The Karnali Highway, constructed under the command of the Nepal Army, has been in operation for 11 years. But all these years, passengers haven’t been able to travel safely on the highway, where hundreds have died in road accidents. The highway, which links Surkhet with Jumla, is so treacherous that it is often dubbed a ‘death-way’. In the past two years, although the frequency of accidents has declined, the suffering of the passengers hasn’t. They have to travel for two days to make a trip that should take no more than eight hours. That the highway is only single lane was already a hassle. What has compounded the problem is the delay in the construction of bridges on it.
The government has invested Rs 150 million to construct five of these bridges. (Currently, most vehicles plying the highway have to ford treacherous rivers.) Another 18 bridges are being built with a World Bank grant of Rs 600 million, according to the Road Division Office, Jumla. But construction works are marred by problems.
For instance construction of the bridge over Takulla River has been halted, no one knows exactly why. The Road Division had recommended that its constructor, Jagriti Tulchi Durga JV, be blacklisted.
“But the Supreme Court issued an order not to place the company on the blacklist,” rues division head Madhav Prasad Adhikari.
However, construction of another bridge project that had earlier been halted has now resumed. The project had begun seven years ago under an agreement that it would be completed in 15 months. But the bridge remains incomplete after seven years, and the construction resumed only recently after the road division warned the constructor, Yakthumhang Goldengate JV, that it would be blacklisted.
“The company has agreed to bear all the additional cost incurred by the delay and to seek payment only after the construction is complete,” says the Road Division Office, Jumla. This bridge is being built at a spot where vehicles get stuck for weeks when there’s a landslide.
Raj Bahadur Mahat, chairperson of Jumla Civil Society, laments that the government has failed to take action against construction companies that have dragged construction for years. “These companies enjoy political protection, which is why they can get away with abandoning the work. If the state is indeed serious about Karnali’s welfare, upgrading the highway is a must,” says Mahat.
The road division claims that building the bridges and widening the highway is a top priority, and that construction has picked up pace after it took charge of the work in February. Earlier the Nepal Army was in charge.
The road division office claims that is doesn’t have the necessary budget for highway expansion and upgrade. It also argues that construction work has suffered due to the region’s remoteness and the 2015-16 blockade.