The horrendous roads of Kathmandu valley have been greatly hampering the lives of its inhabitants for some time. Now they have claimed a young life. On Friday, ten-year-old Binita Phuyal of Nepaltar fell into an open manhole and died. On the same day, 13-year-old Satya Sapkota of Samakhushi also fell into another manhole; luckily, she survived. Incidentally, the incident of Sapkota being sucked into the manhole was captured in a video, which has since gone viral on social media. When interviewed later, Sapkota made a poignant remark. “Others know about what happened to me thanks to the video. Had there been no video, I would have come back home and no one would have known”. And without the public uproar generated by the video, there would have been no action. But Phuyal’s death and Sapkota’s shocking video built a stead public pressure. In response, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on Sunday summoned the concerned officials responsible for the upkeep of road and other associated services like drinking water and sewerage. He instructed them to fill up all potholes on valley’s roads, as well as to repair all damaged manhole coverings, within the next 15 days.
Many might see the prime minister’s directive as too little too late. Had those that he summoned on Sunday been doing their jobs properly, perhaps no one would have had to die, and the daily lives of millions of valley residents could have been greatly eased. The breathtaking lack of coordination that was observed between those responsible for building roads and those tasked with laying down pipes for Melamchi water drinking project cannot, under any pretext, be justified. Roads have been randomly dug up; there are few signs warning pedestrians and motorists of danger zones; and vital roadside infrastructures like walkways and electricity pylons are damaged. When it rains, water can quickly cover the roads, hiding perilous potholes and gaping manholes, lulling motorists and pedestrians into a false sense of security. Friday’s twin incidents constitute only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of people have been injured on the valley’s slippery and potholed roads this monsoon. Water-clogged roads have also made traffic jams worse. It is not safe to either use vehicles or to walk on these dangerous roads.
We can only hope that the tragic loss of life on Friday can concentrate the minds of the power that be and they will from now on start taking their jobs seriously. But for this to happen, the prime minister will have to personally take stock of progress on road repairs on a day to day basis. This will be a test case for Prime Minister Deuba. People in the next few weeks will be closely watching him. The prime minister has in recent times made some grave errors of judgment, thereby earning himself justified opprobrium. He will regain some public faith if he can whip the concerned authorities into action on this issue of public interest.