East-West Highway: A behemoth blunder

It has been almost four years since the government undertook widening of the East-West highway but the ambitious plan has gone seriously wrong somewhere.

First, a journey by bus from Thimphu to Trashigang that is supposed to take 20 hours well lengthens into the wee hours of night and sometimes when circumstances are worse, into morning just to get to Bumthang.

This puts to task the energies of the commuters and public transport operators while endangering lives. Slippery muddy stretches of road, falling boulders, landslides and especially blocks during the rainy season are hazardous to commuters who sometimes comprise children and elderly folk.

There have been instances when roadblocks which could not be cleared on time forced travelers to halt several nights on the way in harsh conditions without proper food and lodging.

Apart from the tremendous pressures of traveling on such a perilous road, it can only be presumed how huge the cost implications of such an endeavor would have had on the government coffer.

The highway works have been tendered in stretches to different and numerous contractors. While some have finished their task successfully, others have not. There should definitely be some kind of penalty for the contractors who failed to complete their share of the work.

And maybe, the incomplete work could be re-tendered to contractors who were successful.

But the issue goes deeper than that: who was responsible for planning a work this huge in scale? Who did the cost-benefit analysis? How can it be guaranteed that the mammoth task will be executed successfully and in time?

Meanwhile, how can risks of traveling be minimized? What does one do to make commuting easier?

Who will be accountable for the damages to vehicles plying the highway? Who will be held responsible if lives are lost?

The government should have looked into all this before initiating the widening works. A 551km highway is not as simple as planning a few kilometers of farm road and the authorities seem to have overestimated their powers.

There does not seem a way to damage control the mess that the East-West highway has turned into. Indeed, it is a royal mess and it looks like the government will have to pull up their socks if it has to show some progress within the term.

And we say “some” because the possibility of making the whole East-West highway into a road worth plying is day by day turning into a distant reality.

Media has hardly covered the issue in-depth because this is one issue that holds authorities on the highest levels accountable.

But it is high time we make noise. There is no way an excuse can do for a blunder this size and nature.