State neglect leaves Surkhet-Jumla section of Karnali Highway in dire conditionThe 232-km stretch was last blacktopped in 2012 and annual repairs have been consistently shoddy.
The Surkhet-Jumla section of the Karnali Highway, which is considered the backbone of development in Karnali region, is in poor condition.
The 232-km section was last blacktopped in 2012, but it is currently riddled with cracks and potholes. The blacktopping has peeled off in around 90 percent of the road stretch while several sections have been damaged by floods and landslides.
“The authorities concerned repair the road every year by hiring private-sector contractors. While millions of rupees are spent for the repair works, the road’s condition has not improved,” said Bijaya Bista, the former deputy mayor of Khadachakra Municipality in Kalikot. According to her, the repair work done by the Department of Roads is mostly shoddy, leaving the road accident-prone. She further complained that two under-construction bridges across the Jaksi stream of Dailekh district and the Takulla stream of Kalikot district have been left incomplete for the past 12 years mainly due to indifference of the authorities.
The then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala had laid the foundation for the highway in 1992, but the passage was opened only in 2007. The highway connects Surkhet, Dailekh, Kalikot, Jumla and Mugu districts with the national road network. The residents of neighbouring Achham and Bajura districts also benefit from the road.
The highway is a single-lane road about 5 metres wide. The government had asphalted only 4.5 metres (width of the road) with financial assistance from the World Bank. “The road is narrow. It is quite difficult for two vehicles to pass in the cliff areas, causing hours-long traffic jams,” said Padam Bishwakarma, a bus driver who operates on the highway regularly.
Come federal and provincial elections, big political parties make ‘Upgrade of the Karnali Highway’ their main agenda. As they canvass for votes, they promise to widen the highway to two lanes and blacktop it. “But soon after the elections are over, the parties forget their campaign trail promises,” said Ramesh Nepali, a local of Khadachakra-2. He complained that the local people are disappointed as the budget for the upcoming fiscal year has also failed to address the public demand for a road upgrade.
A Jumla-bound passenger bus and a truck heading for Surkhet were stuck in the Chhahara cliff area of Kalikot on Tuesday last week. The road is too narrow to accommodate the passage of two vehicles simultaneously. “It caused a traffic jam for about three hours. We were supposed to reach Sinja (Jumla) on the same day, but had to stay in Manma, the district headquarters of Kalikot,” complained Jeevan Baduwal.
The unseasonal rains in October last year caused damage in several places along the Surkhet-Jumla road stretch. The damaged roads are yet to be repaired. The locals said that the government has completely ignored the Karnali people and the highway.
“Construction of the highway has greatly eased our life. However, the road has been quite rough with potholes and cracks. The government should repair and upgrade the road immediately,” demanded Nabaraj Nepali of Tila Municipality-2 of Jumla district.
Karnali Highway, which is infamously named ‘death trap’, is highly accident prone primarily due to lack of maintenance and periodic repairs. According to the Karnali Province Traffic Police Office, a total of 209 people have died since the highway came into operation in 2007.
The floods and landslides triggered by rains last October badly damaged the road at Sunarkhola, Pili Serawada, Bali, Takulla among other places in Kalikot district. “Repair work is underway in the sections damaged by floods and landslides. Efforts are on to install a Bailey bridge across the Takulla stream. The work was in limbo for the past 12 years,” said Dipak Bista, chief at the Division Road Office in Jumla. He, however, said road widening work will not be possible this year due to the lack of budget.