UML convention causes massive traffic jam on East-West Highway throughout FridayHundreds of vehicles, including ambulances, were stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic jam extending several kilometres in both directions of the highway. Security agencies proved helpless in controlling crowds.
As the 10th national convention of the CPN-UML kicked off Friday on the banks of the Narayani river in Chitwan, vehicular traffic went haywire along the East-West highway leaving thousands of passengers and even ambulances carrying patients stranded on the road for hours.
At Pulchowk, Narayanghat, seven ambulances were stuck in a traffic jam for several hours. After being unable to pass through massive crowds, some ambulance drivers had kept the sick and ailing people on the roof of their vehicles to prevent suffocation. Meanwhile, some people had taken their sick kin out of the ambulances and carried them to the hospital.
“We were stuck in a jam from 12 pm for seven hours,” said Laxmi Sapkota, 27, a new mother of Gaindakot-7, Nawalparasi from an ambulance that was stuck at the Narayani Bridge. She was returning home along with her newborn after spending six days at Bharatpur Hospital.
“I am unable to breastfeed my four-day-old baby because I can’t produce breast milk. Also we haven’t eaten anything for hours,” she said.
Like Sapkota, patients in half a dozen ambulances were stuck in the traffic jam at the bridge for over six hours. Public buses were not allowed to operate until 8pm.
Similarly, a 14-seater microbus, which was to leave for Arghakhanchi from Chitwan on Friday morning, was among those stuck in the jam. “In the morning the traffic police had told me there would not be any problem in vehicular movement. But I am stuck here for eight hours with 10 passengers,” said the microbus driver requesting anonymity.
Human rights activists have, meanwhile, criticised the CPN-UML for causing inconvenience to thousands of people including patients.
“This is a serious negligence by the party and the government of their basic duty, which is public welfare. Political parties are supposed to serve the people but here they have obstructed the movement of thousands of people and even ambulances,” said Charan Prasai, a human rights activist.
“Who would be responsible if anyone died in the traffic jam?” asked Prasai.
Security agencies admitted that due to the massive traffic jam they were unable to open the way for ambulances especially on the bridge across the Narayani River.
Deputy Inspector General of Bagmati Province Prakash Jung Karki said a sea of people had thronged the bridge to take photos and selfies as the bridge provided a vantage point to witness the general convention venue. “The crowds were very big so we could not control them,” said Karki.
Long before the start of the inaugural session, the 420-meter bridge was already filled with people causing more pressure on the bridge which is over 40 years old.
“The bridge was shaking like there was an earthquake, but luckily nothing happened. Engineers have time and again warned that the bridge is outdated, but authorities have not taken the warning seriously,” said Rameshwor Bhail, a local from Bharatpur Metropolitan City-4.
The bridge along the East-West Highway was built in 1980 and connects Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts.
A traffic police officer told the Post on condition of anonymity that the security agencies were totally helpless in managing the crowds.
“We are merely spectators because if we chase the people they could fall off the bridge into the river. The bridge was jam-packed with spectators and vehicles,” he said.
The general convention organisers had said they had mobilised over 5,000 volunteers to manage the crowds but that didn't work.
Earlier, the District Administration Office, Chitwan and security agencies had promised that there would not be any obstruction in the movement of ambulances, fire trucks and vehicles used in weddings and bratabandha, but they could not make good on the promise.
“We pleaded with the people to give way to ambulances and emergency vehicles but the crowd was very big and unruly so we could not do anything,” said Chirinjibi Sharma, assistant chief district officer of Chitwan over the phone.
It is learnt that an estimated 200,000 people had gathered for the convention on Friday. Many buses headed for Narayanghat with party supporters had to return to where they came from due to the bumper to bumper traffic jam extending several kilometers in both directions of the highway.
A total of 2,500 security personnel including traffic police were deployed for Friday—1,000 in Nawalparasi and 1,500 in Chitwan.
Traffic movement was affected not only in Chitwan and Nawalparasi districts but up to Khanikhola of Dhading.
“Vehicular movement along the Prithvi Highway also remains disrupted for the past two days,” said Sanjib Sharma Das, Senior Superintendent and spokesperson at the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division.
He said on the eve of the CPN-UML general convention on Thursday, 75,000 people had left the Valley via Thankot, when the number would be around 40,000 on normal days.
On Friday, huge political marches were taken out from many parts of Chitwan and Nawalparasi including Bharatpur Bus Park, Aaptari and Gaindakot and other marches from Paras Bus Park, Hakim Chowk, Birendra Campus, Sahid Chowk, Bishal Chwok and Central Bus Park among other places.