Nepali Times
The road to prosperity


CASH FOR WORK: Local women in Bhojpur on a section of the new road to Dingla being built under the Rural Access Programme.
More roads have been built in Nepal in the past five years than in the past 50. Excavators and bulldozers tear through the mountains in a highway frenzy not seen before in this country.

Much of this destructive, mechanised road-building doesn't create jobs, it opens up the hinterland to exploitation, and most roads are washed away in the first monsoon.

Yet there are working examples of road construction in Nepal that generate rural employment during construction and after, benefit local farmers, and are sensitive to the environment. Several of Nepal's donors are now supporting projects that seek to reduce poverty through this road-building model.

Because of the out-migration of menfolk, it is the women who work in the road builder's groups in Bhojpur.
"This is not a road project, the road is only the means to raise living standards, it is not the end," explains Guru Dhakal of the Rural Access Programme (RAP), a British aid project which will have built nearly 1,000km of district roads in six of Nepal's poorest districts when it winds down next year.

The philosophy is to go beyond just the highway to generate income through labour-intensive road-building, improving livelihoods by providing access to rural produce, and organising local road-builders into savings cooperatives. RAP has done with roads what user groups did to conserve Nepal's community forests.

Bulldozers and excavators have their uses, but overuse has displaced people and destroyed farms.
Here in Bhojpur, which in many ways used to be as remote as western Nepal, the impact of the road is direct and tangible. Subsistence farmers who worked on the road now have disposable income, teachers and health workers stay in the village, school enrolment has doubled, and the price of basic foods has come down by half.

RAP employs villagers within a 90-minute walk for sections of the road, and an average road builder can earn up to Rs 100,000 a year. This has reduced the number of people migrating to India or the Gulf for work (see box).

Many, like Laxmi Shrestha, invested the money they earned in vegetable farming so they can send children to school.
Laxmi Shrestha from Taksar village worked for two years on the Leguwa-Bhojpur section of the road, and ploughed her savings into a vegetable farm from which she now earns Rs 300,000 yearly selling tomatoes, cabbages and onions. She can afford to send her daughter to an engineering college in Kathmandu. "Working on the road gave us income and taught us skills, and once the road was built we could sell our vegetables in Dhankuta. I did it all for my childrens' education," Laxmi tells us.

RAP was started in 2000 with the Hile-Bhojpur road, but work stalled during the war. Restarting in 2006, it has provided employment to 25,000 farmers building roads in Bhojpur, Khotang, Sankhuwasabha and Terathum, and helped organise farmers into cooperatives. The road-building model has been extended to Dailekh, Accham and Doti in western Nepal.

Bibas Rai is determined not to leave his village, he says he will help others increase earnings by farming vegetables.

In Bhojpur alone, wages for road workers injected Rs 1 billion of cash into the economy over the years, and the effect can be seen in the bustling Saturday market where farmers like Laxmi Shrestha come to sell their produce. Orange farmers can now sell a kilogram of oranges for five times more in Dhankuta.

None of this would have happened if the road had been built by excavators. "The bulldozer only benefits its dozer-owner and harms the slopes," explains Bhojpur's Local Development Officer, Lok Nath Poudel, "but it is difficult to convince the DDC and local politicians that this is a better way to build roads than getting an excavator to tear down a mountain."

At the Bhojpur market, businessmen say the road has benefited every sector of the economy. Villagers now have cash to buy goods, and the cost of bringing consumer items from Dhankuta by truck is ten times cheaper than through porters.

British development consultant, Bharat Patel, at the site of one of the two bridges RAP is building over the Arun River.
"I thought I would have to close down my shop after the road came to Bhojpur, but business is actually much better," says trader Dhruba Shrestha. Indeed, with 24-hour electricity, plentiful water and clean air the quality of life in Bhojpur is much better than in Kathmandu. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, and the quality of education and health services have improved.

Bhojpur trader Dhruba Shrestha says the RAP road has raised living standards and increased the purchasing power of his customers.
On an inspection visit to Bhojpur, British consultant Bharat Patel admits that it costs more to build a RAP road manually than with mechanised diggers. "But we leave behind much more than just a road," he adds. "The community is empowered and more self-sufficient."

At Bhamran on a new section of a RAP road to Dingla, Bibas Rai points out the fallow fields. Most young men have emigrated. "People think that if you are educated you shouldn't farm," says Rai, "but I am staying back, I will never leave. Someone has to grow the food."

