Roads and the man


He is always in a hurry to finish his morning household ch-ores, and by the time it is 9:00 am, Khari Prasad Tiwari, a resident of Pragatinagar, Nawalparasi, is out of the house carrying the tools of his trade — shovel, pick, wheelbarrow and broom.

He is off to Bardaghat, a section of the Butwal-Narayangarh Highway, where he works as a ‘lengthworker’. His responsibilities include clearing the roadside drains, sweeping the road, trimming and pruning the bushes and filling potholes and he is accountable for the maintenance and cleanliness of the 5 km stretch of the highway.

Tiwari was appointed a lengthworker 11 years ago by the Department of Roads (DoR). He used to work as a security guard in an aluminium factory in Kolkata, and when the factory was shut down in 1992, he came home after 22 years.

Recalling his initial days after returning, Tiwari says, “I worked as a labourer, sometimes here, sometimes there. Those were the worst days of my life as there wasn’t enough work in the village, and even if I did get work, it was seasonal. I have a wife and five children. My life beacame stable only when I got this job.”

The DoR has recruited 1,600 such lengthworkers. They are local labourers living in the vicinity of the road sections that they are given responsibility for, and are assigned on a

daily wage basis. They are responsible for a specific length of the road for daily maintenance and are therefore called ‘lengthworkers’.

Introduced in the early nineties, the lengthworker system has been contributing effectively to society and the lives of the poor workers. The process was implemented through the Strengthened Maintenance Division Programme (SMDP), based on the experiences gained along the Lamosangu-Jiri road, which was initially built and maintained through the assistance of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

However, with new initiatives like the Performance Based Maintenance Contract (PBMC), where the entire responsibility of road maintenance is handed over to private sector contractors, there has risen the question of the sustainability of the lengthworker system and threat to the livelihood of the lengthworkers.

“When I wear my safety orange jacket and the cap with the DoR logo, I feel proud. It gives me a definite identity,” says Tiwari, adding, “I am not a literate person but through my years’ of work experience I have understood that our commitment helps reduce pavement deterioration and prolongs the longevity of the roads. I always try my best to keep my road section in good condition.”

He owns a small plot of land which hardly produces enough crop to last his family more than a couple of months. His lengthworker’s wage is the only thing that is keeping them off the streets, literally. He earns Rs 105 a day and gets an off day once a week as opposed to once a month earlier.

“I do not want to search for another job because this is a easy job just right for my 62-year-old bones. And moreover, it is like a permanent job unlike the seasonal work of the villages,” he says.

And when the clock strikes five, he gathers his tools to return home with a smile, satisfied and happy in a job well done.

So the next time when you happen see a lengthworker on the lonely highways keeping the roads clean for you, perhaps you will not forget to wave out to them.