It has been almost a decade since the construction of 1,776 kilometer-long Mid-hill highway from east to far-west was started. However, the project is far from over. Countless people have died traveling on this road. Major bridges along the highway are incomplete and the construction of countless others has not even started. Some section of the highway is blacktopped and others are just potholes, waiting to swallow whatever comes along the way. The project is emblematic of the state of our affairs. This is not how we should have responded to this national pride project. The Mid-hill Highway is important not only for the hill dwellers who, in lack of better transportation access, have been deserting the villages and descending to the towns for better livelihood, it is crucial for reviving the economy of the hills. People would get jobs, and the trend of migrating to the lower valleys and the plains would be significantly stabilized. The prolonged delay in construction, let alone completion, of this vital artery of Nepal’s hills has stalled all these prospects.
Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and his ministers are not tired of talking about railways and ships, but our major infrastructure projects have been languishing for years. From sheer mismanagement of allocated funds to horrible monitoring of the projects by the government agencies, projects like Mid-hill Highway have been made to seem like a burden to state coffers. The state mechanism is hapless even as contractors, with full political protection, are busy milking from the projects and it’s the people who end up at the receiving end. The government keeps on reiterating ‘zero tolerance’ slogan against corruption and mismanagement. However, nothing seems to have improved on the ground. The prime minister and ministers are busy making speeches and inaugurating a number of events on a daily basis. They do a really good job of “directing” the line agencies to do the work on time. But there is no mechanism to follow up on that and no one knows the consequences of not completing the assigned task. This callous attitude toward vital infrastructure projects is pushing our development prospects to uncertain state.
It has been nearly five months since KP Sharma Oli became the prime minister. He heads a powerful government with a two-thirds majority in the parliament. However, there is little hope as to when and how the works will actually start. People need to feel the difference in their lives: If their travel has become a little easy, or if the food they buy in the market is affordable and healthy. There appears no qualitative difference in the everyday lives of people. One often wonders: what on earth is hindering the government from expediting projects like the Mid-hill Highway? The Oli government has no excuse and it must work hard to deliver on its promises. We urge the government to begin by immediately expediting works of big projects, and the Mid-hill Highway could be that starting point.