EDITORIAL: Melamchi deadline

The delay in completing the MDWP has led to cost overruns involving billions of rupees

Officials of the Melamchi Drinking Water Project (MDWP) have claimed that they would be supplying drinking water to the denizens of the Kathmandu Valley by mid-April this fiscal. Earlier, the MDWP had set a target of supplying drinking water to the Valley last August. But they had to reset the deadline after two gates at Ambathan broke all of a sudden, leaving two persons dead and three others injured, when the water was released from the weir into the 27-km-long tunnel heading towards the Sundarijal-based water reservoir. Although 99 per cent of the project’s works are said to have been completed, some technical testing works remain to be completed to make sure that all technical aspects of the project are foolproof. The gates which broke in August have already been repaired, and other technical testing is underway. A four-member German technical team is currently conducting the final evaluation of the project, including the structure of the tunnel. Officials said it will take another two months to complete the study before the water is released into the tunnel. Under the first phase, the MDWP will supply 170 million litres of water every day. In total, it has a plan of bringing 540 mld every day when the second and third phases of the project are completed.

Funded mainly by the Asian Development Bank, Japan, OPEC fund, JICA and the government of Nepal, the MDWP has seen many ups and downs in the course of its execution.

Envisaged in 1998, the project actually kick-started in 2007, setting 2013 as its completion deadline. But it took seven more years just to complete the tunnel and other infrastructure thanks to heavy corruption within the ministry, work delay by the contractors — three contractors were changed in the course of the work — and faulty design of some major parts of the project. The project got further delayed after the CMC, an Italian contractor, unilaterally broke the contract in 2019, alleging that two bureaucrats in the Ministry of Water Supply demanded millions of rupees in kickbacks. The delay in completing the project on time has led to cost overruns involving billions of rupees.

The MDWP is not the only multi-billion rupee project that has got so delayed. There are several other projects which have also not been completed on time. Poor planning in the initial stage, technical modification in the middle of the project, frequent change of officials with the change of guard in the government and poor monitoring by the donor or lending agencies are some of the major reasons behind the delay of major development projects in Nepal.

The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, which is tasked with investigating corruption in the government agencies, has not launched any probe into corruption taking place in the Melamchi project. Even if the MDWP officials claim that they will be supplying water to the Kathmandu Valley by mid-April, there is no guarantee that the people of the federal capital will be able to quench their thirst by that time as testing of the distribution channels in the Valley have yet to be completed.

A generation will have already passed before the water from the Melamchi project flows onto the taps of the Valley.

Dishonest cabbies

In Kathmandu (and elsewhere), taxi drivers are known to bargain for the fare before driving the passengers to their destination. The passenger is, thus, left at the mercy of the driver and ends up paying nearly double the normal fare or even more. Despite the many attempts by the traffic police to rein in the unscrupulous drivers, passengers continue to be fleeced. It, therefore, surprises no one that the cops on duty booked 37 drivers in Kathmandu on Friday for cheating the passengers or tampering with the taxi meters in the Kathmandu Valley alone.

One problem with the taxi service is that there are only a handful of small taxi companies, and most of the taxis plying the streets have been rented by the drivers, who are out to make a fast buck. They lack service motive, and even during an emergency, taxi drivers might be reluctant to provide their services.

While the taxi drivers continue to swindle passengers, ride hailing service providers are making inroads in the capital. So apart from stronger vigil by the traffic cops, heavy penalties, including forfeiture of the driver license or even the vehicle itself for a certain period of time, are needed to stop the drivers from cheating the passengers.