Dreams and drains
There were news reports about a young girl’s untimely and sad death falling into a road ditch recently. Otherwise, water-logged road patches and the precarious ways people get across makes a favorite pictorial story for most papers every year. It seems to have no effect, whatsoever, in making related agencies act timely in stopping such happenings. Why does it happen all the time is the question? Is it an example of usual bureaucratic lethargy or a case of distaste for low level maintenance works?
It should not be the question of money alone as we are left with huge unspent amount because of chronic mismatch between allocations and spending every year. This speaks volumes about our preparedness. That besides, there seem to be confusion about who or which unit was responsible for maintenance and the daily upkeep of roads. We also have mahanagarpalikas with matching ego busy dreaming about things like monorail and underground commuting networks. Engrossed with the future, they have no time or taste for mundane works. Our mayors may well head the Som Sharma way if they continue acting like this!
There is nothing wrong in dreaming but one should not forget or disregard small works that help make incremental positive impacts. There are too many small works that can be tackled in a programmed manner. As told, maintenance of drains etc tops the list. There are personnel who look after designated length of road for its upkeep. They must have a clear channel to inform their supervisors instantly about jobs that need to be tackled immediately, and if it were beyond them with resources at their disposal. It could be a pothole or a puddle and even leaking water mains, or jobs under other departments (water/telephone) that take too long to get fixed. It could even be depressed or raised manhole covers that are serious sleeping hazards for speeding vehicles. A water-filled ditch looks quite benign until someone lands into it. It was a case of extreme apathy on the part of the perpetrators as the girl paid up with her life for their neglect.
Talking of day-to-day upkeep, it is not unusual here to see sweepers happily pushing dirt into drainage intakes or open side drains. The habit of unconcerned public throwing away plastic pouch/wrappings etc only helps in choking drains. Cleaning underground drainage channels is difficult as it is, even road-side ones with concrete covers, often pose cleaning problem. Normally, a drain becomes workable so long as there is enough amount of fluid that can carry suspended waste. In no situation can a drain dispose solid wastes. This is probably why areas like Ramshahpath (Putalisadak) always flood during the smallest of downpourings while Tukucha is barely 50 meters away.
This scribe has pressed upon about the need of making footpaths walkable by removing obstructions and encroachments. Usually most road-side shops use footpaths as their private extended space in a variety of ways. Not to forget, we have road-side motorbike repair shops in every street that invariably encroaches upon footpaths. There are also repair shops where vehicles stop just for tire-related works. Roadside maintenance works are always hazardous. Will it not be possible to make it compulsory for all fuelling stations to house at least tire-related services?
Public spaces have been consistently encroached upon by government agencies since long. At the forefront is the incremental encroachment of Kathmandu Tundikhel. It used to be a single public space that stretched from Ranipokhari right up to Tripureswor. The area around the present stadium used to be known as the Sano-tundikhel. Land has been treated as a commodity with unlimited supply contrary to the reverse reality. It is a scarce resource and its judicious use is even more crucial given future demands. More so, as new municipalities are being created for fun without acceptable justification to prove otherwise.
As for the Tundikhel, possibly first encroachment happened with fencing of the Ranipokhari during the Rana time. Ranipokhari was infamous as a place for committing suicides. The fencing was erected to put a stop to such unpleasant practices. But some determined still managed to get in and drown. The Tundikhel fencing, on the other hand, got erected before Queen Elizabeth’s visit in early 1960s. The construction of army’s pavilion was yet another encroachment as was the Open Air Theatre. It is rather sad that we now have a couple of party palaces in the area adjoining the Nepal Army headquarters. Tundikhel has been treated as if it had several owners. Even the Shahidgate arch needs to be moved away. It is time to lay claim to the whole of Tundikhel for public use. Mayors, by not neglecting small works, need to push on that line.