Driven to despair

April 05, 2017

The Kathmandu Post, 5th April 2017, Kathmandu

Shraddha Parajuli leaves home at Satungal at 7am for her office located at Ekantkuna. The distance which otherwise used to take 45 minutes to cover nowadays takes more than two hours. By the time she reports to work, it’s past nine almost every day, thanks to the ongoing Nagdhunga-Kalanki road-widening drive and construction of an underpass at Kalanki.

“I am reprimanded almost every day for being late. If this continues, I might have to quit,” said Parajuli who works as a call centre agent. When her office closes at 5pm, she dreads the journey back home. “At times I reach home at around 9pm.”

Parajuli is a case in point.

According to traffic police, every day around 70,000 people travelling in 8,000 public and private vehicles are affected in the Valley.

For Parajuli, reaching Kalanki from her home is just half an hour’s walk. “But I can’t muster up courage to walk even for half an hour due to the dust emanating from construction sites. The road is dusty when it’s sunny; it gets muddy when it rains,” said Parajuli.

Work to expand the Kalanki-Nagdhunga (seven kilometres) section started in 2015. But construction is far from over yet.

Officials at the Kathmandu Valley Road Improvement Project (KVRIP), which is overseeing the works, attributed the delay to various factors. “Works had to be halted twice—after the earthquake in April 2015 and an unofficial blockade by India from September 2015 to February 2016,” they said. Then again in August last year, the Supreme Court issued an interim order, which resulted in halt of construction works along the Kalanki-Nagdhunga stretch. Meanwhile, construction of an 800-metre underpass at Kalanki started as part of the Ring Road Expansion Project, which is also causing massive traffic congestion every day. According to the officials, it will take at least a year to complete the underpass construction at Kalanki, which is the major entry point to the Capital.

Sanjay Gupta, 47, drives a Kathmandu-Birgunj bus.

He described his experience of entering Kathmandu and getting out of it as a Herculean task. “It takes over four hours to reach Thankot from Kalanki,” he said. “And the situation is going from bad to worse by the day.” The Thankot-Kalanki road section is around 10 kilometres—around half-an-hour drive. “People who can afford have started to fly these days. So there has been a drastic decrease in number of people travelling by road. This is all due to this cumbersome traffic jam.”

Gyan Lama, who has been driving a public bus from Ratnapark to Thankot for the last two decades, said he can barely make two trips a day of late. “Earlier, I used to make six to seven trips a day. Heavy traffic congestion due to the ongoing road-expansion drive has hugely affected our business,” said the 57-year-old.

There are people who say development comes at a cost and hence people have to face some trouble.

However, those who are suffering on every day basis have called on the authorities to be more serious about the issue.

Madhusudhan Silwal, an inspector at the Operation Circle of Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, said the problems can be solved if the concerned stakeholders show more seriousness about resolving them. “Traffic police personnel are doing their best to ease traffic movement. But the problem can’t be resolved until alternative routes are opened,” said Silwal.