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Fast track, off track

Fast track, off track

In its Feb 22 press meet, Nepal Army insisted that work on the 72.5-km Kathmandu-Tarai fast track was on track despite a few hurdles. It assured things would pick up pace in the second half of 2022 and the project would be completed by Jan 2025. (The initial deadline was Sept 2021.) Yet ground realities suggest otherwise.

An ApEx team recently set out to document progress on the project, visiting many places along the 72.5km-track length. We spotted many problems. Many locals of Khokana in Lalitpur, the road’s starting point, are still vehemently against the project, insisting that money is not what they want. They say no amount of money can force them to give up their ancestral lands. Then in the stretch in Makawanpur district, we could see stumps of countless felled trees even as there was no other visible progress.

As economist and ex-Nepal Planning Commission member Chandra Mani Adhikari pointed out in a recent ApEx roundtable on the topic: “In 2009, JICA had estimated the project cost at Rs 86 billion. In 2022, the estimated cost has reached a staggering Rs 213 billion”. The cost, Adhikari adds, will continue to balloon if works are not expedited.

Also speaking at the roundtable, Semanta Dahal, a lawyer and researcher, said time had come to ask some hard questions. Given the paucity of progress in the past six years, “do we still think the army is the most suitable entity to build such an infrastructure project?” he asked.

This newspaper will try to capture multiple aspects of the project in its 10-part ‘InDepth’ series (of which the roundtable this week is the second part). The goal is to bring some clarity to this otherwise opaque endeavor.