The decision to halt the projects shows policy inconsistency and sends a wrong message to would-be investors in Nepal's infrastructure

Just days after taking over as the new Chief Minister of Bagmati Province, Rajendra Pandey has halted two pride projects, namely, the construction of a tunnel linking Bhimphedi with Kulekhani and operation of electric vehicles. While the new provincial government has given its own logic for abruptly stopping the projects, it shows policy inconsistency and sends a wrong message to would-be investors in Nepal's infrastructure.

In a directive issued to its Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, Chief Minister Pandey has said that his government decided to stop the construction of the tunnel as the federal government was indifferent to the project as it failed to allocate enough budget. The estimated cost of the project is a whopping Rs 19. 32 billion for two one-way tunnels, which the provincial government is unable to fund on its own. The question is, why is the new provincial government putting a stop to the tunnel's construction when the project's office has already been established and its Detailed Project Report completed? Chief Minister Pandey has also suspended all processes related to the purchase of electric vehicles citing lack of preparation and is to proceed only after formulating the necessary laws. The province government had allocated Rs 500 million for the purchase of 30 electric vehicles, but the process has been halted after it received no tenders as per the rate fixed by it. The provincial government has a policy to displace petroleum-fueled vehicles by electric ones by 2028. True, electric vehicles cannot operate in isolation, they need charging stations, which, unfortunately, are nowhere to be seen in their desired numbers. But how right is it for the government to halt the purchase of electric vehicles solely based on a flimsy excuse that adequate preparedness is lacking? When will the government finally be ready to promote vehicles run on clean energy? With the price of petroleum products climbing every other day, electric buses would have been the ideal solution. What's more, 200 MW of energy during the day time and double that amount at night are going to waste, compelling Nepal to sell energy to India at a rate much, much lower than it charges its customers here. Also given the heavy pollution in Kathmandu and other urban centres of the province, electric vehicles must be promoted as the future urban transport.

If the two pride projects have been halted solely on the whims of the new Chief Minister, as has been ritually practised whenever a new government takes over at the centre or in the provinces, then it is most unfortunate. It's a fact that those in the incumbent provincial government and in the previous one, headed by Dormani Poudel, are at loggerheads and don't see eye to eye on any issue. If there has not been the desired progress in the two projects till now, then it is the responsibility of the new government to lobby the federal government for funds and speed up whatever process that needs doing. It is high time the government promoted policies and projects only after thorough study for consistency and not allow the parties in power to decide their future based on their fancy.

Compensate farmers

It has been one month since the unusual rainfall destroyed the standing paddy crop planted on thousands of bighas of land in the Tarai belt. More than 100 people also lost their lives due to the unusual rain that damaged the paddy crop worth Rs 8 billion. This is likely to create food crisis. While visiting the flood-affected areas soon after the deluge in the farand mid-western region, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had announced a relief package to the farmers who had lost the paddy crop.

It is unclear when the affected families will get compensation to the damaged crop as the government has yet to collect details of the damage caused by the unusual rains from east to west. The government should start giving compensation to the farmers whose paddy crop had been damaged. If they are not compensated on time, they would not be able to recoup the loss that they suffered due to the natural disaster. They can at least utilise the relief package to be offered by the government for the winter crop, which can slightly make up for the loss of the main cereal. Learning lesson from this disaster, the government should come up with an insurance policy for the paddy crop from this fiscal.

A version of this article appears in the print on November 15, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.