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Editorial: A bitter lesson for the Army

The army should not have accepted the government’s offer to implement the project because constructing an expressway is beyond its technical capacity

Editorial: A bitter lesson for the Army

Chief of the Army Staff Prabhu Ram Sharma has admitted to the parliamentarians that the Nepali Army would be unable to complete the Kathmandu Tarai/Madhes Fast-Track within the stipulated deadline of April 2027. The project was handed over to the army in 2017, setting a four-year deadline.

This setback has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the fate of this national pride project. Over the past six years, the project has achieved only 28.56 percent physical progress and 29.44 percent financial progress. After widespread criticism of its inability to expedite the project, the army is now passing the blame on other state agencies. Moreover, CoAS Sharma contended that the new deadline cannot be achieved if necessary laws are not amended.

The state mechanisms must address and overcome the hurdles facing the army, particularly those related to felling trees, land acquisition, and the import of explosive materials. As far as strict environmental laws are concerned, they are not only for the army; they apply to all. The army was aware of these laws before it accepted the project. In the first place, the army should not have accepted the government's offer to implement the project because building an expressway is beyond its technical capacity. Additionally, their involvement in business and infrastructure works is already tarnishing their image as a professional and apolitical institution.

The decision to award the project to the army was rooted in the belief that it could execute development works more efficiently than other state mechanisms. However, the army has struggled to expend the government-allocated funds in recent years. Given the economic strain that the government is facing, the army might face a fund crunch even if it expedites the project. People are raising concerns about the delay today. Tomorrow will bring inquiries into the transparency of expenditures and related issues as it involves taxpayers’ money. Instead of deflecting blame onto other state entities, the army leadership should, therefore, earnestly consider expediting the project. If the army feels that it cannot complete the project, it is better to tell the government frankly.

The Tarai-Madhes Fast-Track Project has taught a lesson to both the army and the political leadership. The army shouldn't engage in such infrastructure development works. Instead, it should focus on strengthening the institution to deal with emerging security challenges, particularly those arising from climate-induced disasters. The more the national army engages in controversial projects, the more it risks damaging its reputation. Politicians should refrain from awarding projects merely to appease the national army. And, parliamentarians instead of engaging in publicity stunts should work to resolve the problems faced by the Army in fast track to complete it on time.