Instead of investing its limited resources on a road in the Valley, Province-3 would do better by focussing on other vital areas
The Province-3 government also seems to be Kathmandu-centric when it comes to undertaking a development initiative. There are 13 districts in the province, and the federal capital of the country also falls in Province-3. The Kathmandu Valley has a population density of more than 20,000 people per square kilometre, the heaviest compared to other parts of the country. Availability of land for farming, housing and public infrastructure has now become scarce due to the ever growing population. Undoubtedly, more infrastructure developments in the Valley in the future will only attract more population from outside the Valley, making it further complicated to provide basic amenities, such as drinking water, health, transportation and sanitation. Putting the scarce land to good use has always been a challenging task even for the federal government. Heavy concentration of vehicles in the bowl-shaped Valley has now become a major environmental concern. Considering all these factors, the federal government and Province-3 must work in tandem to develop other adjoining districts so that the Valley could be relieved of the pressure from the growing population.
However, instead of giving priority to building infrastructure in other districts, Province-3 has come up with a plan of constructing yet another 135-kmlong Ring Road on the outskirts of the Valley. It has already allocated Rs 12 million in the current fiscal year to carry out feasibility study of the third 15-metre-wide Ring Road as its “Province Pride” project. The proposed road will mostly go through the protected forests lying on the Valley fringes, which are major sources of water for all rivers in the Valley. If nothing else, the road is, thus, sure to have a negative impact on the Valley’s water resources. The plan has been unveiled at a time when the federal government has yet to finalise the construction of the much-hyped 72-km Outer Ring Road due to issues related to land acquisition, road alignment and financing modality.
The major questions here are: Do we need the third Ring Road even as we have yet to decide on the Outer Ring Road? Should this be the provincial government’s priority? How will it moblise the required resources? And, does it have the institutional capacity to undertake such a mega project involving hundreds of billions of rupees? Does a province also need to have a pride project? There are so many other areas – rural roads, public schools, drinking water projects, hospitals, agriculture and industry – where the provincial government could invest its limited resources to uplift the living condition of the rural population. In fact, Province-3 does not need to think about infrastructure development in the Valley as the federal government and all the municipalities have already unveiled a number of plans to develop it. It should rather focus on the development of the surrounding districts. On the other hand, the federal government may not support the provincial government in executing such a largescale project without thoroughly studying its socio-economic and environmental impacts. The project will most likely also see a cost overrun, considering the skyrocketing price of private land in the Valley. The way Province-3 has unveiled the plan, its priority is misplaced.
Revive tools factory
It’s good to know that the government is reviving the agriculture machinery factory at Birgunj. The factory was built with the grant assistance of the erstwhile Soviet Union and used to produce simple agriculture tools as well as farm machinery and pumps. But, as with other state-owned enterprises, the advent of multi-party democracy spelt doom for the factory due to the excessive politicisation in the recruitment of the managers and workers. As a result, it was shut down, with the country relying totally on imports – worth billions annually – to meet the need of agriculture tools and farm machinery.
Hopefully, the government has learnt a lesson and will put politics at bay in running the factory now. The factory is very much intact. So with a bit of oiling and replacement of some machines, it should start running in a few months’ time. The factory will not only replace imports to some extent, but also provide work to the people and revenue to the government. To run the factory professionally, the Private-Public-Partnership model has been mooted. Whatever model the government opts for, it should no longer be a place for recruiting party cadres as in the past.
A version of this article appears in print on June 04, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.