EDITORIAL: Bridging the gap

Public construction projects in Nepal have long been bearing the brunt of politicisation, corruption and systemic problems

Connectivity is key to growth. Roads and bridges connect people and communities. They take students to school, workers to job, sick to hospitals and farmers to market. They are hence central to any development agenda. For a country like Nepal where various rivers and rivulets hamper people’s easy movement, bridges can play an important role in connecting them, bringing them together. There are still many children in various remote regions of the country, who are left with no option than to risk their lives to go to school, as they have to use tuins. Producers struggle to take their produce to market, while the sick cannot reach hospitals on time. A new road may take people up to the river, but a lack of a bridge would mean hitting a cul de sac. As the country prepares to embark on the path of prosperity riding on expedited infrastructure projects, the one area that needs more focus is national connectivity which is not possible without roads and bridges.

But historically—and unfortunately—this area of development has remained slow-paced. Roads may have linked almost all the districts, but within districts, villages are still in dire need of bridges. Nepal’s bridge projects, or basic infrastructure construction works for that matter, for long have been bearing the brunt of lack of political will, delay and corruption among others. They are never completed on time. Even if they are completed eventually, there have been cases of faulty designs, which can put people’s lives at risk. A report from Gaighat says a bridge over the Triyuga river, which was supposed to have been completed five years ago, has seen only 60 per cent of construction works so far. Construction has been reportedly delayed due to negligence of the contractor, but no action has been taken against the company. The contractor says the government allocated paltry budget. While the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and contractors has been the bane of construction projects, blame game is the order of the day.

The above-mentioned case is symptomatic of a lack of proper monitoring mechanism, a poor culture in the public construction sector and corruption. Recently, Pappu Construction hogged the headlines for its failure to complete most of its projects. After five people lost their lives when a boat they were on board capsized following a collision with an under-construction bridge, there were reports galore of how the entire construction system in the country is flawed—from the very beginning of tender process to contract awarding to designing to monitoring to payments. A little over 900 bridges are being constructed across the country, but works on most of them are slow. Government officials do admit several flaws in the public construction sector, but they simply fall short of coming up with the solution. The incumbent government since its inception has been making a pitch for connectivity through railways and waterways, saying they are the only way to put the country on the path of prosperity. But unless the people within the country are well connected with each other, they will be deprived of the opportunity to taste the fruits of prosperity. Without bridges, such prosperity may well deepen the gap between rich and poor. The government had better work to bridge the potential gap.

Unilateral decision

The government has a plan to draw two million foreign tourists by 2020 under a special campaign called “Visit Nepal 2020”. However, the government’s recent decision to raise trekking permit fees at popular trekking routes has received flak from Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), an umbrella organisation of private trekking firms.

TAAN has lamented the decision to raise trekking permit fees, saying it will adversely affect the country’s tourism industry which is gaining momentum post-2015 earthquake.

The National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) on October 16 raised the trekking permit fees along major trekking routes like Annapurna, Gaurishankar, Manaslu, Kanchenjungha and Shivapuri National Park. Now onwards, even Nepali trekkers are required to pay Rs 100 to the government as trekking permit fee. SAARC nationals will have to pay Rs 1,000 from earlier Rs 200 and non-SAARC nationals need to pay Rs 3,000. NTNC should have taken TAAN into confidence before taking such a decision.