Nepal vows to fast-track infrastructure improvement

The government pledges to accelerate construction of new roads, airports, and hydropower projects, but some are concerned the plan is overly ambitious.

By Surath Giri for Khabar South Asia in Kathmandu – 03/03/2012

March 02, 2012
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Weak infrastructure has always been a major obstacle to Nepal's development. Now the government is addressing the problem head on with its Immediate Action Plan for Economic Development and Prosperity.

  • Tribhuvan International Airport currently serves as Nepal's only international airport, but the government has plans to build a second one as part of an ambitious infrastructure development initiative. [Reuters]

    Tribhuvan International Airport currently serves as Nepal's only international airport, but the government has plans to build a second one as part of an ambitious infrastructure development initiative. [Reuters]

Unveiled in January, the plan seeks to accelerate growth, create jobs and promote social justice by implementing 11 "National Pride" infrastructure projects on a priority basis.

The projects include four highways, three airports, two hydropower projects, a drinking water project and an irrigation project, all of which the government has promised to fully fund and staff.

But some projects already underway, have hit snags. The government has had difficulty acquiring land for its much-touted Kathmandu-Terai Fast Track, expected to cut travel time between the capital and the flat and fertile Terai region in the south by a third.

The Finance Ministry recently refused to approve an additional Rs 590 million ($7.52 million) to buy land for the expressway, but Ministry of Physical Planning and Works (MPPW) officials are still optimistic.

"We have decided to meet the additional demands for funding by transferring the funds from other big projects that are centrally executed," MPPW secretary Tulsi Prasad Sitaula told Khabar South Asia.

Rabindra Adhikari, an MP, who is also a Public Account Committee member (PAC), applauded the move. "These projects are too important to be obstructed by lack of funds. PAC has recommended using leftover funds from other projects to be diverted to these projects," he told Khabar.

Delays and cancellations, cost increases and political interference often obstruct Nepal's infrastructure development. Kamal Raj Pande, a former joint secretary of the MPPW, is uncertain that will change under the new initiative.

In comments to Khabar, he said that declaring "National Pride" projects was a positive step, but a concrete action plan was lacking.

Despite huge amounts of money being spent, results so far haven't been encouraging, he said. "The cost-benefit analysis of some projects, especially the Mid-Hill Highway, hasn't been thought out properly."

The 1770 km (1,100-mile) Mid-Hill East West Highway, from Panchthar district in far-eastern Nepal to Baitadi district on its western border, will connect at least 23 hilly districts and halve travel time. It was started five years ago and is expected to be completed in two years.

Nepalis hope the Budhi Ganga and Tamakoshi hydropower projects will provide relief from the crippling energy crisis in country, which faces around 14 hours of power cuts daily in the dry season.

Another important "National Pride" project is Nijagadh International Airport, which would be Nepal's second international airport. Its planned location is 150 kms (93 miles) from Kathmandu. According to the feasibility report conducted by Korean company Landmark Worldwide last year, it can be completed by 2015 and is expected to cost Nrs. 42 billion ($536 million).

The airport is expected to ease the load of Tribhuvan International Airport and also attract more tourists to Lumbini, birthplace of Gautam Buddha. The other two airport projects on the books are regional facilities.

The Melamchi Drinking Water Project, originally scheduled for completion in 2006, is still in limbo. The project aims to serve more than two million Kathmandu Valley residents by providing them with drinking water from the Melamchi River, 75 km (47 miles) away.

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