Friction between the centre and the provinces will only delay the execution of the project, resulting in cost overruns

Just days after the government set up the office of the Kaligandaki-Tinau Diversion Project in Butwal, Gandaki Chief Minister Krishna Chandra Nepali has warned of a stir should the federal government try to push through the multi-billion rupee plan. The multipurpose project will channel water from the Kaligandaki River to the Tinau through a 38-kilometre-long tunnel, which will help irrigate more than 100,000 hectares of land in Kapilvastu and Rupandehi districts, while also generating 126 MW of electricity. The project is set to cost a whopping Rs 138 billion as of now. Deputy Prime Minister Bishnu Paudel, while inaugurating the project office in Butwal on Saturday, had said that it would be a game changer for Lumbini Province. But it has already met with such opposition that the future of the project hangs in the balance. Both the Gandaki Province government and the locals of Syangja, Palpa, Tanahun, Nawalpur and Chitwan fear that the project is not in their interest as diverting water from the Kaligandaki will impact the ecosystem and dry up the farmland in the lower area basin. Religious groups, including the World Hindu Federation, are just as concerned that Devghat, the most sacred Hindu site in central Nepal, situated at the confluence of the Kaligandaki and Trishuli rivers, will turn dry during the winter.

The Kaligandaki-Tinau Diversion project is among the seven big river diversion projects that the government is promoting in the budget for the fiscal year 2021-22. The other river diversion projects meant to provide irrigation and drinking water facilities are the Bheri-Babai, Naumure and Sunkoshi-Marin, West Seti-Kailali, Tamor- Chisyang and Madi-Dang projects. The project aims to divert the water of the Kaligandaki River at Ramdighat in Syangja, which will siphon 90.6 cusec of water through the tunnel to the Tinau River. This will, however, cause the water in the Kaligandaki to recede by almost half, hence the concern of the Gandaki provincial government and the locals who are likely to be affected.

It is apparent that the Kaligandaki diversion project has not been promoted by taking all the stakeholders into confidence. It is a project that is being advanced by the centre without taking the sensitivities of the Gandaki provincial government and the locals, which goes against the principle of federalism.

It is also likely to invite bad blood between Gandaki and Lumbini provinces. Such friction will only delay the execution of the project, which will result in cost overruns. If a project like the Melamchi, which was backed by all the parties as well as foreign governments and multilateral lending agencies, took almost 22 years to complete, one can well imagine what fate awaits the Kaligandaki diversion project. If the government is serious about completing the project on time, it would be wise to allay the fears of the concerned provincial government and the people.

Of course, there can be no project, especially one that will divert water in large quantities, without some impact on the environment and ecology. But the people have the right to know what are the pros and cons of the project and how much they get to lose from it.

Quarantine rules

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has issued amended standards for passengers arriving in Nepal. As per the rules, all the passengers travelling to Nepal from abroad – foreigners as well as Nepali nationals – are required to produce a medical certificate with a negative RT-PCR or equivalent testing report with photo identification. The RT-PCR negative report should be produced 72 hours before their departure.

The government has decided to resume limited number of international flights in select countries, including China, Japan, South Korea and the Middle East, from July 1.

All passengers, except those who have taken vaccines and those who are returning home for emergency purposes, such as taking part in a funeral or mourning, are required to spend seven days in quarantine on their own expense in hotels designated by the government agencies. They are also required to have their RT-PCR tests on the seventh and 11th day of their arrival. Others are subject to spend 10 days in home quarantine upon their arrival. The new measures may cause great inconvenience to the incoming passengers. However, these measures are necessary to keep the new variant of the COVID-19 under control. Those who flout the rules will be punished.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 30 2021, of The Himalayan Times.