To go or not to go

One of these days, Lakpa Sherpa has to make a momentous decision: whether or not to pay Rs 90,000 to a middleman who has promised him a job in Qatar. Lakpa's wife, Amrita, is encouraging him to go. "He'll never earn enough here to take care of us," she says, holding on to her baby, Anusha.

Lakpa is not so sure. He shows us his calculations on the back of a cigarette pack. He earned Rs 100,000 in the past year digging the road, and now he is enrolled in carpentry training so he can start a small furniture shop.

He has decided not to migrate for work. "I will never go," says Lakpa, "I will toil and sweat in my own country."

"Water, water"

In the 1950s, when Swiss geologist Toni Hagen travelled the length and breadth of Nepal, he used to ask Nepalis what they needed the most. Many told him they wanted a bridge. The rivers were barriers, and bridges provided accessibility. In the 1980s, most Nepalis told him they wanted a road. Today, roads reach nearly every VDC in the country, and there are suspension footbridges across most rivers.

Here in Bhojpur, Nepalis have a new wish: irrigation. The road has brought income and access to market but farmers suffer a serious shortage of water in the dry season. This has been exacerbated by successive years of winter drought.

Till five years ago, Matrika Adhikari of Syauli village couldn't even grow enough to feed the family. Today, he is sending Rs 150,000 worth of Akbare chillies by road to the Druk pickle factory in Sunsari. Says Adhikari, "We could grow anything if we had irrigation."

Every drop counts
"Peace, governance, development?"

Jumla's road to the future, KUNDA DIXIT in JUMLA
The great green road, PRAGYA SHRESTHA
The road ahead for Nepal, PRAGYA SHRESTHA

1. who cares
i thought shahs had connected all nepalese with roads, that is what dead royalists supporters have been barking.  

so who ate all those roads shahs had built, girija, krishna p bhatterail?? or maoist bombed all.

"RAP was started in 2000 with the Hile-Bhojpur road, but work stalled during the war. Restarting in 2006, "

-- so shahs ignored it, later maoist blocked it. 

***"I thought I would have to close down my shop after the road came to Bhojpur, but business is actually much better,"

******"Almost everyone has a mobile phone, and the quality of education and health services have improved."

"In the 1950s, ........In the 1980s............"---------------- who used to ran nepal during that time?  reincarnation of lord bishnu?

"Today, roads reach nearly every VDC in the country, and there are suspension footbridges across most rivers.?"

even though, nepal's democracy is corrupt, but they do not block development.

Thanks to the people of Great Britain. 

2. sukha

Thanks Kunda!

a great article.. I hope for gamut of such inspiring articles in the days to come.  

Lets forget about the greedy politicians and their "bakbas".Let us stop to  glorify them in the media.


3. Sonam Gurung

I enjoy reading So different than other regular news. It feels good and there is a sense of gaining something valuable. Same goes here in reading the story about Road Building.

Building Road is not only reaching people, it is  also essential for democratic to flourish. lets hope every Nepali will be connected and stand guard against those wo abuses democracy for personal gain.



4. hange
Very inspiring as well as enlightening.  I had no idea that the means by which roads are constructed can result in such different economics.  Indeed, a road is not just a road if built correctly.

5. R RAI

As a Bhojpure I think I have right to ask a few questions-why Bhojpur was completely neglected by successive Panchayeti governments and subsequently by Congress/UML governtments for so long? Why didn't it deserve to be connected to rest of the country? Why this prejudice against the district of Ganesh Rasik who has probably written more patriotic songs than anybody else?

Why Bhojpur had to wait for the UK to start building roads there?

Despite the questions above, I am delighted to read that villages in Bhojpur are being connected with roads and people are benefitting in so many ways.I trust there will be many following Laxmi's and Bibas' steps.

RAP is a total success.Thank you Mr Dixit for yet another positive story-this time of my own district!


6. Barking dead royal supporter
i thought shahs had connected all nepalese with roads, that is what dead royalists supporters have been barking.  

The Kings of Nepal had not only embarked on a mission to connect all Nepali's with roads but also created all the modern institutions which the country relies on. The basis of that work was love for the country that our Kings created. It was not to throw crumbs at people with the help of foreign money, they had done through smart planning. 

so who ate all those roads shahs had built, girija, krishna p bhatterail?? or maoist bombed all.

