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Our roads to disaster

Dinkar Nepal

Dinkar Nepal

Our roads to disaster

It would of course be too much to expect a 50m stretch of road to be expanded in a day । Photo: RSS

Three and half years ago, the road in front of the house I lived in at Sanepa, as well as the one next to the school my six-year-old son went to, were dug up for expansion. It was a frustrating experience. A peaceful residential colony with many schools for small children was turned into a dusty construction site for months, causing traffic snarls and sandstorms. It was dusty in the dry season and muddy after rains.

We raised voices, we questioned the authorities, and I even wrote about it in one of my columns then. Still, it did not come as a surprise when authorities said they had run out of budget midway, and the dug up road remained as they were for over a year.

It would of course be too much to expect a 50m stretch of road to be expanded in a day, and that another section would be dug up only after the previous stretch is completed. We do not have a culture of keeping people at the center of planning.

The new constitution, promulgated some years ago after decades of conflict, redefined the state-people relationship: from centralization to decentralization. But that has not changed how authorities treat people. They still behave like rulers, not like service-providers.

Federalism was supposed to shake up this status quo, but it did so only on paper. In reality, the bureaucracy is too obsessed with preserving its power, and is fighting hard to not let go of it. And our politicians are playing dirty games using this character of state mechanisms, and criminal businesses are reaping benefit using both of them.

Disgruntled by the state of our capital, and espying an opportunity to make an impact through the local bodies created after local elections, I jumped in when called by the mayor of my hometown to work as an advisor.

Three years later, at the heart of the town in Waling Municipality in Gandaki Province, the main residential area where around 5,000 live has become a battlefield. The municipality dug up a portion of the Siddhartha Highway that falls in this municipality for expansion two years ago and it hasn’t yet been worked upon due to lack of budget. Authorities in the Road Department have informed in unofficial conversations that the cabinet minister from the constituency, Padma Aryal, has warned them not to undertake any work on the roads that is not initiated by her. The mayor of the municipality, Dilip Pratap Khand, pushed ahead with this highway expansion project, clearly without enough resources at his disposal. The fact that the mayor is from Congress and the minister is from the ruling faction of the NCP has made it a political fight.

While local NCP leaders deny that the budget was withheld at the minister’s instruction and blame the mayor for initiating an insensitive road expansion without enough resources or a definite plan of action, the mayor’s supporters put the blame squarely back on the minister.

A short distance away, in a place called Bhalu Pahad in Putli Bazar Municipality, the Road Department initiated another expansion almost six months ago. It has come out in a local newspaper that the contractors involved were trying to make extra money by selling stones in Pokhara, which in turn is resulting in unnecessary delays in the busy highway, disrupting traffic-flow for five to six hours a day.

As is becoming clear, having a constitution promulgated by an elected assembly of the people is not enough to sort out the issues of governance. People are not at the center of our planning. When Waling residents question about the dusty roads, the mayor answers insensitively, “We have to learn to take pain to gain something”. Such irresponsible attitude has, in fact, been the hallmark of most of our political leaders across the spectrum.

The past three and half years were a steep learning curve for politicians, bureaucrats and people alike. It should have been a golden era of nation-building, development and progress. But looking at how the government, people, the media and the party systems conducted themselves in the years that followed the course the nation took has been disappointing, to say the least. We all learned the wrong tricks and fast.

The useless and senseless political tussles, indifference of the general public, especially the youth, and the haphazard character of our governing mechanisms are taking us to the edge of a cliff.