By Purushottam P. Khatri Kathmandu, Nov. 29: The much-awaited construction works of three tunnels of the Kathmandu-Terai/Madhesh Expressway, one of the national pride projects that has a strategic importance, is about to begin from second week of December, 2021.
According to the Office of the Fast Track under the command and operation of Nepali Army Headquarters, the construction works of 6.5 km tunnels will begin from next month, according to Lieutenant Colonel Bishwo Bandhu Pahadi, chief technical officer of the project implementation and operations.
The whole construction responsibility of the project is completely under the command and control of Nepali Army. And for the task of completing bridges and tunnel works, it had already selected Yooshin Engineering Corporation (Korea) JV as an international consultant.
The Army has said that it will complete the contract process of roads and 87 sky bridges of Asian standards with a length of 11 km within current Fiscal Year (next July), 2022 with the aim of completing the project within the stipulated time (2081 BS).
According to the detailed project report, the project should be completed in the next two FYs if enough budget is made available by the government. The land compensation disputes seen in Khokana area must also be resolved in time to complete the project in time, said Pahadi.
In case the project faces budget crunch and land compensation debate protracted, the construction of the expressway will take another two years, it said. So far, Rs. 25.40 billion has been spent for the expressway, according to the Fast Track Office.
Now the construction of the expressway will have to be completed at a cost of Rs. 150 billion. The government has allocated Rs. 8.93 billion for the expressway this year. The Army has already sent a proposal to the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Finance and the National Planning Commission through the Ministry of Defence to provide at least Rs. 30 billion for the completion of all contracts for bridges and roads.
Military officials said they have been assured that the necessary budget will be provided during the work. The government had handed over the management of the expressway project to the army on May 4, 2017. The government had approved the DPR on August 18, 2019 after two years of the handing over of the project.
From the date of the endorsement of the DPR of the project, the army aimed to complete and hand over the project to the government in four and a half years. However, the army has been working for the construction of the project since 2017, said Pahadi.
The expressway is being constructed on par with the standards of Asian Highway. "All types of contracting process will be completed by this fiscal year and the remaining works of the project will get momentum from next fiscal year (July)," Pahadi told reporters at Makhkhubesi site of the expressway.
The total cost of the expressway is estimated to be Rs. 175 billion. The contract for the tunnels has been awarded to two Chinese state-owned companies through international bidding competition. Tunnels will be constructed at Mahadevdanda, Dhedre and Lendanda of Makwanpur district.
According to Pahadi, they will start construction from mid-December, 2021. For that, the explosives in possession of the army will be used and the process of purchasing additional explosives from India has started. The army has set up 10 base camps at Khokana, Makhkhubesi, Sisneri, Mahadevtar, Dhedre, Lendanda, Budune, Rajdamar, Baghdev and Nijgadh.
In the last fiscal year, the government allocated Rs. 8.96 billion. However, the overall progress of the project is 16.10 per cent for now and the financial progress is just 14.51 per cent. The army has acquired a total of 4,761 ropanis of private land and compensation of 411 ropanis land has yet to be distributed due to conflict. The army has stated that there is a problem in acquiring eight per cent land in Khokana-Bungmati area due to local disputes.
A committee formed under the coordination of the joint secretary of the National Planning Commission to resolve the dispute has already submitted its report. A sub-committee formed by the Development and Technology Committee of the Parliament has also conducted an on-site study.
A senior military official on condition of anonymity commented that the Khokana dispute has to be resolved at the political level, adding that a solution should be found at the higher political level. "Our understanding is that it should be resolved at the political level, not at the administrative level. If this dispute is not resolved, the construction of the expressway will be directly affected," the official said. Nothing has been done in Khokana for a year now.
Likewise, the army has so far cut down 27,007 trees along the site where the expressway is to be constructed, while 11,657 trees remain to be cut down. So far, the army has planted a total of 42,823 trees to replace them. Some of these are also fruit trees. Now, there is a plan to plant more trees in 152 hectares of land, said Pahadi.