Authorities indifferent to poor state of Karnali road136 people have been killed and 300 others maimed, injured in several accidents since the highway came into operation in 2007.
On October 12, a passenger bus heading to Mugu from Nepalgunj swerved off the road at Pinatapne stream in Chhayanathrara Municipality-7, killing 33 people. Most of the victims were students and migrant workers who were returning home to celebrate the Dashain festival.
This is not the only accident to have occurred along the Karnali Highway, considered the backbone of development of the province, since the track’s opening in 2007. The road that links Surkhet, Dailekh, Kalikot, Jumla and Mugu districts of Karnali Province is prone to accidents, claiming the lives of many people every year.
In 2015, 18 people were killed in another bus accident at Raralihi of Jumla while in 2010, as many as 42 people died in a bus accident at Kitu of Dailekh district. Similarly, 28 people lost their lives in a road accident at Serabada of Kalikot in 2009.
“It is very challenging to control road accidents along the highway mainly due to difficult terrain and poor road conditions. Vehicles carrying passengers beyond capacity and drivers flouting traffic rules are some of the other leading causes behind the high number of accidents along the highway,” said Ganesh Bahadur Air, the deputy inspector general of the Karnali Police Office.
As per the police record, 136 people have been killed while 300 others maimed and injured in separate road accidents since 2007.
“The road is only five metres wide in some places. Driving along the highway is very difficult and risky,” said Milan Chhetri, a bus driver. He complained that vehicles are often stuck in traffic jams for hours because the roads are narrow and in a dilapidated condition.
“We rarely reach our destination on time. The concerned authorities are to be blamed for their negligence in repairing and upgrading the highway,” Chhetri said.
Local residents say the upgradation of Karnali Highway is an electoral slogan for the leaders of various political parties representing Jumla, Mugu and Kalikot districts in every election.
“The leaders always make false promises to upgrade the Karnali Highway. But they forget their assurances after they win the elections,” said Lal Bahadur Malla of Khadachakra Municipality-8 in Kalikot district.
According to Malla, the development of the Karnali region is not possible until the condition of the Karnali Highway is improved.
The 232-km-long Karnali Highway stretches from Bangesimal in Surkhet to Khalanga in Jumla. The then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had laid the foundation stone of the highway in 1992 but the track was opened only in 2007. The highway was blacktopped only five years ago but around 80 percent of the asphalt has already been damaged.
The federal government had blacktopped 126 kilometres of the Surkhet-Khidkijyula road and 107 kilometres of the Khidkijyula-Jumla road with the financial assistance of the World Bank.
“But the contractors did a substandard job of blacktopping the road. As a result, it was damaged within a few years,” said Kamal BK of Kalikot.
The local people of Karnali urge the government to upgrade the highway and expand it into a two-lane road.
“Tourism development and promotion in Rara, the country’s biggest lake, has also been affected, as the only road linking the area is in a dilapidated condition,” said Nabaraj Malla of Khatyad in Mugu. “The government should immediately take initiatives to upgrade the highway.”
(Tularam Pandey in Kalikot, Raj Bahadur Shahi in Mugu and Jyotee Katuwal in Dailekh contributed reporting.)