Multiple landslides in Karnali region disrupt Mid-Hill HighwayConstant delays in opening tracks, maintenance work and regular upgrades have left the highway in a poor condition.
The 1,776km Mid-Hill Highway that connects Panchthar in the East to Baitadi in the West is an ambitious project fraught with several challenges. The biggest challenge to the highway that traverses through Rukum East, Rukum West, Dailekh, Achham and Jajarkot districts in Karnali Province is frequent landslides.
This year’s monsoon season brought heavy rainfall, disrupting road networks across the country. Many districts were disconnected from the rest of the country for months, putting entire villages at risk of shortages of essential goods and services.
Landslides in Kharkhare cliff in Rukum (West) during the monsoon season disrupted vehicular movement along the Pipalneta-Machhami section of the Mid-Hill Highway. Although the road project and the local people cleared the landslide debris to resume transportation, the road section still sees active landslides every day.
“The area around Kharkhare cliff is fragile, especially with the Ghiukhola stream gradually eroding the cliff base. The road that cuts through the cliff area suffered major damages by landslides during the monsoon season. Continuous landslides in the area make it impossible to completely clear out the debris to resume transportation,” said Homnath Paudel, an engineer of the Mid-Hill Highway road project. “Vehicles travelling along the highway have been using an alternative route through Dhairechaur for the past four months since the main road is usually closed off by landslides.”
A 200-metre stretch along the Hansibang-Chaurjahari road section is also prone to landslides.
“Landslides erupt almost every day along that road. Driving through that road section is not easy, as landslides can erupt at any moment,” said Rup Lal Bista, a bus driver along the Musikot-Chaurjahari route.
In Jajarkot, a track was opened last year in Bhankabhir but it is only 4.5 metres wide, making it impossible for supply trucks and heavy vehicles to pass through. A hard rock jutting out further ahead of the existing track has hindered the road expansion work.
“The rock has made expansion work very challenging. Work is ongoing but progress is snail-paced,” said Arjun Bam of the Mid-Hill road project office in Dailekh.
Currently, road upgradation work is underway along the 83km section of the highway in Jajarkot. Fifteen kilometres of the road has been blacktopped so far while the project office in Dailekh plans to blacktop another 30 kilometres this year. Two bridges along the highway are also under construction in the district now.
The Mid-Hill Highway Project’s office in Dailekh is in charge of the road sections that pass through Rukum East, Rukum West, Dailekh, Achham and Jajarkot districts. A total of 440km road stretch of the Mid-Hill Highway from Patihalne in Rukum (East) to Mangalsen in Achham is under the purview of the project office in Dailekh.
According to the Dailekh office of the road project, a total of Rs 5 billion has been spent on the upgradation and expansion of the highway. In the current fiscal year, a budget of Rs 1.6 billion was allocated for the highway, of which Rs 290 million was spent in the first four months, said the office.
According to the road project office, landslides damaged around 500 metres of the blacktopped road this year.
The constant delays in track opening, maintenance work and regular upgrades of the Mid-Hill Highway have left the affected residents feeling dejected.
Ganesh Thapa, a resident of Bhairabi in Dailekh district, said the road project has made life more difficult for local residents who have to deal with constant delays and incomplete condition of already opened tracks through their villages.
“Even the work completed in Lohore-Manghar and Lohare-Suyada stretches so far is substandard. The road gets muddy in the rainy season and dusty for the rest of the year. Those of us with houses by the roadside are affected the most,” said Thapa. “Opening of this road track has brought us more misery than convenience.”
According to the project office, blacktopping work is almost complete in the Achham section of the highway. The blacktopping of the remaining 20km of the 107km-long section is impeded by constant landslides, said Bam.
According to him, the construction and upgradation of the highway stretch that falls under the project office in Dailekh is an uphill task since the topography of the Karnali region is unsuitable for use of heavy equipment and machinery.
“We are opening tracks by cutting through the mid-hill section of the country. The topography of the region is fragile and does not support heavy machinery work,” said Bam. “The area is prone to landslides and the use of machines like breakers, dozers, and excavators further weakens the land. Relying fully on manual work is also not an option. So we are looking for sustainable approaches to completing and maintaining the Mid-Hill Highway stretch in Karnali.”
In Dailekh, the road project has so far laid asphalt on only 21km of the total 125km highway stretch. Construction work is yet to gather momentum along the 19km-long Dailekh Bazaar-Chakrata road section due to the negligence of the contractor, says the project office in Dailekh.
According to Manish Singh, also an engineer at the road project, Kankai/Motidana JV was awarded the contract to upgrade the Dailekh stretch of the Mid-Hill Highway at the cost of Rs 700 million.
“The construction company has completed only about 35 percent of the work so far. There were no natural disasters posing challenges to the upgradation of this section of the highway. We will initiate legal action if the contractor does not complete the work as soon as possible. Gravelling work and construction of roadside drainage and retaining walls are yet to be completed,” said Singh. According to him, the project office aims to blacktop 50 km of the road section in Dailekh this year.
Seventy kilometres of the Mid-Hill Highway lies in Rukum (East) while 50 kilometres falls in Rukum (West). Twenty kilometres of road in the East and 22 kilometres in the West are yet to be asphalted. The road project had awarded the road contract to Diwa/Yeti JV last year with an agreement to complete the road upgradation work by December 2022.
The locals have started questioning the need of opening roads if the projects are to suffer from frequent delays and roads left in poor conditions.
“Landslides do affect these road projects but there is human negligence as well. The contractors are also to blame for not doing their jobs well and on time,” said Pahalman KC of Musikot-3. “The road that passes through Kharkhare cliff is treacherous. They opened the track without conducting proper studies and it’s people like us who have to suffer.”
(Hari Gautam in Rukum (West) and Jyotee Katuwal in Dailekh contributed reporting.)