EDITORIAL: Clear the air

Experts had criticized the then government for awarding such a big project to a controversial company without calling for an international bidding

A cabinet meeting held Monday decided to scrap the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the government of Nepal and China Gezhouba Group Co Ltd (CGGC) to develop the 1,200-MW reservoir-based Bhudhigandaki Hydroelectric Project. The MoU was signed by the then energy minister Janardan Sharma just a few days before the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led coalition government was all set to step down to hand over leadership to Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba. The MoU was signed at the PM’s official residence at Baluwatar in the presence of then PM Dahal and Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong. The agreement had received flak from various sectors, including former PM Baburam Bhattarai, who had argued that the project should be developed by Nepal itself. It may be recalled that the government has been collecting Rs. five from every litre of the petroleum products from the customs points to raise money for the project. More than Rs. 10 billion has so far been collected from this scheme. In the meantime, the government has also dissolved the development committee spearheading the project. Water resources experts had criticized the then government for awarding such a big project to a controversial company without calling for an international bidding.

Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Kamal Thapa who proposed scrapping the MoU at the cabinet meeting said that the government decided to cancel the preliminary deal as per the instructions of the parliamentary Agriculture and Water Resources Committee and Finance Committee. Both the committees had instructed the government to scrap the deal with CGGC on September 15. Thapa said that the government will take a decision to this effect about the modality of developing the much-talked about reservoir project which will, once built, supply steady power even during the dry season. Thapa claimed that the project was awarded to the Chinese company without doing “enough homework” and it involved “irregularities”.

It may also be recalled that the MoU on Budhigandaki Project was signed by the then government as per the then cabinet meeting held on May 23. The Chinese company was supposed to develop it on EPCF (engineering, procurement, construction and financing) model. The incumbent government has the right to scrap any deal reached by the previous government. But it clearly showed a policy-level inconsistency of both the governments. The Deuba-led previous cabinet had endorsed the MoU. The inconsistency at policy level will not augur well for bringing in foreign direct investment in prime areas identified by the government and major political parties. As the MoU has already been cancelled, the government must come out with a concrete plan about its development modality at the earliest. As the government has already started distributing compensation to the affected families for 60,000 ropanies of lands to be acquired for the project in Dhading and Gorkha districts, the project must be developed by the government itself by calling an international bidding. The government should also clear the confusion that has arisen after its cancellation. The government must tell the public why it took such a long time to scrap the deal and also how it wants to build.

Parking lots

There has been a steep rise in the number of vehicles plying on the roads of the capital city. This has led to ugly traffic congestion in many areas. Since it is likely that the number of vehicles using the roads will rise over the years what we need are parking lots for them built outside the core city areas in order to avoid the traffic snarls. Kathmandu Metropolitan City is seeking to deal with the traffic congestion by declaring the core city areas as “walk-only zones”. Initially the inner areas like Bhedasingh, Indra Chowk to Thamel, Ason, Chetrapati and Basantapur Durbar Square will be declared as “walk-only zones”.

Thamel has already been declared a “walk-only zone” through the efforts of the local authorities and concerned stakeholders. People are expected to park their vehicles in the parking lots once they have been built, and they could enter the “walk-only zones” in the inner areas of the city. The parking lots should be built as soon as possible to resolve the congestion taking place causing immense hardships and for a smoother flow of vehicular traffic.