EDITORIAL: Off the rails

Concerned agencies should stop haggling and get the monorail project, which upon completion could revolutionise urban transport, back on track

Kathmandu’s much-hyped monorail project seems to be heading to nowhere. The project is on the table, but there is confusion as to who will take it up. Monorails, once popular for carrying tourists and sightseers around parks and zoos, have made a comeback in many cities, as they are considered a pretty efficient urban transport system – they are cheap, fast and electric. So, when a monorail project for Kathmandu was conceptualised, it was accepted wholeheartedly, for it could have given a big respite to members of the general public who every day face a tough time commuting. The Investment Board Nepal (IBN) in December 2016 had announced that Kathmandu Monorail Company Pvt Ltd (KMCPL) had been granted permission for a pre-feasibility study and detailed feasibility study of the 28.55-kilometre monorail project. In February last year, KMCPL and Powertek Sdn Bhd of Malaysia signed a joint venture (JV) agreement to construct the monorail in Kathmandu. Accordingly, the KMCPL completed the pre-feasibility study and detailed feasibility study of the project. But the monorail project has taken a new turn.

The IBN and KMCPL are at odds over some of the conditions set in the draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) to conduct the detailed project report. The KMCPL and IBN could not sign the MoU on the scheduled date of May 16 after the company expressed strong reservations about the IBN’s call to deposit Rs 100 million as “performance guarantee”. Subsequently, the KMCPL filed a case against the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and IBN on May 28, and a single bench of Justice Bam Kumar Shrestha issued an interim order. The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended the interim order, barring the IBN from implementing its decision to seek Rs 100 million from the KMCPL. As though that was not enough to put a brake on the monorail, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) entered the scene. The KMC signed a deal with China Railway Construction Corporation Ltd on May 26 for conducting a feasibility study of the project, adding more confusion.

As things stand today, the fate of the Rs 70 billion to Rs 80 billion project – a monorail at a height of above 14 feet from the ground level along the ring road – hangs in the balance, all thanks to utter lack of coordination between the government agencies. The KMC’s argument that it holds the right to conduct the feasibility study as per the new federal system may stand right, but the existing law that requires any project worth over Rs 10 billion to be routed through the IBN also cannot be ignored. Conflicting statements from the KMC and IBN over letting the metropolis

conduct the feasibility study also have given rise to suspicions. How can two government agencies be so reckless when it comes to handling the monorail project which upon completion could revolutionise Kathmandu’s mass transport system, as it is expected to transport up to 150,000 passengers on a single day. The IBN, KMC and the private builder should sort out all outstanding issues and help get the Kathmandu monorail project back on the rails at the earliest.

Innovation in energy

Till date biodegradable waste such as animal dung and ferns are used to produce methane gas from small-scale biogas plants only for household purposes. With the technological innovation in biogas plant a start-up company –  Envipower Energy and Fertiliser Pvt Ltd – in Sukrauli, Nawalparasi has started filling methane gas in cylinders that can be sold in markets at a cheaper price compared to the existing price of a LPG cylinder. The company has also offered job opportunities to locals who can earn a living by selling the perishable items to the company.

The plant, which also got the government grant of Rs 50 million, uses perishable items as raw material. It has the capacity of producing 120 cylinders of gas every day. Proprietor Sandip Agrawal said he had a plan of selling biogas through pipelines in urban centres of Nawalparasi and Rupandehi. He claims that heating capacity of methane gas is 25 per cent higher than LPG. The innovation in biogas plant can help reduce import of LPG if the private sector is encouraged to set up similar plants across the country. Currently, Nepal imports an average 27,000 metric tonnes of LPG worth Rs two billion every month.