Perhaps the bridges and the roads that the Maoists bombed and Girija's cronies built with half the material went to pay for the various murder campaigns that they engaged in and all the money that they spent on winning support. A part of that money also went into vandalism and anarchy that they unleashed to frustrate the honest people of this country. 

"RAP was started in 2000 with the Hile-Bhojpur road, but work stalled during the war. Restarting in 2006, "

-- so shahs ignored it, later maoist blocked it. 

The Kings were not in control at that time but Girija and his various sidekicks. Maoists under the instruction of Republicans were murdering party cadre and civilians. Just trying to adopt Nazi tactics to divert the attention from the fact that party top brass were in cahoots with the Maoists to eliminate their political enemies is not going to work.

It was the criminals who are in control now who stopped all developments. Who sold all the industries at throwaway prices?  

***"I thought I would have to close down my shop after the road came to Bhojpur, but business is actually much better,"

The trader had to close down his shop because of what your friend Maoists and the treacherous politicians who gave them life and support.

******"Almost everyone has a mobile phone, and the quality of education and health services have improved."

There were no mobile phones back then. But the health services were created by His Majesty's government of Nepal, education policies worked well enough to produce honest students and quality education. The result of that is what is making the country proud outside. These people were forced to leave the country because they were pushed out by your Gods.

"In the 1950s, ........In the 1980s............"---------------- who used to ran nepal during that time?  reincarnation of lord bishnu?

Insult Hindu's as much as you like but have you ever looked at the work that was done at that time? No. 

The Kings used to run the country at that time and there was peace for everybody other than for criminals and traitors. Why do you have sympathy for them.

"Today, roads reach nearly every VDC in the country, and there are suspension footbridges across most rivers.?"

even though, nepal's democracy is corrupt, but they do not block development.

Nepal's democracy was not corrupt and not partisan under the Kings. Democrats were corrupt, development happened in spite of them, because of the strength of the policies designed under the Monarch's of Nepal who really loved their country for what it was. Unlike your democrats who destroyed this country because they hated, and have only left the name intact because they do not have the courage to say what they want.

Thanks to the people of Great Britain

Only because the corrupt, criminal, treacherous, murderous crooks masquerading as politicians, shedding crocodile tears at the death of one of few honest, proud men, among them created a situation where we have to be grateful at the kindness of strangers.

Throw a rock at me and I will reply with boulders. Go ahead, give it a try.

This country did not belong to the likes of you who stole it from us.

7. chandra gurung
It's amazing article. And I support Lakpa's decision to stay. Hope Lakpa never has to regret. I hope we all have opportunity to sweat in our own country.

A relative of mine worked in foreign army[Indian and British] for six generation. The last one of them and his retired father told me this."We always wished we had fought for our own country. We still wonder what it would be like to fight to win the territory of Delhi and Beijing and make them part of Nepal." I told them that while we would probably always spare Delhi and Beijing and let them them remain independent, our generation too thinks that it would be wonderful to work for our own country, and for people around us, especially since we are so poor and there are so many things to do.

8. Slarti
I read Nepalitimes for these posts, and I like Kunda Dixit for finding out these stories. Great work Sir.

Incidentally, about leaving the country, just look at this country and tell me why would anyone want to leave despite all the hardships. There is so much life, and so much hope.

I am really feeling good. I would wish people could keep politics out of this, but hey, that too is part of being Nepali, I guess.

9. R RAI

Nepal will survive and prosper despite corrupt politicians and hypocritical/dishonest  intellectuals because there are people like Laxmi,Bibas, Dhruba and Lakpa.

What Nepal really needs is hope.

10. obsrvr
Turning the Annapurna circuit trekking trail was the most stupid road building ever done .. perfect example of stupidity in the notion of development pushing. Here was one of the most popular trekking routes in the world, even included in the book of planet's top 100 walks, and next we see some development bujruks turn that into a smoke billowed dust ridden patch of waste land. Where have all the brains gone???

11. Vija Srestha

Mr.Dixit writes that road bulding doesn't create jobs, it opens up the hinterland to exploitation, and most roads are washed away in the first monsoon.

