Rural Roads Matters: Debate and Practice of Road Building in the Eastern Plains of Nepal
The paper is written against the backdrop of two key trends in road development in Nepal. First, government and donor agencies have, since the inception of the modern development era, invested extensively in building ‘strategic roads’, or highways. Since the 1970s, under the auspices of regional planning, most of this investment has concentrated on North-South highways that were intended to diffuse population pressure in the hills by resettling hill migrants in the tarai’s fertile land. Second, rural roads, which are arguably more relevant to day-to-day life for the majority of the population than highways, have become a focus of development only after the democratic reforms of 1990. This paper focuses on rural road building in the southern plains of Morang district, which is a highly contested process embedded with the wider issues of regional politics, ethnicity, inequality, floods, displacement, migration, markets, real state business, corruption, remittance, industrialization, urbanizations and agrarian change. Ethnographic study of the road must capture these complex articulations—and the paper explores the methodological and theoretical challenges. By focusing on rural roads in the Tarai, the paper aims to [a] foreground the significance of studying rural infrastructure and [b] challenge hill-centric ideology of development and its representation of Tarai populations and livelihoods.