“We Need Standard Rural Roads”

With a long experience of working in the rural roads behind him, Ram Krishna Sapkota, Director General of Department of Local Infrastructure Development and Agriculture Roads (DoLIDAR), spoke to New Spotlight on related issues. Excerpts

Aug. 11, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol 10, No.2,August 12,2016,(Shrawan,28,2073)

How do you look at the role of rural roads?

Rural roads are the lifeline of the rural population. They link the rural areas to urban centers and the rest of the country, to district headquarters and centers. They are very important for connecting people. This sector is one of the important sectors and it is in the priority of the government.

In comparison with our two neighbors, the investment we have made in building rural roads in Nepal is comparatively very low. With support from the government, communities are building the roads in rural areas. What I accept is the fact that they are not up to the standards. These roads are generating environmental and social concerns. Some of the rural roads constructed by communities through local bodies, without engineering inputs, are causing a lot of problems. The cost of improvement of such roads will be a lot of money in the future. There is a high risk. We are now improving the standards of the rural roads through the support of development partners and government. We are updating the district level Road Master Plans. All the 75 districts have these master plans. The master plans have identified the road networks. The first category is A which is under the core road network. This road will link the center of district headquarters to village centers. The districts will be connected to the national road network. What we are doing is to connect the village center to the district center, which is called the core road network. Our priority is now to improve the standard of core network and make them all weather roads. We are building crossings in the rivers, with bridges, culverts, and causeways. We are intervening in the road work to make them all weather.

What is the state of the road network now?

Data management is very important. Now we are collecting the Local Road Network statistics and we will publish it within a few months. We will update the data every two years. This will tell us about the condition of roads and the growth of roads in the districts and challenges and where improvements are needed. It will also help us to know where the resource gap is. This is going to be an important document. We have now LRN inventory which shows that we have 52883 KM of rural roads. The types of surfacing and length are very poor compared to other countries like us. Our length density is very low. In terms of pavement, the length of blacktopped rural roads is just 3.1 percent or 1500-1600 kilometer, graveled 28.7 percent and over 68 percent rural is earthen. This sector needs a huge investment.

How are you intervening?

We are intervening through various programs or supports from development partners. With support from the World Bank, we have been implementing SNRTP. This is implemented in 36 districts. The beauty of this project is that there is a focus in maintenance of the road network. In the past, we focused on new construction. We are maintaining the road though length worker system. This is based on performance. This project is focusing on maintenance providing employment opportunity to the local people, particularly single women, marginalized community and people below the poverty line. We employed the poorest of the poor of the community. This will change the livelihood, generating employment. Now around 2300 people are working under this project.

We are now focusing more on maintenance of the road. This is a change of our mentality in road development. We are introducing routine and regular maintenance of real roads. This is a major paradigm shift. Small maintenance will prevent the need of major maintenance. This is very beneficial. Routine maintenance has the economic value as it reduces the travel cost, maintenance and operation cost of the vehicles. Maintained roads are less risky for travel. They will also help local economy, increasing the access of the rural people.

How is the donors' contribution?

DfID has been supporting us through the Rural Access Program. Under RAP III, they have been supporting the construction of rural roads in remote districts of far-west and mid-west regions. They have been doing it in a labor intensive manner to prevent seasonal labor migration. This is employment-centric. This is environment friendly road construction, through local labor.  It is covering 8 core and 6 noncore districts.

How is the support by Asian Development Bank?

Under Decentralized Rural Infrastructure and Livelihood Project, Additional Funding, Asian Development Bank has been supporting upgradation of the rural road network. This is in 18 districts of Nepal from Taplegunj to Darchula, in the northern remote districts. This project is supporting upgrading of the old roads and make them functional. It also includes construction of new roads.

Under the support of Switzerland, as part of the Local Road Improvement Project (LRIP), the improvement of rural road network is going on in four districts, namely, Ramechhap, Sindhuli, Khotang and Okhaldhunga. The roads are also going in the Kosi and Mechi corridors. Supported by Denmark, Unnati project has been implementing various programs, including rural roads. This is a very good program, which includes roads, which aim to connect the market and farm land. It is backing the farmers. Road transport is one of the important components of agriculture diversification and commercialization. Under the project, 222 KM of roads will be upgraded. There are many interventions, but this sector demands huge resources.

There is the need to make road surfaces strong by doing the pavement. The paved roads also decrease dust and prevent environment pollution. Our Ministry is the largest ministry looking at all these issues.

What is the state of replacement of the Tuins?

That is one of the main priority of the department. We have been making an impressive progress, doing quite well. Out of 171 tuins, we have replaced over fifty percent. Out of 171, some are very private in nature and 22 are very unfeasible. We have almost replaced the Tuins by suspension bridges. They are in the replacement in the project cycle. District Development Committee will work for 120 meters. Suspension bridge division will work over 120 meters. Six tuins have already been replaced, 43 tuins are in the process of replacement, 21 are on the process of evaluation. All are in the project cycle. By next year, there will be no tuin.

How many suspension bridges are there?

Our target is to make 500 suspension bridges. Last year we completed 400 suspension bridges. We are planning to complete one suspension bridge a day. The construction of suspension bridges has a long process from design to acquiring contractors. When we complete 500 bridges, it means works are on in over 900 bridge sides. They are in the cycle of construction. This is a very promising sector. This bridge is helping people. There are a lot of challenges. There are 6500 suspension bridges in the country, maintained by DDCs and local bodies. They are constructed by INGOs, DDCs and VDCs. However, we develop guidelines and provide inspection.

Two years ago the present chief secretary, Dr. Som Lal Subedi, representing MoLDFA, signed an agreement with the Ministry of Physical Planning and Transport, allowing DOLIDAR  to construct the bridges in the rural roads. How many bridges have been constructed since then?

It is a policy issue. It is the role of DOLIDAR to construct the bridges in rural roads. In principle of subsidiary, it is the role of the central government to construct the bigger bridges. Smaller go to local bodies. In this context, construction of rural bridges falls under the jurisdiction of local bodies. Local bodies are more effective. National Road Policy and local level infrastructure policy give the construction of local bridges to local bodies. However, it is not happening now. The road policy of 2058 says that local bodies should be handed over to the local bodies. Some roads have been handed over to the local bodies and some are still handled by Department of Roads. By default, it is our jurisdiction. There is confusion in its implementation. Road Department allocated Rs. 2.5 billion, but that is not implemented yet. It is the sole duty of the local bodies to build the bridges. Our focus is on this. There is a lack of coordination among us. When there are multiple agencies involved, lapses happen in coordination. There is the need of greater initiatives. Long term solution is to apply the subsidiary policy.

How about the road standards?

National highway and strategic roads have their own geometric standards. However, the rural roads have their own geometrics. We have been constructing the roads as per Nepal Road Standards. We have been providing engineering support and there is no compromise in the quality as well.

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