By Modnath Dhakal Kathmandu, Nov 1: Shreeram Joshi of Pratappur Gaunpalika-2 of Nawalparasi lost his mother in early October this year. She had shown symptoms of jaundice and was quickly taken to Butwal, where a couple of hospitals denied to admit her and some senior doctors recommended to take her to Bharatpur. Joshi and his brothers couldn’t make it due to an accident at Daunne section of East-West highway, which, along with the death of a patient in an ambulance stuck at the congestion due to the mishap, blocked the road for more than 12 hours. Journalist Arjun Pokhrel who biked to his home in Pyuthan and back to the Capital expressed his frustration over the damaged road section from Bardaghat to Madhyabindu (the centre of the East-West Highway). “Everyone travelling from Madhyabindu to Bardaghat ask whether this country has a government.” The Narayangadh-Butwal section of the East-West Highway is gradually turning into ruins while the most difficult stretch with sharp bends and steep road at Daunne Hill is in miserable state and dusty. Most other stretches wear a rugged look due to multiple patch works. Considered as the artery of trade and travel for the Himalayan nation, the highway is the lifeline for business, trade and human relations. It is the only road that connects the eastern and western border of the country. The Narayangadh-Butwal section is crucial for the movement of goods as it connects Bhairahawa, one of the largest trading points at the southern border with India. On the way, one can see hundreds of heavy trucks carrying goods ranging from petroleum to vegetables and heavy machinery. Although the process of the expansion of the road was initiated in 2016, it was inaugurated in 2019 January and should be completed by 2022. However, The Rising Nepal’s field observation concluded that there is little progress made. Half of the section awaits clearing of the forest, which has become a contentious issue. The Chinese workers left for their home in late December 2019, and returned just a couple of months ago. Health hazard Dumkibas, a town at the foothill of Daunne, fears for the worst as the entire road crossing the locality is in a dilapidated state and the shops and settlements around are engulfed in dust and vehicle emission throughout the day. “If you stay here for a couple of days, you must see a doctor. We occasionally sprinkle water on the dusty road but that is not sufficient for a busy highway like this,” said Sashant Joshi, a computer engineer, whose family runs Daunne Devi Oil Store in Dumkibas of Binayi Triveni Gaunpalika of Nawalpur. Passengers are also doomed to experience dust, bumps and fatigue while travelling along the road, and vehicles wither out early. “Immediately after crossing the Narayani River, you begin to have bad experience. The dust makes you difficult to drive while the uneven patchy works make it difficult to control the vehicle,” said Bishnu Raj Paudel who frequently travels to Butwal from Narayangadh. “The damaged road costs you in multiple ways – maintenance cost and oil consumption goes up. Chances of accidents are also high,” he said. Worst is yet to come While the chance of timely completion of the road expansion is minimal, the road is unlikely to be rehabilitated until then. According to the Department of Roads (DoR), as per the agreement with the contractors, only the potholes will be patched up with bitumen while the longer damaged stretch will undergo continuous graveling and grading. It means there would be more dust and travelling would be more difficult in days to come as the remaining stretch of the road is also on the verge of collapse. However, there were efforts to minimise the hazards immediately, said Keshab Kumar Sharma, Director General of the DoR. “We have recently communicated with the team leader of the consultants and asked them to minimise the dust and other health hazards. The prolonged monsoon had delayed the repair works,” he said. Expressing concerns that the deadline might not be met, Sharma said that the COVID-19 pandemic had an adverse impact on the road expansion project. The government has allocated Rs. 12.21 billion for the expansion of the East-West Highway for the current fiscal year with the aim of making the trunk road a 4-lane highway within the next three years. The Asian Development Bank has provided a loan support for the upgradation of the road. Inaugurated in 1962, currently the East-West Highway is 1,028-km long.