Death trap highwayWhen the lives of the people are at stake, no one should escape by shifting the blame onto others.
Recently, newly appointed Urban Development Minister Ram Kumari Jhakri brewed a storm in a teacup by taunting engineers for failing to place sewer lids properly. How is it, she pontificated, that the engineers have failed to recognise the need to cover manholes in a way that does not cause discomfort to pedestrians and motorcyclists? Like every other public official in the country, engineers would find one excuse or the other to shift the blame to others—careless officials from the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage Management or the callous contractor, among others—for the inexplicable negligence and the resultant accidents. The blame game, after all, is the best sport that Nepali public officials are fond of. But Jhakri spoke for a vast majority of the country's population when she asked why the individuals and institutions tasked with public infrastructure projects that are aimed at making people's lives comfortable care so less about the public.
There can be no poignant example than the Kalanki-Koteshwor section of the Ring Road. The 10.5 km stretch has witnessed several accidents after it came into operation, as it was built without following minimum safety and user interface guidelines. That the road section in the middle of a densely populated valley lacks sufficient zebra crossings, traffic lights, overhead foot bridges, bicycle lanes and road medians is unfathomable. When the public and the media raised concerns about the flouting of safety guidelines during the construction of the road section, all that the officials said was that the design had already been finalised, and that it was uncorrectable until the project was completed and handed over by the contractor. More than two years after the road section came into operation, little attempt has been made to rectify the safety hazards.
There is something sinister about public officials failing to care about the people who need to use those infrastructures. It is as if those infrastructures are traps to wound and kill those who use them. When the lives and limbs of the people are at stake, no one should escape by shifting the blame onto others or claiming that that is how things are in Nepal. That has to change, and what better way than starting the change from the Kalanki-Maharajgunj section that is under construction at the moment? It is with keeping this concern in mind that people with disabilities, cyclists and environmentalists have joined hands to request the government and stakeholders to ensure that the road section that is slated to begin is friendly for disabled persons, cyclists and pedestrians.
The section has already begun on a rough note by dampening the expectations of environmentalists, as it involved the felling of over 2,000 trees along the road. Planners could not think of a way to save the trees even while moving ahead with the infrastructure development project. But they cannot continue to disregard the concerns of the public that needs to use the road on a daily basis, and turn the road into yet another instance of ill-planned infrastructure and, worse, a death trap. The audit team formed to examine the Kalanki-Koteshwor section of the Ring Road has clearly pointed out faults in that particular section and has advised adding cycle lanes, footpaths, traffic lights, overhead bridges, street lamps and median strips. Those involved in the planning and implementation of the road section should heed the mistakes committed in the past so that the new road section to be built is accessible to all.