Fate of Melamchi water project again in limbo

Kathmandu, September 21

Construction of the remaining works of the Melamchi Water Supply Project is uncertain as the government has not yet finalised the contractor for the remaining job.

This uncertainty has arisen again as Minister of Water Supply and Sanitation Bina Magar has transferred Surya Kandel, executive director of Melamchi Water Supply Development Board (MWSDB), even as the government was about to sign the contract with Chinese contractor company Sinohydro.

Earlier, the project was scheduled to sign a contract with Sinohydro China and a joint venture company High Himalayan Raman on Sunday.

The government had shortlisted Sinohydro to complete the remaining works of Melamchi project in mid-July.

As per a high-level source from the ministry, who did not want to be identified, Minister Magar and Kandel had disputes regarding payments that local contractors and material vendors are seeking before there is any resumption in construction activities. As per the source, the minister wanted to pay the amount worth Rs 1.65 billion that the earlier Italian contractor, Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti (CMC) di Ravenna, owed to the local contractors and vendors.

However, Kandel was against the idea and wanted to follow the prevalent laws before disbursing any payment.

As per the contract agreement with CMC, the Italian firm was liable to make all the payments related to construction works, wages and construction materials.

As per the official, Sinohydro has sought assurance of security for their workers at project site before signing the agreement as Nepali vendors have warned that they will not allow resumption of any work unless they are paid their dues first.

The affected local contractors and vendors had staged a protest on the premises of MWSDB from September 18 to 20 and had also met Minister Magar regarding their concerns and had also threatened the minister that they would halt construction if their dues were not paid.

Meanwhile, on September 19, high-level officials from Sinohydro had visited MWSDB for final discussion on agreement and the vendors had threatened those officials too.

Earlier, as per a request from Sinohydro, the project had mobilised Armed Police Force personnel at five different points to provide security at the project site.

“Now that Kandel has been transferred, I doubt if the project will be completed as earlier planned,” the official told The Himalayan Times.

Meanwhile, Tiresh Prasad Khatri, the newly-appointed executive director of the project, said that there is no possibility of signing a contract agreement with Sinohydro for the remaining works on Sunday. “I have heard that there are some complications regarding payments related to CMC, so it will take a few more weeks before we sign the agreement with Sinohydro as we have to go through the issue thoroughly and settle it.”

Though almost 90 per cent of physical works of Melamchi Water Project has been completed, a few works related to headworks and tunnel finishing are left, as per the project.

The fate of the water project has been in doubt since December last year after CMC, which was building the project, abandoned it. Moreover, failure of the government to give Melamchi Water Supply Project a proper and prompt direction has delayed its completion.