The Kathmandu Post, 22nd May 2017, Post Report, Kathmandu
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is all set to inaugurate the construction of 76-km Kathmandu-Nijgadh expressway on Sunday days before he is expected to formally step down as the country’s executive head.
After successful completion of the first phase of the local election, PM Dahal, as per the commitment made earlier, is handing over the leadership to Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba. A formal announcement in this regard is likely to be made soon.
The rush made by PM Dahal indicates he wants his name engraved on the big-ticket project, which is expected to reduce travel time from the Capital to the southern plains to less than an hour from over six hours.
“We are working on the plan to hold the formal inauguration ceremony soon,” Chandra Kumar Ghimire, secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, said without elaborating.
The construction of the expressway has been delayed for years due to lack of clarity over its implementation and funding modalities.
Amidst this confusion, the government recently decided to build the project on its own. Then in the first week of May it decided to hand over the project to the Nepal Army (NA). The decision was endorsed by the Cabinet.
As per the decision, the government will arrange financial resources to build the project and the NA will oversee the construction.
“We are preparing the work procedure for construction of the expressway, [which will spell out various targets to complete the project],” NA Brigadier General Jhankar Bahadur Kadayat said.
“However, we still have not decided on whether to rope in private consultants to prepare the work procedure.”
The NA will have to complete the project in four years once the work procedure is approved.
As per the government plan, two special committees will be formed to oversee the construction of the project.
While management committee will be led by an army general and will incorporate senior officials from the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, supervision committee will be led by the National Planning Commission vice chairman and will incorporate three secretaries from relevant ministries.
With several controversies surrounding the project for a long time, the project has
time and again been delayed pushing up construction cost from around Rs56 billion seven years ago to around Rs112 billion.
The government led by late Sushil Koirala had made efforts in 2014 to award
the project to an Indian consortium comprising Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) Transportation Networks, IL&FS Engineering and Construction, and Suryavir Infrastructure Construction.
However, questions were raised over the intention of the Koirala-led government after it decided to offer minimum revenue guarantee of up to Rs15 billion a year to the developer if traffic remained inadequate to generate profit.
At that time, the government had also proposed extending a loan to the Indian developer at a subsidised interest rate, drawing criticism from all quarters.
Amid growing controversy, the Supreme Court on October 8, 2015 issued an interim order, throwing cold water on the plan to award the project to the Indian consortium.
Subsequently, the KP Sharma Oli-led administration made a fresh decision to build the project by mobilising the government’s own resources.
The incumbent government led by Dahal upheld the Oli government’s move.
Last December, the government scrapped all the agreements made with the Indian firm and decided to build the expressway on its own.