Following the implementation of the Rural Access Improvement and Decentralization Project (RAIDP), Nepal’s rural areas have undergone a major transformation. RAIDP project coordinator ASHOK KUMAR JHA spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues. Excerpts:
Can we replicate RAIDP nationwide?
This is a very easy and cheap road project ever implemented in Nepal in a peaceful way. This is cheaper and easier because this project does not have any international consultants. The District Development Committee is the focal body for the implementation of the project. There is no additional team. The overhead of the other projects run under our ministry is much higher, because each of the other projects has international consultants and temporary teams of the government. In RAIDP, there are two local consultants, engineer and social expert, in each district and there is a five-member consultant team at the center. The overhead cost for the consultants is very nominal. Whatever the amount the project spends is for physical construction.
How do you describe RAIDP?
This is the first project which also stresses institutional strengthening at the grass root level. Although the project will be completed by 2013, we have already started paper work for the next phase. We have learned some lessons in the implementation modality and we need to overcome them. This should be results based and we must focus on our products. Now the District Development Committee (DDC) should be given all the responsibilities in the process of implementation. As the DDCs are already established institutions and have enhanced their capacity in the eight years, they will be competent enough to deal with the issues.
How has the project supported in the enhancement of capability?
Establishment of material testing lab is one of the important components, which helped increase the quality of work. This project has helped establish material testing labs in all 36 DDCs. However, only 20-22 out of 36 labs are functional. There is the need of several components to make the labs functional. Each of those districts has of their own weaknesses in different sectors. Due to weaknesses in certain components, those labs are yet to be completely functional. I have already given a deadline to make the labs functional in all components. We have already issued orders that if DDCs do not make the labs functional as soon as possible, we cannot work with them from this fiscal year in construction and have also told them that there is less possibility to include the district in the next follow up projects. Thus, many DDCs are now working to make the labs functional.
How do you deal with the DDC which failed to enhance its capability?
Those DDCs which are unable to enhance their capabilities will be excluded in the next phase. My observation is that most of the districts by large numbers have developed their competency.
What makes this project different than others?
This is the only project which has made use of both software and hardware. This project is working for the livelihood of the population. In other national road and feeder road and other projects, most of them are facing land compensation disputes, causing delay in their implementation. Initially, even the World Bank raised the issue of compensation for the land. My straight argument was that we cannot sustain rural road projects if the compensation is paid for the land. Had we started to pay the compensation of land, the project would have shut down a long time back.
Is it not unfair not to pay compensation?
In rural areas, people are digging the road locally as per their own needs. Our task is to convert it into an engineered road. If we impose the road, we should pay compensation for the land. However, we have been supporting the roads which are constructed with the demands of local population. Despite all their commitment, we have been supporting them in terms of engineering, environmental and social safeguard. Our role is just to streamline the safeguards. Only after that we make the DPR.
How do you select the road?
In the planning stage of agreement, the people come to us agreeing that they are ready to donate the land for the road voluntarily as much as they can. Despite their consent, we support them under environmental social framework. We have developed a social safeguard policy entitlement. Our approach is that even if the road is constructed as per their demand, we are providing some sort of compensation to carry out their livelihood tasks. We have been supporting people by providing Rs. 7000 or Rs. 8000 for livelihood support. If somebody has lost all the land in the road construction, we compensate them as project affected families. If some families have lost 10 percent land, they will get simple compensation. Those who do not receive compensation or other compensation, we provide them certificate for recognition showing their contribution in the road construction. This certificate will remind their family members the contribution made by them in road construction. Constructing a ten kilometers road is not everything. However, by construing one kilometer road conceding all the factors or safeguard including social, environmental, sustainability is a milestone.
How much population of 36 districts benefited from the project?
Our roads have been serving over 2 million population. The road project has helped in the areas of health, education, income generation and technology transfer and other sectors. We have also been talking about good governance through this road project. Transparency, decentralization, participation and accountability are the pillars of good governance. Through social safeguard, and environmental safeguard, the project has been transferring the livelihood prospects. Along the roads, you can see other changes, the access to electricity and access to public transport also increased and settlements are coming up. Following the construction of the road, it also fills the gap between urban and rural lives. Rural people also have generated employment opportunities at their doorstep.
What economic changes has the project brought?
Our impact studies have shown that various agriculture products have substantially increased. There is an increase in the activities for business and other things. People have been selling their products in the market. Enrolment of the school children has gone up. Health facilities have increased. Number of maternal mortality death declined due to accessible roads to bring ambulances. RAIDP helps national strategy to provide motorable head within two hours of walking in terai and 4 hours in hill. In the project implemented districts, motor head is everywhere. However, it is a bit different in hill and mountain. We have achieved 95 percent target.
How do you see the progress of the project?
If we see the progress in terms of RAIDP, we have achieved 100 percent target. However, this is just a peanut project in contributing to the rural sector economy. If we implement this kind of project, the situation will be much different. Our experiences have shown that the rural development is impossible without development of road network in the rural parts of the country. RAIDP’s experiences shows that road is the basic for the all round development of the country. Rural road is a prerequisite for the all round development. Rural road reduces the urban rural gap.
Why is rural road important?
If we want to transform the rural areas and increase their contribution in GDP, there is the need to increase adequate budget for rural roads. We have to stop the construction of the new roads for another four to five years but what is required is to make the existing road run for all seasons. Our data has shown that we have 47,000 kilometers of rural road but only 20 percent of this road is all weather road. We construct the road everyday but we don’t even maintain these once in a year. Every year the new road is constructed at the cost of maintenance. The time has come to stop the construction of road. If necessary, we also need to bring the act to stop the construction.
Who is accountable for this?
I think it is people’s representatives. In absence of people’s representatives, people have been suffering. Employees cannot work as elected representatives as they are not directly accountable to the people. Since 2002, there is the lack of elected representatives. The employees are transferred frequently disturbing development projects. Despite that, we have been working hard. This project is internalized in the DDC compared to other projects. Donors are highly encouraged. The World Bank is concentrating on rural development. In our country, most of the projects are concentrated in easily accessible areas but this project is reaching to interior parts. Of course, the monitoring and evaluation process of the World Bank is very tough; we are able to fulfill all the requirements.