When approached, local politicians often try to shift the blame. One-third of the officials, elected village heads and mayors are contractors, or are from families that own construction companies.
They also own excavators and bulldozers and rent them to the municipalities. Many have been found to be awarding contracts to themselves. Devolution under federalism was supposed to stop such greed and lack of accountability, but it appears to have democratised corruption.
To be sure, there are examples of mountain roads that heed the environment and try to minimise the damage to the local economy. The green road concept tries to ensure minimum disruption to slopes, and plan roads to create farm jobs and market access for produce.
Unfortunately, the roads being built haphazardly by local governments lack many of these essential attributes. Seismologists warn that western Nepal could be hit by a long overdue mega-earthquake, and mountains destabilised by poorly designed roads could trigger catastrophic slope failures.
Says Upama Ojha of Geohazards International: “Things are bad enough during normal times, but the haphazard use of bulldozers have increased landslide risk. It is unthinkable what will happen during an earthquake.”
Province 7 Chief Minister Trilochan Bhatta was recently visited by a group of concerned residents of Thalara-9 which was threatened by the risk of flood and landslide. They told him: “It has been three years since we have slept soundly because of the danger from road construction.”
New road constructions even threaten existing highways. Bajhang’–s lifeline to the Tarai was recently black-topped, but rockfall debris from another road up the mountain obstructs it frequently. Last month the important artery was blocked by a landslide triggered by the construction of a feeder-road for two weeks.
“The road should never have been built without analysing the environmental impact, and close supervision of the construction methods,” says Chief Engineer Lalijan Khanal of the Department of Roads in the neighbouring district of Baitadi. He said he wrote repeatedly to the district administration about the danger posed by excavators. “They didn’t listen to me,” he says.
Such obstruction can mean life or death. Five patients died last year because they couldn’t be taken to hospital when the road was blocked for more than a month. The landslide that blocked the highway was caused by excavator activity on the feeder road above it.
Centre for Investigative Journalism