Why do we try to pretend not to see the problem and the reasons behind it.It is not good enough anymore just to state that the problem exists and it is not good enough anymore to let the people for themselves discover or let the people for themselves fight for the better life.The whole point of building democracy and writing a constitution are excactly the reasons ,Mr.Dixit has mentioned in this article,but I do not see anyone seeing it or even thinking of it as a worthy to discuss problem.

Why this destructive road building doesn't create jobs?Why it is a place for exploitation.Why is it that after a monsoon season the roads are washed away?I will never accept that whoever has participated in the discussion on this article doesn't see it.Why are we scared to name the thigs as they are in reality.

If it is a project started by the government or any other private organization ,then the government is the one that encourages the exploitation,then the government is the one that doesn't put in the effort and money meant and needed materials to build the roads according to the needed safety standards .I do not want to believe that the government would accept the road projects meant for the countries with plains for thousands of square metres.If the use of machines is destructive ,that means there is no properly made researches  on the soil and the mountain rocks  and it is seen that no one project is exactly completed to the required standards.

Well ,the article shows and in the reality we see the changes that have taken place thanks to the built roads and how it affects and influences changes in a positive  way  for all the people living in these areas.However ,the donors. who support projects, know very well that the labour cost in Nepal is very low and therefore money provided is according to the Nepali market level.It is the dyty of the government to set the minimal wage and the pay for an hour to the labour workers taking part in the road works,however ,no one has done that,government and project officials are taking chance of ignorace and poverty of people who have nothing as to take any chance to earn living.The problem is not just in this area.Les's look at any labourer,domestic maids etc,if we do employ them ,what is the minimal wage any employer must pay?Again,it is the government responsibility  to set the minimal earning wage and make the employer pay.Let us use our morales here and do not close eyes to the basic problems but in reality everyone turns the deaf ear and blind eye.Why ,thousands of Nepalese leave the country to work for minimal wage in other countries of the world?Everyone knows about it and again we pretend not to see.

 Several of Nepal's donors are now supporting projects that seek to reduce poverty through this road-building model.Idea is not bad ,it is even praise worthy ,but again,lets ask the involved companies ,responsible project managers ,on what the money is used and what is built ,not just assume and clap hands ,oh ,yes,there is one more chance t oget the % form the project into individual pockets,Let's not pretend ,everyone knows how it works in Nepal,This is what we need to focus on and how to introduce the obligatory minimal wage to all labourers   and turn into reality not just  irrigation projects,solar panel systems but most importantly pay for the job done ,respect the work not just with words but reflect it into the salaries of such workers starting with ourselves.Everyone knows even in Nepal,that if a maid works at foreigner house,she is paid even salary biggger than the government would pay even the teachers.As you see,no one is taking the morale responsibility when it comes to money matter. Let's look deeper into the problems that exist and start from there to solve the employment problems and I think the next 10 years is a must for the government to focus on the rular areas of the country,not just capital.This is the newspaper where one can let the ideas out,for all the people and those who will participate it is a good way to get the first real reference on the projects.Can we try!

12. Sagar Onta
Really nice article, indeed. The economic impact of direct investment, with minimal dilution by govt and contractors, is clearly shown above. I have always argued that, in Nepal, government is an obstacle to development, not a facilitator. Whether its through corruption, or high tax or dense bureaucracy. They are never the agent of change. I will argue that, even though majority of donor money may be processed through the govt, to feed the ego and pockets of our ministers, we should lobby so that some of the donor money should go to villagers directly, via programs like RAP. Of the billions poured into Nepal's development, if only fraction of that money saw a real use, it will be an immense boost to the parched hands.

Nonetheless, I do hope that a qualified engineer has guided the design and construction of these labor intensive road building. As Kunda mentioned, we do not want these hard earned access to be swept by monsoon every year.

13. chandra gurung
Sagar, Government is not an obstacle, but it can be a big obstacle if it wants. And an unaccountable govt is a big obstacle, because it creates a pyramid of corruption that is hard for us wish away.

Roads, transmission line, fibres, macro policies--they are jobs of the govt. There is no substitute, practically, of this. Most of these sectors involve economy of scale, and public goods with economy of scale are better off run by government.

