Nepal’s geography ranges from a plain land to high mountains and difficulty exposed by the fragile geology of Nepal specially in mountain area further amplifies hardships for maintenance and new construction as well. Dadeldhura, covers an area of 1538 square kilometre within latitude 28º 59’’ N to 29º 26” N and Longitude 80º 12” E to 80 º 47” E. The district lies partly in the Terai and partly in the Mid-Hills with elevation ranging from 333 m to 2639 m above mean sea level (msl).
According to DoLIDAR-National Plan for Rural Road Maintenance, 2056, rural roads has been defined as “A motorable road or an agricultural road or a motorable track owned, regulated and maintained by the local governing institutions. These roads may have either earthen or gravelled or paved surface and are operational either during a part of or throughout the year.”
The density of road in Nepal, 48 km/100 m2 is much higher comparatively to other neighboring mountainous countries like Bhutan (20 Km /100 m2) and Pakistan (32km/100 m2) which is an indication that new construction of road has increased over past decade but rather not in planned manner or lacking engineering analysis.
Maintenance of road is a subject which has been overlooked and is absolutely necessary for the roads to remain passable, especially in country like Nepal where only 11% of its road network is paved and most of the network consisting of fair weather road. So, the direction in which adding of road length is done in a haphazard way just by use of dozer and excavator should be changed and focus should be shifted in preservation and rehabilitation of the existing networks.
Dadeldhura consists of 14 District Road Core Network (road joining VDC headquarter to district headquarter), total length of which according to DTMP, 2013 is 220.5 km. The length currently (2016) is estimated to have been increased upto 253.5 km and further extension of the road is proposed. 70% of the DRCN is earthen. Regarding Village Road Core Network (VRCN), according to DTMP there are 23 VRCN with total length of 135 km. In present scenario, total no. of VRCN has increased to 29 with total estimated length of 221.3 km.
The district has prepared DTMP in 2013 and has been preparing ARAMP (Annual Road Asset Management Plan) every year, which provides a prioritized list of interventions for different DRCN that are to be carried out with the expected budget allocated to the DRCN in the year concerned. After monsoon, Rapid Condition Survey is done and the quantity required for various intervention are recorded. The budget available doesn’t meet all the estimated requirement. Therefore, the budget to be spent is prioritized in order of emergency, routine & recurrent, specific, periodic maintenance and then only to improvement and new construction. Meaning to say, priority is given to maintenance.
District Rural Road Maintenance Fund (DRRMF) refers to the maintenance of rural roads under the Special Fund for maintenance in DDC according to Local Agencies (Financial Administration) Regulation 2064 rule 54 (c) and for Municipalities in the same Regulation rule 33(B). For each rural road of a district, the rural road maintenance users committee, registered in district level requests necessary amount to be released from District Rural Road Maintenance Fund (DRRMF) upon the recommendation of District Rural Road Maintenance Committee. For the District Road Maintenance Fund, amounts will be made available from Disbursed Annual Budget from Nepal Government, District Development Committee (DDC), Municipality/VDC, Roads Board Nepal, Rural Road Construction Projects and miscellaneous other resources.
Among different sources of fund in Dadeldhura, RAP3 has been spending its budget on routine and recurrent maintenance on DRCNs. Locally selected people from age of 16 to 60 years are given the name of Road Maintenance Group (RMG) and are specialized for routine and recurrent maintenance only. They are employed by DDC through RAP3. They work part time, about 11 days per month and this allows them to fulfill their other responsibilities like agriculture, livestock, household and children. Unlike length workers, they are contracted and are benefitted by working in a group. For example, there is a fair distribution of work, they are better able to respond to large works, they are motivated and also there’s an efficient use of tools and equipment.
This modality also helps to add a source of income to the economically deprived people and so has a contribution towards poverty alleviation as well. In current year (3rd year: 2015/16) of RAP 3, monthly 8,63,437 is distributed to 136 members of different DRCNs. The payment is done on the basis of hybrid system of input-based (days worked), volume-based (Bill of quantities) and performance-based (performance standards). They are also provided with appropriate trainings, tools, safety equipment and insurances as well.
The performance of RMG has been very praise worthy and has been appreciated by different stakeholders. Because of their great contribution towards maintaining road passable, one of the group, namely, Bhumiraj RMG consisting of 8 members received prize from VDC (Koteli) itself.
