A waterlogged section of the Mid-hills Highway in Panchthar district. Photo: Giriraj Baskota/Republica
PANCHTHAR, July 11: A road accident at Chitre along the Mid-hills Highway on Monday killed one and injured nine people. The jeep, which met with the accident, was half immersed in the muddy road and is said to have veered off the road.
Such accidents are not uncommon in the highway. During monsoon, it gets riskier as the road gets slippery. Potholes and narrow turnings make it a rough ride during any season. This is an everyday route for thousands of people, basically from the northern villages of Panchthar and several areas of Taplejung.
The hassles start right from Chiwabhanjyang, which lies in the Nepal-India border, till Doramba of Ramechhap while the highway stretches till the western parts of Nepal. In this eastern road section, obstruction is almost regular at dozens of points. Landslides often block the road, which looks like small canal at some places with water flowing through its sides. On top of that, construction materials are kept at the road haphazardly.
“Accident is not unusual here. Look at the road, it’s not a highway but a death trap,” remarks Mangal Beda, a local of Yadwarak Rural Municipality-3. “When we travel through the road, we often feel that it could be our last ride. The condition of the road is so pathetic,” he added.
According to Beda, the authority is to blame, rather than the contractors. When the road was under construction, and even now when it is being repaired and widened at some places, nobody is monitoring the work.
“When you let them do as they please, they won’t be committed to delivering quality work. And when there is negligence in something like a road project, you risk people’s life. This road has already killed many and will take away life of many more. We are doomed to have such a cruel fate,” he lamented.
Around 70 kilometers of the highway falls in Panchthar district. Out of it, only 19 kilometers have been blacktopped. Rest of the road section is not fit to travel along, according to the locals.
The deadline set for the construction, repairing and widening of the road about to expire. But, according to Shiva Khatri, an engineer involved in the project, there is no way they can meet the deadline.
“To meet deadline, we have to complete it within nine months. But it is not likely to happen. Contractors have delayed the work. Actually, they did not start the work on time,” Khatri reported. “Five bridges and four road sections are under construction now. Contractors are working in a very slow pace,” he added.
He informed that graveling and blacktopping of several road sections is underway. If the contractors are given pressure, maybe the work could be accelerated, he said.
“If contractors speed up the work, we might finish the project in a year. We cannot meet the deadline at any cost, but we will be delayed by a little. If this very pace is continued, it’s going to take much longer,” said Khatri.
According to him, the problem is also the construction of bridges. Unless the bridges are constructed, the road cannot become complete. “But the construction of the bridges has also come to a halt somewhere while it is going on at snail’s pace in other places,” he stated. He added that it is not easy to get along with the work in monsoon.
Meanwhile, the locals have criticized the government for not paying due attention to the road. Despite the government releasing huge budget, the highway is in pathetic condition forcing thousands of people to suffer every day, lamented Jivlal Karki, Beda’s neighbor.
He reported that the construction of bridges over Khaduwa River, Sukhkha River and Chhage River have not even started. So, their completion anytime soon is impossible.
“Hence, we can see that we are going to face extreme hassles for many more years. This road is not going to be ready anytime soon. They are not serious,” he fumed.
Locals put the blame on the low bidding process while granting the project to the contractors, lack of monitoring, and even nepotism. Even though the Oli government sounded little bit tough on negligent contractors earlier, now the same attitude is not seen, they say.
“The home minister sounded strict. They even took action against some contractors. But then, that did not last long. When the government is lenient, they are likely to take advantage,” noted Karki.