Nepal | May 27, 2020

Experts question the logic behind one more highway in Chure area

Pushpa Raj Acharya
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Kathmandu, May 28

As announced in the government’s policies and programmes, the next fiscal budget will allocate adequate resources for Madan Bhandari Highway, a new priority project that will span along the Chure foothills and connect eastern and western parts of the country. However, the rationale of a new highway in Chure range has been questioned, as a number of mega projects like Postal Highway, East-West Railway and East-West Highway have already been initiated in the same area.

“The new project that the government is going to initiate contradicts with the President Chure Conservation Programme, which aims to conserve the forest of the Chure area by controlling destruction and deforestation of Chure region which have adversely affected the groundwater balance in the Tarai region,” said Mahesh Acharya, former minister for the forest and soil conservation, adding, “The distance between Chure foothills and the Indian border is just 35 to 40 kilometres, and I do not see any sense of crowding the Tarai with railway and highway projects, as the region is already facing number challenges due to water-logging.”

Another highway project – Mid-Hill Highway – that will connect Panchthar of eastern Nepal to Baitadi (Jhulaghat) of western Nepal is being constructed to expand the access of road.

According to experts, the new highway project will create adverse impact on the environment as the Chure range is already fragile due to flooding and water-logging.

“Most of the country’s rivers/streams flow through this area and water-logging will be a serious challenge if we build another road structure,” Binod Bhatta, an environment and forest area specialist told The Himalayan Times. “We have seen during construction of different sections of Postal Highway that certain roads and culverts have been swept away, inundating hectares of arable land due to lack of proper drainage system.”

Citing an example of Dharan-Chatara-Hetauda road section (which will be aligned with the proposed Madan Bhandari Highway), where the destruction of forest is rampant and there are no retention walls to protect soil erosion and landslides, Bhatta said that development without adopting proper environmental safeguards will only result in destruction.

“Before initiating any development project, planners have to properly understand the pitfalls and environmental impacts,” he said. “The ropeway system from Tarai to Chure range is a more feasible, economically and environmentally sound alternative, but the planners have not paid any attention to it.”

Following the construction of a new highway project in Tarai, people from the high-hills and mid-hills will start migrating to either sides of the highway, and the increased human activities will make the entire Chure range – which is fragile as it is with half of the country’s population already living in the Tarai – more vulnerable to environmental degradation and risks, as per Bhatta.

“The policies and programmes have envisioned developing an industrial corridor alongside the Madan Bhandari Highway, which is against the principle of sustainable use of the environment and natural resources.”

Apart from the East-West Highway, Postal Highway, East-West Railway and proposed Madan Bhandari Highway, the Indian government has developed another road corridor along the border with Nepal and these five structures in this range would have serious impacts on the environment, which has been overlooked by the planners, according to environment conservation specialists.

“Moreover, the arable land of the Tarai will be wiped out along with the migration to the Chure range after the construction of the new highways, which could pose a challenge to government’s plans of doubling the agricultural output in five years.”

A version of this article appears in print on May 29, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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