Narayangadh-Butwal road expansion work going at snail’s paceThe deadline for the road expansion work is only a few months away but the completion of the project is still in question.
Krishna Kafle was returning to Narayangadh in Chitwan district from Butwal last week. In an apparent bid to avoid a traffic jam, he set off for Narayangadh at 6 in the evening in his private car. But his plan did not work.
“I arrived in Narayangadh at 2am the next morning. I was caught in a bad traffic jam. It took around eight hours to travel the 114 km stretch of the East-West Highway,” said Kafle, a Narayangadh-based businessman.
It generally takes two to three hours to cover the road stretch from Butwal to Narayangadh. However, ever since the Narayangadh-Butwal road expansion project began in 2019, the travel time has more than doubled.
The expansion work is underway at a snail’s pace and this has disrupted vehicular movement along the busy stretch of the East-West Highway. The road project has diverted the roads in various places for the construction of bridges and expansion works, causing hours-long traffic jams. Moreover, the existing road is in a sorry state. There are numerous potholes on the road, making the stretch prone to accidents.
The deadline for the road expansion work is near but the completion of the project is still in question.
“The deadline of the road project is August 2022 but only around 15 percent of the work has been completed by the end of March,” said Ramesh Kumar Disti, the eastern section chief of Narayangadh-Butwal road project. Disti says it may take another year and a half to two years for the expansion work to complete.
In February 2019, the Department of Roads signed an agreement with China State Construction Engineering Corporation to implement the road project. As per the plan, the existing two-lane road has to be widened to six lanes within four years. The contractor had divided the Narayangadh-Butwal road in two sections—48km Daunne-Gaidakot section and 66-km Daunne-Butwal section. The road expansion work along the 114km Narayangadh-Butwal stretch was initiated with Rs 17 billion loan assistance from the Asian Development Bank.
According to Disti, officials of the road project, the contractors and other stakeholders held a discussion in September last year and agreed to complete around four percent of the work every month. But only 1.33 and 1.55 percent of the said work were completed in December and January respectively. According to the road project, the work progress was just 1.9 percent in the month of March.
The delayed road expansion work has left the travelers and the locals in hardships.
A total of 22 bridges and culverts are under construction in the eastern part of the road project. One such culvert is being constructed in the Gaindakot area. A road track has been constructed in the area to divert traffic. Pollution in the area has worsened ever since the road track was opened.
“We have been hit the hardest by the dust pollution. It is always dusty here and the minimum the contractors can do is spray water to keep the dust down but they don’t do anything,” said Keshav Shrestha, a 58-year-old local vendor. “I got an eye infection because of the dust.”
The roadside settlements are covered in thick layers of dust along the Narayangadh-Butwal road section due to the widening works. Educational institutions, business enterprises and other community offices have been greatly affected by the dust pollution.
“Students are always at risk of being hit by a vehicle while crossing the road since visibility in the area is poor because of the dust,” said Indukala Sharma, a teacher at an Amarapuri-based school. According to her, many children are suffering from eye-related diseases and respiratory problems these days.
The local traders and business communities also complain that their businesses have been hit hard due to the delay in the road expansion work.
“We cannot get the goods and supply them to our clients on time. The delay in the road widening work has put our businesses in trouble,” said Basuraj Pokharel, the chairman of Nabalpur chamber of commerce and industry. He urged the authorities concerned to expedite works on the road project and complete them soon.
The local people blame both the government and the contractor for the project delay.
“We drew the attention of both the district administration office and the contractors time and again for the timely completion of the project and to mitigate the problems faced by the locals due to the project delay. But our concerns remain unaddressed,” said Bhagawan Prasad Kafle of Gaindakot.
According to the road project, the issue of felling trees along the road, shifting electricity poles from the roadside and the Covid-19 pandemic are the leading causes behind the project delay. The project said it could not initiate the road expansion work as the number of trees to be cut down along the road stretch was fivefold more than what is mentioned in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
The government had conducted the EIA in 2016 that stated that 9,027 trees had to be cut down on both sides of the road stretch for the expansion work. However, the number of trees that have to be cut down has now reached 50,352.