Mahesh Kumar Das/Republica A section of the Bhittamod - Jaleshwor - Janakpur highway. The contractor has been excavating fill for the road by digging deep trenches (seen on the far right) on both sides of the highway.
MAHOTTARI, Dec 26: Upgrading of the Bhittamod - Jaleshwar - Janakpur road section to four-lane highway has come to a grinding halt after Jaleshwar residents protested the way it was being constructed. Residents have demanded that the contractor stop digging deep trenches on the edge of the road for excavating fills for the expanded lanes. They have claimed that the trenches on the edges of the highway pose long-term risk to vehicles, cattle and pedestrians.
“The contractor is digging deep trenches on the side of the road for excavating fills for the main lanes. They are supposed to bring fills from elsewhere. But to save the cost, they are compromising with the highway’s safety,” Anil Jha, a resident of the area asserted. “We will not allow the contractor to get away with such a menace.”
Since the past five days, the residents have launched rounds of protests. In their protests, they have also accused concerned government authorities of working hands in glove with the contractor.
“Even in our simple understanding, we know that this is not the way highways are constructed. The contractor is digging over 8 feet deep trenches on the edge of the highway. Even though we raised the issue, why are the concerned authorities not taking action against the contractor?” said Jha in an attempt to argue that authorities were knowingly neglecting it.
“It is apparent that government officials have been working hands in glove with the contractor and therefore have remained mute even though upgrades on the road are being carried by seriously compromising highway security.”
After failing to get answers from concerned authorities, residents assert that they want to see the details of the road widening contract themselves. In their demands they have stressed that they have every right to know the estimated cost of the road along with the deliverables and construction standards that the contractor is to follow.
“We are not going to let the public officials and the contractor get away this time. They have to make the contract papers public and we will see to it that the contractor fulfills the terms of contract to the letter,” Jha stated claiming that the public has all the right to know the facts and to monitor them.
“We know the road is for us and also that the people of this country are bearing its cost. Because of these reasons, we want to ensure that the contractor delivers us the road of the exact standard for which we are paying,” he said while refuting claims that the residents were against the upgrade. “We are not against development. But we cannot allow contractors and some public officers to do things that are against the terms of contract and which eventually pose threat to public safety.”
Shree Narayan Thakur another resident of the area echoed similar concerns. He shared that contractor used to bring fills from elsewhere while widening or constructing road in the past. “It is the first time that we are seeing that fills for the road is being excavated by digging deep trenches on edges of the highway itself,” Thakur said stating his disbelief that such an arrangement could be in the contract.
“We don’t believe that the contract allows such practice. We want the contract given to us so that we know the standards that the government has set for the contractor to fulfill,” he said.
Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Ramesh Lekhak had inaugurated the project four months ago. The responsibility of the widening the 18.56 kilometers road was earlier held by the Indian government. But following pressure from the locals, Nepal government had taken over the responsibility. “The road is being widened by our government. And our only demand is that it is constructed as per the deal between the government and contractor, not as per the convenience of the contractor,” he asserted.