Since the highway is to be the lifeline of the mid-hills, the government must pay due attention to its early completion
The country’s national pride projects seem to be jinxed, with one obstruction after another leading to construction delays and eventually cost overruns. Many of the problems stem from the lack of cooperation among the related ministries. The much-touted Pushpalal Mid-hill Highway is yet another national pride project that has failed to gain momentum due to lack of cooperation and coordination between the Ministry of Forests and Environment and Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, among others. As with many national pride projects, such as the Nijgadh International Airport, the mid-hill highway requires cutting down of trees. And without permission from the Ministry of Forests, the project is unable to move ahead at different segments. The project also cites lack of construction materials and plans to build other projects on the highway’s alignment. The government’s bid to construct two large reservoir-type hydel projects, namely the Sunkoshi and Budhigandaki, on the road’s alignment will submerge it as the highway runs below the permitted height through these river valleys. This has impacted the construction of 200 kilometres in central and east Nepal.
The Pushpalal Mid-hill Highway, stretching 1,776 kilometres, deserves to be built at the earliest as it sets to benefit 10 million people, or a third of the Nepali population. The highway connects 215 settlements of 26 districts. An alternative to the East-West Highway that runs through the Tarai, the mid-hill highway will facilitate movement from one end of the country in Baitadi in west Nepal to Panchthar in the far east. With the north-south highways connecting it, trade with Tibet, China to the north and with India to the south will become easier. With the completion of the project, 10 hill towns are expected to spring up, which will retain the hill population and stop migration to the southern plains. So far, 344 kilometres of the highway have been blacktopped, while contract has been awarded for the construction of 581 kilometres.
The project must count itself lucky that the people have not been a hindrance so far. They have been providing their land voluntarily, hoping the construction of the highway through their locality will boost the area’s economy and eventually their living standard. But the project office has warned that problems could surface in the future should the locals demand compensation for the land acquired for the road. Since the highway is to be the lifeline of the mid-hills, it behooves the government to pay due attention to completing it in time. It’s already been seven years since it was declared a national pride project although its construction actually began 13 years ago. The government must without delay state clearly if the two proposed hydropower projects will in anyway affect the highway. Permission to cut down trees must be forthcoming while construction materials must be readily available. The problems facing the highway would not have surfaced if there had been proper planning while embarking on its construction. Now that the project is halfway through, there is no turning back, and they must be faced squarely and resolved quickly.
Share of hydropower
The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation has decided to generate 48 MW of electricity from the Bheri-Babai Diversion Multipurpose Project, a national pride project, and has also decided to issue 49 per cent of its shares to the local people, local levels and the provincial governments of Province-5 and Karnali Province under the “People’s Hydropower Scheme”. A separate company holding 51 per cent of the total share will be established to generate the energy from the multipurpose project, which will irrigate around 51,000 hectares of land in Bardiya and Banke districts by diverting water from the Bheri River to the Babai River.
Of the 49 per cent share to be allocated to the public, 10 per cent will be allocated to the locals affected by the project and another 10 per cent will be kept aside for the locals of Karnali province. The remaining 29 per cent will be distributed to the general people across the country. Of the remaining 51 per cent, Karnali province will get 20 per cent, local levels of the Province 5 per cent and the remaining 26 per cent will be retained by the federal government. It is a welcome move as it will create a sense of ownership among the three tiers of government and the locals.
A version of this article appears in print on November 11, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.