Five years after Nepal ushered in democratic era in 1951, she kicked off planned development policy to realise the people’s ever-increasing aspirations for development and prosperity. Sixty-five years on, her journey to modernity has not stopped. It has passed through various ups and downs. In between, she adopted divergent economic theories and practice, synchronising political ideology that evolved as the anti-establishment tool and manifested in myriad movements for democracy, justice and equality. The country turned into a laboratory of various economic policies ranging from mixed-economic model to market-driven neo-liberalism to socialism-oriented one. The mismatch between the constitutional vision of development and economic policies implemented on the ground hampered the bid to achieve the desired development goal. The multiple factors such as defective policy, growing dependence on foreign aid, grants and loans, bureaucratic hassles, excessive politicisation of projects, instability and lack of ownership of people dented the prospects of rapid and inclusive growth.
There are a number of big projects which are still in construction phase after decades of their initiation. Their costs have overrun with delays in their timely completion. For examples, Babai Irrigation Project started 34 years ago and has not completed yet. The story of Melamchi Water Supply Project is known to all. Its construction began about two decades and it is now towards completion. West Seti Hydropower Project and Budhi Gandaki Hydropower Project have similar stories. They are among the high number of sick projects. Two years back there were about 1,032 projects facing time and cost overruns. The government has been unveiling different approaches and strategies to overcome the development lacunas. In view of slow progress in the implementation of pride projects, the National Planning Commission has launched the National Project Bank (NPB) to sort out the structural shortcomings of the projects which can give momentum to the economy slackened by tough measures enforced to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing global recession.
According to the news report of this daily, the NPB has set criteria for the selection and implementation of potential projects. They need to be listed in the project bank and budget programmes to ensure better implementation, monitoring and fiscal discipline. The concerned officials have said that NPB aims to improve the project governance which has been dismal in the past. This approach also seeks to discourage the tendency to launch development projects to please the political constituency of particular parties without examining their need, viability and success. This is a reason the NPB has made it mandatory to conduct feasibility study, and prepare Detailed Project Report, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and cost estimation before the implementation of the projects.
These conditions are expected to whittle down the number of projects in view of growing pressure to include hundreds of new projects in the annual budget. Currently, the project bank has 6,512 projects of which 5,347 are under construction and 1,165 will be implemented in future. It requires about Rs. 7,714.14 billion to implement all the projects while around Rs. 620.8 billion is estimated to complete ongoing projects in the next fiscal year's budget. The NPB will promote the practice of evidence-based planning, enabling completion of the projects within the stipulated time, with set quality indicators. It is imperative that NPC should effectively implement the NPB guidelines in a way the inherent weaknesses related to the project implementation are properly addressed.