Nepal | March 29, 2020

Under-construction Madan Bhandari Highway draws flak

UJJWAL SATYAL

Kathmandu, December 30

The Under-construction Madan Bhandari Highway that passes through the Chure region from the eastern to the western part of the country has drawn vehement criticism from environmental journalists, right activists and stakeholders after it was found that the width of the highway had been increased without preparing a new environment impact assessment report.

Madan Bhandari Highway is one of the national pride projects.

The EIA report is a must for any development project. If there are any major changes in the project, a new EIA report should be prepared. EIA provides detailed information about the geological structure of the area, possible impact of the construction project on the ecology in the area and measures to reduce the impact.

EIA must be approved by the ministries concerned before the project can start.

The 1,200-km highway that passes from Chure range was supposed to have only two lanes of seven-metre width, but the road is being constructed as a four-lane highway that is 11-metre wide.

The bodies concerned have not even prepared detailed project report.

Environmentalists claim that the project will have adverse impact on the country’s largest underground water resources that lie in the Chure range.

Work on the project had begun with approval of the DPR, which stated that the highway would have two lanes seven-metre wide.

Later work on the highway was carried out with many changes, including the changes in width.

But the authorities have showed no interest in preparing a new DPR as per the changes.

These are the findings outlined by a research conducted by environmental journalists on the highway project with the support of Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists.

One of the key researcher journalists Bishwamani Pokharel, during the report unveiling ceremony programme held here today, said that authorities were not interested in preparing a new EIA report, as it could be detrimental to the project, since the highway was constructed in one of the most sensitive geographical areas of the country.

Pokharel, who is also a geologist, said, “The Chure area which is like a water sponge is very important to maintain underground water level in the area. Besides, it is likely that roads in such areas cannot remain intact for long as soil erosion and landslides can be very common.”

Chure region, which is being rapidly exploited by various development projects, spreads on an average width of 50 kilometres from north to south across the country. This region, currently, has the East-West Highway. Other mega transportation projects such as East-West Railway, mid-Hilly Highway and Postal Highway have also been proposed in the region.

For the road project, which will connect Shantinagar of Jhapa in the east to Rupal of Dadeldhura in the west, the government has allocated Rs 4.5 billion.

The research was conducted in the 271-km length of the highway from Hetauda-Sindhuli- Gaighat-Basaha and Chatara. The government has claimed that it will complete construction of the 271-kilometre road section in the eastern part by November 2020.

Till date, more than 8,255 trees have been cut down for the project.

The law states that for felling a tree, the authority concerned should plant 25 trees.

However, even after cutting down thousands of trees, authorities are undecided on where to plant the trees.

Former President Ram Baran Yadav, unveiling the report, said that it was sad that the government had completely ignored the sensitivity of the geographical structure of Chure region.

Yadav further said that the project was likely to threaten national unity. Although he did not clearly say how such a thing would happen, Yadav was suggesting that the highway would divide Madhesis from the rest of the Nepalis.

Sindhu Prasad Dhungana, spokesperson of Ministry of Forest and Environment said that although the project did not have EIA, it had made the Initial Environmental Examination report.

“The IEE can also sometime work as an EIA report, however it definitely cannot replace the EIA,” Dhungana said.


A version of this article appears in print on December 31, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.


Follow The Himalayan Times on Twitter and Facebook

Recommended Stories: