For Nepalis, the terms Dal Bhat, Makai Bhatmas or for that matter Sadaks ra Puls are colloquial and go well with our milieu. The current trend of high-rise buildings and increasing use of concrete by leaps and bounds, has resulted in roads and bridges being topics for discussion for almost everyone.
Besides the two former PMs of Nepal viz. Bhimsen Thapa and Jung Bahadur our present incumbent is in the public eye because of his extraordinary actions. He has demonstrated to the whole country his capability by laying the foundation stone at a virtual ceremony of 165 roads, recommended by the respective local representatives of the electoral constituencies by just pressing a button. A total of 628, query suspension bridges were announced then to have been completed. In that function at the PM’s residence in Baluwatar, Shri Basanta K Nembang, Minister for Roads & Communications stated that his ministry was completing nationwide constructions at the rate of six miles of metalled road daily and a bridge in every two days! One wonders whether he was remarking about the suspension bridges which are replacing the twines or about concrete bridges of steel and mortar. One recalls a recent report about a bridge over the Kamala River where the approach roads on the two sides of the bridge, completed previously, were washed away by the river leaving the concrete bridge inaccessible in the middle! It is currently touted that there are over forty road building projects in Dolakha. A similar sad reality is the Charikot – Mudhe Road, a lifeline of the Zilla, but which is in an abandoned and deplorable state as the concerned contractor vanished without trace! A similar sad happening is the illegal excavation of sand and gravel from the banks of the Narayani River at the Susta region of Western Nawalparasi and its illegal smuggling to India. Similar extraction activity from the River Daraudi in Gorkha has resulted in the water level going down so that local farmers can no longer irrigate their fields! Such activities, it is claimed may even lead to the river changing course and bringing about massive damage to communities in the area.
We Nepalis have been hearing for many years about the setting up a fertiliser factory in our country. Happily our PM has now announced the possibility of fulfilling this dream. Such a factory is essential for Nepal if we are to be self sufficient in cereals, fruits and vegetables. There has been talk about such a factory for years but by hook and crook the process has always been derailed by the vested interests of fertiliser importers. What are the chances of success now?
Another national problem for Nepal is the widespread one time use of plastic bottles. Many countries provide facilities for refilling at many sites in a community. Singapore offers a pair of keds for seven bottles and a T-shirt for three. A worthwhile venture and a permanent solution would be to set up a factory to make plastic pellets out of the discarded plastic bags, bottles and drinking mugs. Use of such plastic pellets brings about reduction of the amount of bitumen required for making metalled roads by 10%. Such a road was built in mid 2018 by the Pokhara Municipality at Anupam Tole. Experience in India is that roads built in such manner, besides being cheaper, last much longer. It is thus an ideal method of getting rid of plastic wastes and lessening environmental degradation. It is in fact killing two birds with one stone! More recently, as propagated in Facebook, Dubai has recycled plastic water bottles into plastic fibres and then gone on to make T-shirts and masks out of it!
A frequent sight in the Nepali countryside these days are bulldozers; bought by local leaders for the making of roads willy-nilly, without technical advice or supervision. Such roads, not technically suitable are accident prone and public hazards for travellers. Recently a bulldozer driver accidentally killed co-worker and promptly buried him. He was found out and arrested. That community opposition exists is shown by the fact that two bulldozers, belonging to a local leader for constructing roads, were set ablaze recently.
Whilst many of the setbacks in road construction may be due to delay in disbursement of compensation for land so utilised by the government, another is the tendency for contractors to delay start of work or use substandard materials. Some even leave unfinished, the work awarded to them. At the end of Chaitra 2077 BS, no less than eleven contractors were charged and blacklisted for one year. That substandard work is rampant is exemplified by two news items of 6th April 2021. The under construction bridge over Trishuli river at Thimura of Chitwan District and Devghat of Tanahu collapsed in the early hours of 6th April morning. An initial claim was that it was because of the earthquake of 5.4 Richter scale, at 21.04 hours on the 5th of April with its epicentre at Binnaduri of West Bengal! Work on this bridge had started as early as 2015 and the completion date had been extended four times. One can only shudder at the standard of work and inadequate or substandard material usage. One recalls that another bridge over the Trishuli River, connecting Kenure of Nuwakot with Forsetar of Dhading, awarded to a concern owned by a politician, had also collapsed in April of 2018.
Just as for bridges, there is much amiss in the building of roads. A ploy of contractors is to hand over an incomplete work e.g. the 30 kilometres of the Chamari – Thori section of the Postal Highway which made headlines when the locals objected to the work not being complete. Communication / connectivity in the twenty-first century are of prime importance and getting around to different parts of our country is the first step. Sadly we inhabitants are in an environment of hypocrisy or pakhandi all around.