EDITORIAL: The road ahead

It is incumbent on the NA to maintain transparency and accountability while carrying out the fast track project

The Nepali Army said on Tuesday that it would prepare a fresh detailed project report (DPR) for the Kathmandu-Tarai fast track, aborting its earlier plan to buy a DPR prepared by an Indian consortium, Indian consortium of Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) Transportation Networks, IL&FS Engineering and Construction and Suryavir Infrastructure Construction. The Indian consortium was invited by the government to build the ambitious 76-km fast-track. In December 2016, the government scrapped the agreement with the Indian consortium and handed the project over to the NA in August last year. Brigadier General Surya Prasad Khanal, deputy chief of the Kathmandu-Tarai fast track project, said the NA decided to prepare a new DPR on its own after the Indian consortium demanded an undisclosed amount. “We can prepare another DPR on our own within five months at a relatively low cost,” Khanal said on Tuesday. What the NA did not divulge, though, is the actual amount sought by the Indian company.  And, what is the “relatively low cost” at which the national defence force wants to prepare the DPR? The Army is expected to make public the cost of preparing the DPR.

As things stand, there is no DPR for the fast track project but the Army has already started construction works. Preliminary works such as clearing landslide debris from the road track, track expansion and building drainage structure and retaining walls are expected to be completed within a year, according to the Army. After it was formally handed over the project in August, the NA has set up five camps in Makhubesi, Sisneri Dovan, Lendanda, Budhune and Bag Dev area to ensure security and facilitate construction works. It has already bought some heavy equipment and begun track clearance by cutting trees in Bara district. Apparently, the ongoing construction works are based on a feasibility study conducted by the Asian Development Bank way back in 2008. Should a feasibility study that merely provides “basic guidelines” for the project be the starting point for the construction works of the Kathmandu-Tarai fast track while the DPR is still to be prepared?

A DPR with topographical and geographical studies, environmental assessment, locals who will be affected and potential revenue generation from the traffic flow and its management among others is a must. But the way the NA is moving ahead has raised some concerns. After all it is building a project which is of utmost public concern. The much-touted fast track links Kathmandu with Nijgadh of Bara district and, once completed, it is expected to drastically shorten the travel time from the Capital to the Tarai districts. The four-lane national pride project will have 99 bridges and a twin tunnel. The government has given four years to the Army to complete the

project. It is important that the project is accomplished within the given deadline of 2021, but what is no less important is making public and being transparent about all project-related cost estimates and other aspects related to the fast track. It’s incumbent on the national defence force to maintain transparency and accountability while carrying out such a huge project.

Flood victims’ plight

Hundreds of flood victims who were displaced from their homes and were temporarily sheltered at the premises of Women Training Centre and in other places in Surkhet for the last four years are waiting for rehabilitation at safe places. They were rendered homeless after heavy floods in and around Birendranagar Municipality swept away their houses leaving them in the lurch. As many as 115 people were killed and over 1000 families were rendered homeless. Whatever support the government has given to them is insufficient to lead a normal life.

The tarpaulin the government provided them has now become threadbare. The cash amount of Rs 50,000 and meager amount of foodstuff they received so far are barely enough to support their families. Many of them have taken ill due to cold spell as they do not have proper shelters and enough clothes to protect themselves from chilling winter. An ad hoc arrangement is not enough to address their plights. The government must come up with a long-term plan or create a permanent body to deal with such problem that recurs every year in one or other parts of the country.