“Oooo……ooops,” we kept uttering in unison as the overgrown twigs and bushes rattled the sides and clumps of mud and rocks brushed the underbelly of the car intermittently. I and my friend Tashi were travelling to one gewog together and the experience was nothing short of a nightmare. It was an adrenalin rushing drive akin to those shown in Discovery channel with our SUV (small utility vehiche)-a maruti car. The car got the beating of a lifetime on that day as we ploughed our way through the thicket.
Half way into the journey, we were left in dilemma whether to push forward or return back and take a longer detour. We resolved to push on and after what seemed to protract on for hours we reach our destination-thankfully in one piece. It was a familiar place, but that day, we lost track of where we actually reached at any given point of time. All our attention was focused on the road throughout-excuse me, was that a road at all? Yes, it is a road and someone is even given the task to maintain this road but, how good will the road be, in the aftermath of the repair will depend on responsiveness of the contractor, integrity of the supervising engineer and some voices of beneficiaries too.
Over the last few weeks, I had to travel a lot into the villages and gewogs. It gave me ample idea of the road conditions in the villages. Some are good, some exceptionally good and some in pathetic conditions. I had experienced them all. This gives me the confidence to rate them and, also develop my own opinion-sans technical expertise, on why such a diverse condition exist of what is essentially the same thing called road.
In my personal opinion, the conditions of all these roads are the result of the following factors: planning, consultation with beneficiaries and other stakeholders, technical soundness of engineers involved in planning and designing of roads and commitment and professionalism of contractors. If we lack in any of these areas, the end result can be costly in the long run.
The varying conditions of farm, feeder or dzongkhag roads depended primarily on these factors and that could be the reason why some roads are better than others. Some farm roads are as good as highways and others-road to hell. Some are comfortable to drive at an optimum speed while on others you just can crawl; one mistake or loss of concentration could be the difference between life and death. And some have the real threat of becoming ecological disasters.
When I say we need proper planning and consultation with stake holders I mean to say that, often beneficiaries are not taken into confidence by convincing them to plan road according to technical specifications. When one farmer on the fringe does not allow road to be taken through his farm land, the entire communities and villages remain deprived of a beneficial road network inside the village. Yes, individual farmers may have the right but that right should not be the barrier for a many others in the community. This is the reason why in some instances villages are in one side while the road goes in the other side.
Consultations with various stake holders are as important. For example, two or more gewogs may need to collaborate and pool resources together to build a good road network than building many poor ones. This way, maintenance budget can also be pooled to keep it open at all times. This is possible. But why do such collaboration not take place?
Technical soundness of engineers designing the road is the primary reason and the most important determining factor for the overall condition of the road. Gradients of some roads are so bad that, they are fit for only off-road vehicles and, narrow hairpin bends confront you when you least expect. Poor gradients lead to fast deterioration of the overall condition. Spillage of rainwater on this kind of road can be devastating, leading to high maintenance cost. Professionalism and integrity of the engineers are the only way to correct this.
Commitments and soundness of contractor is yet another crucial factor for quality assurance. Honestly, some contractors are merely interested in making money and do not bother about the onus they have towards the society. I wonder, why at first they are bent on making fast money through various means only to be donated later for religious causes.
From what others say and from what I have experienced personally, professionalism of one contractor stands out from all others. I haven’t met him but, others say he is a simple unassuming man who can be mistaken for any other farmer. I was told he often wears a simple bata chappal (flip flop). Even his name is not a name at all. It is a combination of his village name and his gender-Tokshing Kota, in eastern dialect. His name is not a name; his name is a brand today. Why can’t others emulate him?
Please remember to be alert when you are on the road. You never know what is behind those bends on the road. They make take you to your destination or to your death bed and, you will never know some of these seeming life lines can also turn out to be death trap. Be alert when you are behind the wheel and don’t drink-drive. I am always reminded by this roadside sign somewhere which said, “A driver is safe when the road is dry and the road is safe when the driver is dry.” But on farm roads you need to be doubly alert because a driver may not be safe even when the road is dry and dusty.
Thank you readers and visitors take care and may god bless you all.
November 27, 12:30 AM