Friday, 24 May, 2024

National Development Agenda Obscured

Mukti Rijal


Recently, this writer had made a short trip to Hetauda and its surrounding areas in Makwanpur district after a decade long gap. A fleeting glance of Hetauda city in particular and its peripheral areas may be possible while travelling past to the eastern and southern end of Nepal. But to get to know about some better changes and developments taking place in Hetauda and the adjoining areas of Makwanpur, one needs to spend at least two to three days scurrying around the rural peripheries of the district. Hetauda that had got confirmed as the headquarters of the Bagmati Pradesh not very long back is growing and expanding fast as an urban sprawl. It has been buzzing with business and commercial activities.
From casual conversation with local stakeholders, this writer had with some hoteliers and people in rural communities, I got an impression that the areas have got a welcome facelift. At a time when tourism has been badly mauled due to COVID-19 and hotel occupancy has plummeted to all-time low in Nepal, hotels in Hetauda appear to be more or less occupied. It is almost difficult to find a room if advance booking is not done and ensured. Several Pradesh governments-sponsored trainings, meetings and conferences comprise a larger chunk of activities that keep the hotels occupied most of the time. This is an example as to how public spending can help the economy to keep going.
Palpable change
Another very welcome and palpable change is the clean and well-paved roads and wayfares branching off to most of the peripheral areas like Chhatiwan and Phaparbari, Namtar and so on which lacked a good road access in the past. Though some of the roads are under construction meant only for the fair weather and may take years for their completion, the possibility for growing connectivity has imparted a sense of hope and optimism for the people living in the outlying remote areas of Makawanpur. Moreover, attempts to construct, upgrade and rehabilitate several alternative roads linking Hetauda with Kathmandu are undergoing.
The Kathmandu-Kulekhani-Bhimphedi road is being rehabilitated at breakneck speed to complete it in good shape. The transportation has been temporarily halted to carry it out in fuller speed for early completion. Likewise, Kathmandu-Chitlang-Palung road to connect it to Tribhuvan Rajpath is also being widened, rehabilitated and blacktopped. Another important project to be noted is the ongoing construction of the Kantipath road said to have jumpstarted under the joint initiative of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Makwanpur authorities. The road goes through Tikabhairab, Bhattedanda, Thingan, Makawanpur Gaddhi on to Hetauda ensuring connectivity of rural areas in three districts. Though the fragile ecology, rocky slopes and difficult terrain have posed difficulties in the construction of this road, the way efforts have been mounted to make it happen is very commendable.
All these aforementioned development activities have been possible because of the reorganisation of the state through federalisation that has engendered allocation of resources, mandates and competences to the sub-national governments, including Pradesh, Gaupalika and Nagarpalika. It looks like that the political harangues in Kathmandu have not affected the local governments at the grassroots very much to pursue and carry out their work. Elected local representatives are tightlipped and do not want to take sides though some of them speak for or against the dissolution of the parliament given their past political profile and affiliation. Rather they seem to have increased their contacts with the people and increase the pace of local activities keeping in view the challenge of local elections to be held in the following years
Anyway, the ongoing political conflict at the central (federal) level is very frustrating and confusing to the local people. The vertical polarisation of the party functionaries will sure to gradually percolate down to the local level bringing in disastrous impacts in terms of development and community harmony at the local level. Very soon the elected representatives will be compelled to choose their sides and fight amongst themselves without giving thought to the interests of the communities at the cost of on-going local development projects.
In fact, the development report card of federal (central) government is not better to deliver tangible results compared to the sub-national level though the former had made a good start when it took office three years ago. It had promised to break nexus of corruption and cleanse the body politic off the malaises and abusive practices to accelerate development, among others. The Prime Minister had spoken time and again about the Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali but political infighting has consumed most of his time and energy. In fact, the Prime Minister has not been able to translate his vision into action to produce results due to several reasons.
When we talk of giving a boost to the pace of development, it is necessary to ponder over the issues of the development project governance in the country. Though the government talked of it during the initial days, it has not done much to improve project governance and allowed it to be plagued with several problems including lack of transparency and accountability. The contracts have been awarded to the few chosen contractors who build their nexus with politicians and bureaucrats jeopardising the interests of the capital projects. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had even admitted the fact that around 18 contractors have managed to capture all the important projects under the roads department for many years.
Major weaknesses of the government lie in the fact that it has not paid enough attention to improve basic services delivery to the people though the arrangement for anti-corona vaccines being given to the frontline health workers now has been commended. Education and transportation are some of the areas where government has not done much to improve their quality and mitigate the hassles faced by the people.

Road safety
Transport sector has not improved despite government claim to have dismantled the syndicates. Road safety has been neglected with impunity, and fatal road accidents do occur frequently killing dozens of the people almost every month. The government has talked of instituting the Transport Management Authority to restructure, regulate and reform the transportation system but has not done anything in this respect. The political conflicts at the centre that have ensued following the dissolution of parliament have compounded the problem consigning the agenda of rule of law, judicial independence and governance into oblivion.

(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.