of the repairing. Kafle said that payment to the contractor had been halted because of the shoddy work on the road.
Roshan Siddhagadhi JB Company had won the contract of repairing and blacktopping the road section. The road department stated that the contract was signed for Rs 300.7 million. Though the department should have paid the amount by now, Rs 90.5 million has not been issued to the contractor.
“The contractor company submitted the expenditure details. Upon inspection of the completed work, we felt it was a subpar work. As such, we did not release a certain amount of the total expenditure to the contractor,” said Sachin Shrestha, information officer at the RoD. “We have sent samples of the construction materials to the laboratory for testing. We will decide in regards to the remaining funds only after the lab report comes through,” he added.
The road is also the highway through which tourists travel to the world famous Annapurna Circuit and popular tourist destination Pokhara. Tourism entrepreneurs lament that the dilapidated road has left a terrible impression among the tourists.
“The journey from Pokhara to Khairenitar of Tanahu is a torment for the travelers. You cannot see anything around due to excessive dust. If it rains, things get even worse,” said Bharatraj Parajuli, former president of Western Region Hotels Association.
The provincial government aims to bring 1.5 million domestic tourists this year. However, the sorry state of the highway to the province is not likely to woo visitors, locals claim.