The twin tasks of road expansion and Melamchi Drinking Water Project pipe-laying have evidently been carried out without much planning. In fact, those who give the orders for them seem to lack even common sense. A stretch of road is dug up at one place and even before the work on that stretch is complete, another stretch, at a completely different location, is destroyed with heavy equipment. As a result, Kathmandu, which was already chocking on vehicle smoke, is these days also covered in a thick shawl of dust. With the concerned authorities seemingly unmoved by people’s pleas not to play with their health, the Supreme Court has now ordered the government to carry out its road-related projects only after ensuring that they don’t result in any additional air pollution. The apex court had to step in to
remind the government that the new constitution clearly stipulates that every Nepali citizen has the right to live in clean and healthy environment. That depriving people of this inalienable right is a violation of the constitution. But it is also hard to understand why the government is deliberately putting its people in the harm’s way.
Deliberate because even basic precautions have not been taken to check air pollution from these projects. The amount of dust these projects produce could easily be halved if work on a stretch of road was first completed before moving on to another stretch. The fact that even this simple measure has not been taken suggests that
different government entities are working at cross-purposes. There does not seem to be any coordination between the Department of Roads (responsible for road widening) and the Melamchi project operators (responsible for laying down the pipe-work). Which is why no sooner has the department finished paving a road, the
Melamchi project folks start digging there. Both these campaigns are also progressing at snail’s pace. Countless main and inner roads have been left in a state of disrepair for months on end. Many of the workers have been employed on daily-wage basis, and not on the amount of work they accomplish within a timeframe. This increases the incentive to delay: the longer the work takes, the more they will be paid.
We hope that the government will now summon top officials from these projects and seek clarification. That is seemingly the only way to get them to change their flawed and feckless modus operandi. Their carelessness is not only manifest in health hazards from polluted air; the bad roads also greatly curtail people’s mobility. This in turn increases people’s skepticism of the government, which is not a salubrious development for the health of the nascent democracy. It is a shame that the Nepali judiciary has to time and again admonish the executive to carry out its duties properly. The culture of accountability has to start at the top. The prime minister should have the guts to admonish, even fire, those civil servants who are working against public interest and are tarnishing the image of his government. He can’t silently watch the wretched drama being played out in the streets of Kathmandu, day in and