Pathetic roads in Madhes
It was almost 6:30 am on Wednesday last week. Prakash Pathak, principal of Damodar Academy – a Central Board of Secondary Education school located at Jaleshwar-12, called me to vent his anger when his school bus could not ply Janakpur-Bhithamod road stretch as it had become muddy in the aftermath of minor rainfall. He was talking as if I were responsible for such condition of the road. However, his intent was that such issue regarding the condition of the road must be brought to public domain.
Road is the dominant transportation means in Nepal. Yet, the country’s road connectivity is at the lowest in South Asia. After the construction of 1,027kms of East-West Highway in the northern part of Tarai/Madhes, all the successive governments have failed to expand roadways in the southern plains of Nepal. This lack of roads rubs salts on the wounds of all taxpayers in that particular region. In reality, Tarai/Madhes is in desperate need of roads for the purpose of connecting one district with another, especially in the southern interior.
After the People’s Movement in 2006, neighbouring country India had agreed to design, supervise and construct 1,440 km of roads including the Postal Highway and other routes in the Tarai. Subsequently, an Indian company was contracted to implement the project. Unfortunately, the contractor abandoned the project shortly complaining that Nepal government did not cooperate in cutting down trees on the proposed route, uprooting electricity polls, providing land and supplying construction materials.
This exposes unwillingness on the part of government to build the Postal Highway and other roads in Madhes. On 24 February 2016, when the then prime minister KP Sharma Oli visited India, the two countries had forged an agreement that Nepal would build the Postal Highway while India would provide counsellors and evaluators.
Whenever the question about underdevelopment of Tarai is raised, the common answer is lack of roads. The Postal Highway, which extends along the length of the country, has been in operation for years. In the 1960s, the then king Mahendra decided to construct the East-West Highway, which is located 20-30kms northward of Madhesi settlements. The highway was given high priority and it was built after clearing the jungle. As a result, the Postal Highway receded into the background and remained in a dilapidated state. The completion of the Postal Highway can change the developmental map of Tarai and subsequently benefit the entire country in the long run.
After the construction of the East-West Highway, ancient towns in Madhes gradually lost their shine and importance. For instance, traffic on the Sarlahi-Malangwa and Jaleshwar-Mahottari routes has been shrinking by the day. New market towns along the East-West Highway are booming while the old markets are rapidly declining.
It goes without saying that roads are the backbone of any country for its swift development. In Nepal, it is accepted by all that Tarai/Madhesh is the country’s breadbasket, not only in the sense that it has more productive soil, but also in terms of good connectivity with India, which is our largest trading partner. Moreover, common Madhesis have been complaining that the health of locals has been affected and the rate of road accidents has increased due to unfinished sections of the highway.
In this context, all development activists in Nepal should proactively play the role of a watchdog to ensure that the promises made by all the political parties concerned over the Postal Highway are fulfilled. In the recent federal set up all the provincial leaders, Member of Parliaments and leaders at local levels representing Tarai/Madhesh constituencies should be committed to completing the road.
If the Postal Highway is delayed, it may create another agitation at a time when the newly formed government is attracting people’s attention by floating the agenda of development. After the Postal Highway is completed, not only Madhes but the entire country will be able to see the rise of its development graph. Most importantly, the anger of the Madhesis against Kathmandu will also be reduced to a level with this road connectivity.
Janakpur-Bhithamod road stretch needs to be completed as soon as possible as monsoon is right ahead. This road has immense traffic mobility as it is an important trade route and movement of ordinary people has increased after Janakpurdham is declared Province-2 capital. Janakpur-Bhithamod road project contractor needs to uphold accountability.
The writer is a freelancer.
Published on 8 April 2018