Dinesh Subedi/Republica An excavator is seen here opening a road track in Rolpa in this recent picture.
ROLPA, Jan 28: Construction of roads was always the major demand of the people in Rolpa's villages and towns. This was what they asked for with the candidates during the last local level election. After being elected the local representatives have been working towards fulfilling that pledge. However, their efforts have not quite pleased the residents.
"It is true that we needed roads, but the thing is, they are not constructing those roads without consulting the locals or without doing any prior research," said a resident requesting anonymity. "Roads are being opened as per the interest of leaders or their favorites rather than for securing common public interest."
According to some local, roads are being constructed even if there is no need in an area and without holding consultations with the public. And such things are happening, locals allege, because of the same persons are the decision makers as well as owners of the excavators and machinery used in constructing roads.
"Many people know that the excavators which are being used for opening road tracks are owned by the representatives themselves. So, the money that goes to the contractor actually goes to their pocket," he said.
Even though the representatives including Gunendra Gharti, president of Suni Smriti Rural Development denied the allegations, they admitted that of not following all procedures for constructing roads, which includes conducting an environmental impact assessment research.
"It is true that we have not been able to consider all the regulations required for constructing a road including performing an environmental impact assessment (EIA) research. We will try to oblige with the regulations from now onwards," said Gharti.
A new road track cannot be opened without assessing its impact on the environment. Similarly, skilled technicians are required to survey the proposed road track for assessing the nature of the proposed road network's geography. But roads in Rolpa are being constructed without following such procedures.
"Yes, the environmental aspects have been ignored and we have sent a letter to the concerned department seeking information on this matter," said Krishna Prasad Dhakal, chief of Rolpa Forest Division. "The local bodies should at least study if the construction of the road will affect any forest and if it does then it is supposed to seek permission from the forest department. They can go ahead with the construction work only after the forest department approves it."
New rural roads are being constructed across the district without following necessary procedures including conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) or informing the forest department if the road is being constructed through a forest area. While some local representatives claimed ignorance of such provisions, some others cited lack of resources for doing so.
Dozens of roads are being opened in the district and EIA has not been conducted in any of those cases. While some local representatives expressed ignorance about the requirement, some others were found to take it easy. According to Gharti, though he knew that EIA was needed before starting road projects, he thought that was not very serious. "Our main concern is constructing a road, and people are happy that we are opening new road tracks in several places. Roads are the backbone of development," he said.
Environmentalists warn that such interventions without seeking consultations from experts can be costly for the local ecosystem in the long run. Deforestations could lead to landslides and cracks on the earth's surface. However, in the name of development, new roads are being constructed in almost all the wards of all the rural municipalities and municipalities of Rolpa.
Dhakal terms the roads under construction as 'senseless development'. Not assessing even basic environmental impact before constructing the roads, could bring disaster in future, he warned. He added that necessary homework has not been done even for bigger road projects, let alone small rural roads.
"For every single tree cut during the construction, 25 saplings should be planted to maintain ecological balance. That is the provision. But here in Rolpa, this aspect is simply ignored," he said. He warned that such haphazard road construction is sure to invite disaster. "Water sources are drying up very fast across the nation. With such haphazard development, Rolpa is sure to face environmental problems in the coming days," he stated.
Some locals allege that the highhandedness of local representatives is so high and their roles so influential that government mechanisms simply fail if they refuse to abide by rules. According to Dhakal, the local bodies even do not notify the authorities concerned when they start working on a project.
"They start cutting trees and constructing roads in forest areas without informing us. Even if we take notice of that and share our concerns with them, they do not take it seriously. This problem is actually everywhere across the country, not just here," he said.
In lack of skilled human resource, excavator operators themselves act as engineers for determining a road's alignment. Hundreds of kilometers of rural roads in Rolpa are being constructed this way. Requesting anonymity, a local representative said that there is no other option than to trust excavator operators advice. "We don't have engineers around here for seeking consultations and it is important that we construct the roads. So we have no other option than to rely on excavator operators," he said. He conceded that some local representatives do own excavators that are rented out to contractors that are responsible for opening new road tracks or repair existing roads.