EDITORIAL: Lives at risk

Had the contractor built the bridge on time, people would not have lost their lives in the swollen river

Two women drowned and three others are still missing when an overcrowded boat capsized in the swollen Lalbakaiya River in Rautahat on Sunday evening. The bodies of two women, identified as Shanty Devi Sah, 65, of Tikuliya and Runa Devi Patel, 40, of Ishanath Municipality, were recovered on Monday morning, eight kilometres from the incident site at Jamuwa Ghat of Shivahar, India. The bodies were handed over to their relatives after the post-mortem at Rautahat District Hospital. Chief District Officer Govinda Prasad Rijal said three others—Ushma Kumari Patel, Om Prakash Chandabansi and Indu Devi Patel—are still missing. Security personnel have been deployed to search for the missing people. CDO Rijal has said District Disaster Management Committee has decided to offer Rs one lakh each to the families of the deceased as immediate relief amount so that the last rites could be performed.

The boat carrying 30 passengers was heading towards Tikuliya Ghat from Aauraiya on Sunday evening. Most of the passengers were returning home from their fields. The survivors said the boat was overcrowded. They said the boat collided with a pillar of an under-construction bridge at Tikuliya Ghat being built by Pappu Construction. As many as 15 people managed to save their lives by clinging on to the iron rods erected to construct the bridge while nine others swam to the shore. Police arrested Pappu Sahani on the same night but he was released on bail. The incident has left the villagers of Tikuliya in deep grief. They also did not celebrate the Rskshya Bandan which was observed a day after the incident. Five people had drowned in the same river five years ago.

Many people are swept away by flooded rivers in the Tarai region while crossing the flooded rivers during monsoon in boats. Then prime minister Sushil Koirala had laid the foundation stone of the bridge connecting Banjaraha, Auraiya and Mathiya villages with Gaur, the district headquarters of Rautahat, on July 13, 2014. The Birgunj-based Pappu Construction was supposed to build the bridge by July-end last year at Rs 140.93 million. But the contractor so far has built only two pillars and put slabs over it in four years’ time. The government has failed to take legal action against the contractor even though it has already missed the deadline by one year. The delay in completing the government contracts within the deadline has been a recurrent problem. Had the contractor built the bridge on time, people would not have lost their lives in the swollen river. The local administration also should have warned the people against crossing the flooded river risking their lives, that, too, in a small boat without the provision of life jackets to all the passengers. In this case, the boatman should have gauged the intensity of the flood before embarking on the voyage putting people’s live at risk. As the local administrations in the plain districts know it very well that people have no other options than to cross swollen rivers by boats due to absence of bridges at many places, they can at least make it mandatory that the boatmen arrange life jackets to all passengers without fail. The local levels can introduce a legal provision to this effect to minimise such accidents in the future.

Transport torture

Farm animals being transported in large vehicles is a common sight along the highways in Nepal. Buffaloes and goats in particular are usually crammed into trucks without giving them any opportunity to eat and drink. Live animals are treated as freight and long-distance transportation into crammed vehicles makes them vulnerable to injury, dehydration and even death. According to data, more than 1,000 cattle, mostly buffaloes and goats, are transported to Kathmandu from various parts of the country in an inhumane manner. In this context, a Supreme Court interim order to adopt safe, humane and expeditious means to transport farm animals for commercial purpose is welcome news.

Animal Health and Animal Livestock Regulation and Animal Transportation Criteria have provisioned various rules for transporting animals. The law also prohibits transportation of pregnant and lactating animals. While transporting farm animals, transporters often fail to realise the fact that they too are sentient beings and that they also feel pain and stress just like humans do. The apex court order hence is timely, and efforts must be made to implement it effectively so as not to subject animals to cruelty.