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Editorial: Fast track debacle

The Annapurna Express

The Annapurna Express

Editorial: Fast track debacle

There is a consensus that the army’s role in the project should be thoroughly evaluated

As The Annapurna Express embarks on its 10-part ‘InDepth’ investigation into the time and cost overruns of the 72.5-km Kathmandu-Tarai fast track project, a few things are already clear enough. One concerns the role of Nepal Army, which has been contracted to build what is essentially a construction project. The project is well past its scheduled completion date and the new deadline of 2024-end also looks doubtful. Given the paucity of progress in the past five years, can the army still be trusted to complete it on time and within a reasonable budget—with the initial estimated cost already more than doubling?

The second big issue is the compensation of the locals of Khokana, the start-point of the road. Some reckon it’s all about monetary compensation: give them enough, and they will readily give their land for the ‘national pride project’. But then Khokana locals appear as concerned about preserving their ancestral ways as they are about getting the right amount for their plots. To save their settlements, many of them want the proposed road to make a detour—to some added cost, one would imagine.

The third issue relates to reports of irregularities, for instance during the sub-contracting of the project’s tunnel-phase to a pair of Chinese builders. The parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has flagged the army’s flouting of due process in its awarding of contract. This contracting and subcontracting business has also created confusion. For instance, pointing out tree-stumps to ApEx reporters, locals in Makwanpur complained of Chinese builders indiscriminately chopping trees for the project. But Nepal Army says no trees in the district have been felled. Does the army even know what the builders are up to on the ground?

There was a consensus in a recent ApEx roundtable on the fast track that the army’s role in the project should be thoroughly evaluated. This will also help in the larger debate on its role and responsibilities. Another clear takeaway was that without enough consultations with stakeholders, these mega-projects invariably hit hurdles. There is seemingly a lot to learn to get our development right.

 

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