Since the roads are provided with continuous care, it has resulted in decreased vehicle operating cost. This has curtailed passenger and freight services and difficulty in access to hospitals, schools and market have reduced, the consequence of which is a gain of economy and opening of many social development opportunities.
Neglecting, road defects adds up to higher costs later on. If the defects are let to be compiled and added over again and again then an entire section may fall completely, requiring full reconstruction at three times or more the cost, on average of maintenance costs.
A well maintained road would significantly reduce the number of accidents as well. Road safety has been significantly enhanced even with simple activities like filling of rills and potholes, implementing appropriate methods or structures to divert water away from road surface, making it water free and thus making it less slippery. In country like Nepal where vehicles are overloaded with passenger, maintaining condition of road is absolutely necessary which otherwise would further exacerbate the situation.
So for this, DDC also has been separating its internal budget for maintenance. In Dadeldhura, Road Board Nepal, RTI-SWAp are the other agencies funding for maintenance. According to ARAMP (2072/73), RRRSDP has allocated NRs. 42,900,000 on 73DR001 Bagbazaar-Bagarkot as an improvement project. The combined budget from all the sources for maintenance which according to ARAMP for the same year, comes to be NRs. 22,310,760 which isn’t sufficient to meet the requirements obtained from Rapid Condition Survey.
There’s also a question whether the allocated budget to different roads justifiable and efficient? For this ARAMP holds the answers but sometimes ARAMP cannot hold onto its principles. The prioritization on the basis of cost/vehicle sometimes faces political influence which make it impossible in keeping the budget intact according to priority and needs. Sprinkling of money over different small projects is also sometime a result of political will and should be checked strictly.
Many key stakeholders are not appealed by the idea of maintenance. New construction is more visually appealing than maintenance to common local people. Thus, fund is then allocated to new construction and it’s done in haphazard way. New construction is accomplished by use of heavy equipment only. According to maintenance directives of DoLIDAR, after completion of road construction work, those benefitted from road construction, VDCs, DDC, organized user groups, and rural communities, should express commitment for operation of the road by carrying out maintenance work including taking necessary responsibilities. This policy should be followed by every beneficiary, for the constructed road to serve its purpose.
Another major challenge in maintenance is finding sustainable source. There are foreign aided projects being carried but there’s no alternative which can replace, if it withdraws its program. Government must look forward to this scenario and manage it early as possible before it’s too late for everyone. Local bodies like DDCs and VDCs must also pose early interest in allocating substantial road maintenance budget every year as they are the ones to whom ownership has been provided according to Local Self-Governance Act 2055, and they should responsibly fulfill their duties. For instance, in Dadeldhura (pilot district), RAP3 has been decreasing its fund. In the first year, the budget spent in maintenance was NRs. 40,633,399 which coming onto third year was significantly reduced to a target of NRs. 12,056,291, and was allocated for routine and recurrent maintenance only. Reducing fund, doesn’t necessarily mean there are no other maintenance required, the gap of which now should be substantiated by some other sources.
Establishment of fully capable institution for monitoring the allocated budget and activities will increase the effectiveness of maintenance. The associated institutions are DDC, VDC or Municipality. According to the maintenance directive, there must be formation of District Rural Road Maintenance Committee and Road Maintenance User Committee for the proper intuitional and accountability setup of rural road maintenance. Similarly, contractors, user committee should complete the work ethically, meeting the specifications. The institution responsible should come up with Quality Assurance and Quality control plan and it should be checked through regular & effective monitoring and supervision.
From policy makers to the local road users, all should have the feeling for betterment of road. All the blame cannot be pointed to the policy makers, planner or technicians. Maintenance culture should be established through awareness. People even neglect basic consideration like discharging water at road side. If there’s a small obstruction (stone) blocking the road, people walking nearby will not even bother to place it away. So people using the road should also take care of it.
Another solution for establishing maintenance culture could be incorporating maintenance budget in design only. Agency that implements the road construction or rehabilitation be responsible for subsequent routine and periodic maintenance. It may be done by identifying key stakeholders at national, regional, district and local community level and imparting them with their own level of responsibility. Also, maintenance should be incorporated in design guidelines as well so that it is not neglected as soon design is complete because maintenance funds should go to roads that are functionally important and in reasonably good condition.
Proper maintenance of road will bring enormous social and economic development opportunities. Roads can and should be maintained well and it’s possible when there’s a major shift in attitude of people and proper use of available resources (manpower, fund & time). The notion behind the importance of maintenance must be realized and put into practice keeping apart and rising above every personal interests.