The government had initiated the Melamchi Water Supply Project as the most viable source of drinking water for Kathmandu Valley in 2001. After nearly 16 years of the project being initiated, the construction process of the project is finally about to be completed. The MWSP has set a deadline of March 2018 to bring water from the Melamchi River to the Valley and distribute water to the people within the same fiscal. Though the government had prioritised the Melamchi project as a National Pride Project, its progress has been rather slow. Sabin Mishra of The Himalayan Times spoke to Ram Chandra Devkota, executive director of Melamchi Water Supply Development Board, on issues related to the construction of theproject and water distribution system, among others. Excerpts:
The deadline to finish the construction of Melamchi Water Supply Project was postponed time and again. What is the current situation of the project?
One of the major components of the project is tunnel digging, which is about to be completed. Out of a total length of 27.5 kilometres, we have already finished digging 26.5 km and we will complete the remaining part within the next few days. Likewise, another important part of the project is construction of the water treatment plant in Sundarijal. We tested the plant in October. This was also another milestone for the project. We have planned to bring water from the Melamchi river to Sundarijal water treatment plant within March, 2018. Construction of the tunnel and the pipe laying works are moving ahead smoothly now. Melamchi is a dream project for all Nepalis. I’m working in the project for the second time in my career. The project was started in 2001, however we were not sure about the financial sources for the project then. The project really gathered speed in 2008 when the Asian Development Bank showed interest to support it financially. Distribution of compensation to the affected people and construction of access roads to reach the project site took a long time. The project constructed and upgraded around 70 kilometres of roads at that time. We spent a long time in preparing for the project. The project had appointed a Chinese contractor in 2010 but the contract was terminated and we started a new process in 2013. Only after CMC de Revenna of Italy was selected as the new contractor in 2013, did the project gather pace.
People in the Valley have been waiting for years for Melamchi’s water. Could you give us a date when people will be able to receive water from Melamchi?
The Project Implementation Directorate (PID) is working on the distribution section of the project. The PID has finished 90 per cent of the construction work of the bulk distribution systems in the Valley. We have constructed nine service reservoirs in different places of the Valley and they are almost complete. The PID will be able to distribute water to consumers three to four months after water is supplied to the Sundarijal treatment plant. We can confidently say that people will receive water from Melamchi in their homes by the end of the current fiscal year. Yes, the construction process was delayed due to multiple reasons. The construction of the project was affected due to the earthquake of April 25, 2015, and also because of shortage of construction materials due to trade disruptions in the southern plains. The demand of water in the Valley is increasing each day, so we don’t have any space for further delays. The government is trying to complete the project as soon as possible and I assure that people will get water in their taps very soon.
Are you sure that the project will be able to distribute water within the set deadline?
I’m sure that the project will bring water from the Melamchi river to Sundarijal within March, 2018. The progress regarding tunnel construction has been very positive. Meanwhile, we have still many works left in the tunnel finishing phase but we will be able to complete them soon. The contractor has already completed tunnel finishing works along two kilometres of the tunnel. We are pressurising the contractor to finish the supportive works as soon as possible and they are importing eight new machines for that purpose. I think, they will bring those machines within a few days. After the contractor receives those machines they will be able to complete finishing works along 150 to 200 metres of the tunnel each day. Moreover, the construction work of water treatment plant and its testing was successfully conducted. The PID also tested the bulk distribution systems. Some problems did occur while testing the distribution systems and those have been fixed now. As an executive director, I’m hopeful that the deadline of March, 2018, will not be missed.
Referring to your previous answer we can say that the contractor had not mobilised adequate machinery to construct the project. In this scenario, how can you say that the project will meet the deadline?
Constructing a 27.5-km-long tunnel for a single project is a very big challenge for Nepal and we are doing it for the first time here. The contractor is almost finished with the construction process. At this stage we cannot force them to bring new machines for only a few works that are pending. However, I can assure you that the contractor is very serious about meeting the deadline and we also have been putting pressure on them on our part. We are continuously monitoring the progress that the contractor is making inconstruction works.
The Melamchi project has dug up most of the road sections in the Valley to lay pipes and the work is still going on. As a result people living in the Valley have been suffering the dust pollution created by your project. How long will they have to bear with this?
The project is laying pipes in many areas of the city and the PID is about to finish the pipe-laying process. There are some road sections where we still have to lay the pipes and some where we have to still black-top the roads. We cannot permanently black-top the roads until we have tested the pipeline. Once PID finishes testing the distribution system, we will begin the permanent maintenance of roads that we have dug up while laying the pipes. In some areas of the city, we have temporarily black-topped the roads. We know that people have been facing ‘dust’ problems and we are very sorry for that because we cannot permanently black-top the roads before we test the distribution system. I would like to assure the people that we will now have to wait for only a few months more.
The government has prioritised the project as a National Pride Project, however Melamchi has faced multiple problems time and again. What are the reasons behind this?
It is true that the government has prioritised the project as a National Pride Project. But the government does not have any core vision to implement such projects. The government should frame a different policy to implement mega projects like Melamchi. Yes, the government has listed some projects as National Pride Projects, but the implementation process of other common projects and pride projects is similar. There should be some policy relaxation while implementing National Pride Projects. I have heard from reliable sources that the National Planning Commission is drafting a bill regarding implementation of pride projects. If the government implements mega projects through a different law it will bring good results in the future. In terms of Melamchi, everyone is aware that there were some problems while implementing the project. There were some issues between the contractor and suppliers which took a pretty long time to be resolved. However, we have resolved all the issues related to the project and I believe that there will be no more disputes in the future. We are all aware that even a small dispute could delay the project and we are almost at the end of the first phase of the construction of the project. So, all the concerned parties should be alert and resolve all issues to complete the project within the set deadline.
What is the progress of the construction of the second phase of the project?
After the completion of the first phase, we are planning to construct the second phase of the project. The government has planned to bring 510 million litres of water per day through the project. In the first phase we will be able to bring only one-third of it — 170 million litres — in a day. We have to divert the Yangri and Larke rivers and connect it to the Melamchi project to bring additional 340 million litres of water a day to the Valley. MWSDB is studying the project and within the next few months, we will come up with a concrete plan regarding the second phase of the project.
A version of this article appears in print on November 27, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.