Melamchi tunnel work in limbo, more bumps ahead

SUNDARIJAL: Work on the tunnel of Melamchi Water Supply Project has not started even after six months of the foundation stone laying ceremony by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.

The foundation stone was laid in Sundarijal, the last point of the tunnel on August 3 by the PM. Irate locals have blocked progress for the past six months in Melamchi, the site office of the project, saying that the foundation stone was laid in Sundarijal of Kathmandu instead of Helambu of Sindhupalchok, the entry point of the tunnel.

Locals have threatened that they will not allow digging of the tunnel as their demands were not met. Meanwhile, the China Railway 15 Bureau Corporation and China CMIIC Corporation workers have departed.

Although the contractors had said that they would complete the work in four years and four months, the deadline may be extended as no work has been done in six months. The contract mentions that the tunnel will be completed and water released in Sundarijal by December 2013. The tunnel construction constitutes 27 per cent of the total work.

Earlier, construction was to start in 2002 but it was postponed for five years after donors World Bank, Norway and Sweden backtracked from the project. The work began with Asian Development Bank cooperation on condition to give the valley drinking water supply project to the private sector. Finally, the project was allotted to Severn Trent, a British company as per the ADB condition.

However, when the Maoists came to power, minister for physical planning and works Hisila Yami cancelled the agreement with Severn Trent and tunnel work was delayed by another two years. The foundation stone was laid on August 3, 2009, but work could not start because of disputes. A 26-km tunnel is needed to bring water from Melamchi River to Kathmandu from Helambu of Sindhupalchowk to Sundarijal of Kathmandu. The project has already constructed an access road.

Project executive director Gajendra Kumar Thakur said the delay was because of the lengthy process of acquiring license for explosives. It needs 1,100 tonnes of explosives.