It is indeed heartening to know that road repair along the Narayangarh-Mugling stretch along the Prithvi Highway has at last begun in earnest. Large sections of it were washed away during the last monsoon, effectively isolating the capital city from Tarai for several weeks. Although the National Construction Corporation was contracted early on to complete the reconstruction of the damaged road at a cost of Rs 18.8 million, it has, however, only finished building walls along 32.2 km section. The stretch, used for freight transport and by passengers alike, now looks more like a neglected artery. While plumes of dust clouds kicked up by the umpteen number of vehicles choke the passengers, the risk factor associated with riding is also at its highest along this road. It was, therefore, natural for the public to expect the government to move heaven and earth to repair this link well before another monsoon wreaked havoc. Sceptics have not been entirely convinced how the belated effort to begin major repairs now would thwart the dangers posed by landslides triggered by the impending monsoon. Nonetheless, better late than never.
The only consolation this time is that the second phase of the repair work has started under the supervision of the World Bank. It is not that this financial agency has a magic wand to fix the problem. Only that the presence of a supervisor would mean the tardy officials cannot afford to be indifferent and lackadaisical in their approach towards fixing the problem as they tend to be in the absence of one. More than just repairing roads, the next monsoons are tentatively only a month and a half away. This means Kathmandu Valley cannot at any cost be accorded isolation, should downpour of biblical proportions wash the hills again, for which, a few precarious bridges such as the one at Jugedi would have to be repaired soon enough. The authorities must realise that only a one-way traffic is possible now at over dozen sections of the road. And the two-way traffic that was resumed along 24.6 km of the road has already started to buckle implies that the next rains will surely grind traffic to a halt. The other sections of the highway too, such as Krishna Bhir, are not entirely free from being swept away this summer.
Although the Himalayan region is prone to more geological activity and greater landslides, this is no reason why damaged roads should not be repaired in time. A stitch in time saves nine. Now that the second repair phase has begun, the estimated 18-months time frame, unlike the first phase, must be productive. Sections like Keraghari-Simlata, which gets blocked even with mild cloudbursts, will have to be tackled head on. Else, the transport scenario this summer will not be any different from the last.