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Budget crunch, protests mar Kathmandu-Nijgadh Expressway

Surendra Kafle

Surendra Kafle

Budget crunch, protests mar Kathmandu-Nijgadh Expressway

The army had sought a budget of Rs 30 billion for the project for the current fiscal year. But the government only gave it Rs 8 billion, in what is a Rs 175-billion project

Only 16.10 percent work has been completed in the construction of Kathmandu-Tarai/Madhesh Expressway (fast track) due to the lack of funds and disputes over land acquisition, project officials say.

The government handed over the project to the Nepali Army in 2017, and gave it the DPR in 2019, with a mandate to complete all work in four years. However, with half of the allotted time now gone, progress has been slow.

“We are doing our best with the limited resources at our disposal,” says Lieutenant Col Biswa Bandhu Pahadi, who is overseeing construction work. Although the 72.5-km road, which is to be constructed as per the Asian Highway Standard, has been classified as a project of national pride, the government hasn’t provided sufficient funds for its construction. The army had sought a budget of Rs 30 billion for the project for the current fiscal year. But the government only gave it Rs 8 billion, in what is a Rs 175-billion project.

This road, which starts in Khokana, Lalitpur, traverses Kathmandu and Makwanpur to head to Nijgadh, Bara on the East-West Highway. Following its completion, travel time between Nijgadh and Kathmandu will be reduced to an hour.

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Khokana has been the scene of massive protests over the past few years as residents are against the construction of the expressway through a place of archaeological and historical importance. This has halted work on the 'Zero Point' of this road. Although there has been 92 percent progress—most of it outside Khokana—in land acquisition so far, delays in the acquisition of the required land in the Khokana-Bungamati area has hampered progress.

There are three tunnels on the expressway. Contract for the 3.355 km long Mahadev Danda tunnel has been awarded to China State Construction Engineering Company Limited, while the 1.630 km Dhedre-Lendanda tunnel went to the Chinese Polychagnda Engineering Company. The army plans to issue the contract for the remaining tunnel soon.

Lt Col Pahadi hopes the project will soon gather pace and the government deadline to complete the work will be met.