Successive autocratic govts were obstacle because by their nature, they served only one family. Democratic govt, when they rose above petty politics, were able to unshackle these bonds. More roads were built in first five years after JA-I (until Maoists brothers thought it was not enough and started movement for annihilationism) than in the history. Today, democratic governments are also stymied because (i) they have circle of self interested groups, such as student unions, trade unions, dadas affiliated with them who extract rents from these projects, and (ii) honest politicians such as Manmohan or KPB or erstwhile GPK--however ineffective they were, they personally embodied integrity-- are not even around. I have seen a NC minister brag about his wealth. That sums up how unashamed they are.

So, what can we do? Well, let's take everything online (the contracts etc). That probably reduces dadagiri in contracts. Then, make all expenses transparent. etc etc. I don't have repeat them. Lots of educated men already know these recommendations.

What we need right now are the kind of youngsters who can 
(i) enact change on their own way. Like Mahabir Pun. Pun went to village and changed his village first. So, rather than talking about the whole country, how about our educated KTM guys change their own street first? Can people put their own effort to plant flowers, put garbage can etc, put statues in several of their street corners? Everybody in KTM wants to talk big, but their own house is in between  mud, narrow street and dirt. First, make KTM livable and then teach others to follow them.

(ii) First change your village. First change your community. Your jaat. I don't think a Dalit working for his own Dalit is a bad thing. Mahabir dai, for example, didn't set out to change the country. He first changed his own village, which became an example for others. A madhesi should change his own village first. Show one example of concrete work. etc. etc.

14. NSD
While this is all very exciting and I am terribly happy and tearful and all that. I don't think we need to be so over the top in our praise for developments such as these.

It remains a step closer in the right direction, but only with wrong methods.

If development aid was sufficient then there would be countries which would be substantially richer by now. If connectivity was the problem then Tarai would be considerably better-off and fairly advanced.

No country became rich by infusion of large foreign cash, the sudden rise in the number of honest men and women, and because it was encouraged by benevolent journalists such as Kunda Dixit.

What Nepal requires is something more fundamental. 

Nepal needs to come out of we-are-poor-and-helpless-please-help-us syndrome so we may become as rich as you, at your taxpayers expense, and start doing something for itself.

When I look at the current crop of politicians and hear the sound-bites on TV and through Newspapers and their comments section, I am appalled by the level of ignorance and the determination to stay as ignorant.

What Nepal needs urgently is an end to the political stalemate in whatever form - copy-paste someone's constitution and keep changing it, downsize the army if that is what it takes to end the stalemate, and immediately start - as of two years ago - to build the structure that is required for the development of the economy.

This is going on for too long. If nothing, just hand over power to the Maoists and ask them to fix things. Whatever you do, do something more worthwhile than praising the developments in one district which will end up being as poor as it was, once the foreigners leave.

Incidentally, how come the same politicians of the old system, who then demolished the system that they helped build, can now help build a new system which will have no connection with the old?

15. DG
  A bolt from the blue!
We can hear some good news also at this time of despairs. Thank you NT. Reallu a creative writing to come at times.

NT ,get it translated in Nepali and distribute to our politicians,the abhisap of our land.Better for next edition of Himalkhabar Patrika.
Excavators for National Highway Constructions for fast work.
Manual Labour intensive method for Rural Road Construction.

Water Conservation, the only solution for the future whether in irrigation or industries or drinking.
Recharge the monsoon inundation of 4 months so that we can draw water rest of the year.
Look at Gujarat Saurastra in Indian desert areas; they have been successful to green them.
 Try ponds, Check-dams in profusion.

Don,t go for expensive constructions as resources are scare,. This simply helps raising corruption and fattens the corrupt politicians as all of them have become by now.
 Jati jogi ataye kannai chiriyeka.

16. JK

Its been four years, i've been living in China, interestingly found exactly same story. Found every here and there excavator and Dozers, crane for high raised building. Then i decided to write a blog on this topic. If Nepal has to develop at first hand we need all these tools "big machine" to do work in efficient and in low cost. Road is fundamental of development, economic growth, investment in distance "low cost area", easy market access for farmers who grow agro products. of course communication is another important part and it is growing very commerically and it will. Roads alleviated country people's toil much. Now their basic need is pure water so there won't be any death by Cholera related disease. Big machine and tools made ease doing many task, now bombing few big hills in Karnali plus some other remote area is most essential plus some more tax rebate  and availability of such big tools in the every corner of this country will help reducing poverty, generate more employment + social-economic justice for underprivileged.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)