In our infrastructure development endeavour, twenty-four National Pride Projects (NPPs) have been designed and implemented in order to integrate Nepali economy with the burgeoning economics of our two neighbours, and by extension, with the global economics. Indeed, strong and sustainable infrastructure helps to speed up the economic growth, facilitate trade via unfailing supply chain, enhance affordability and accessibility, and bridge the geographical gap for strategic bridgehead and human development, giving a boost to national prestige.
All our NPPs are based on the proposal prepared by National Planning Commission (NPC). So far, three such projects are completed, namely, Pokhara International Airport, Bhairahawa International Airport and Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project. But both airports have been facing operational complication due to different factors. So, we must bear in mind that that any delay in return of investment may lead to debt stress syndrome.
Started in 2000, Melamchi Drinking Water Project, for example, is on the verge of completion after protracted delay. Now the headwork with new intake and water distribution work are nearing completion, but soon need Yankee and Larke River to be a part of this project in making Kathmandu Valley water positive in the future.
As per the NPC, 80 per cent work has been completed in three NPPs, 50-80 per cent work has been completed in five NPPs, but 12-NPPs are having below 50 per cent work progress that include Kathmandu Metro Rail, West Seti Hydropower and Nijgadh International Airport which have recorded almost zero work progress on the ground. It has been showcased that the absence of separate law for NPPs, a lack of coordination between central and provincial government, methodology, process and cost issues, deficiency in skilled technical manpower and capacity of contractor are the main reasons behind the slow work progress. While our procurement law and regulations are well interpreted to carry out the project of any size, little updates with them would be more effectual in enforcement part.
Selection of projects in haste and getting started without approved Detailed Project Report (DPR) in hand are the main reasons besides weak monitoring and evaluation for delay and cost overrun of almost all national pride projects. Kathmandu Metro Rails can be one example. For a decade now, it has gained no momentum and continuing the project in the same status of NPP endlessly is meaningless. Generally for the construction of metro rail, a minimum 22-m road width is required which is not met in all proposed routes of the Kathmandu Metro Rail Project. Similarly, West Seti Hydropower Project was conceptualised in 1980 after series of failure in executing MoU and agreements with foreign companies. Just in the recent past, a new MoU was signed with India. On one or another pretext, delay by a few years could be justifiable but almost by half century is a matter of shame!
Nijgadh International Airport work was halted following the verdict of Supreme Court against the backdrop of environment. Indeed, all infrastructure project cost our environment to some extent, but minimising the loss and replanting the trees is more important. Kathmandu-Terai Fast Track and Nijgadh International Airport reciprocate each other. Delay in one project directly affects the return of investment of the other project.
Over a decade, Nepal has set a success story on protection and conservation of national parks and wildlife reserves. Yet, we haven’t reaped the substantial benefits out of such invaluable assets. If we talk about Rara National park, then a question arises, 'When do we translate the fixed wealth of Rara into the liquid capital?’ To name but a few, Makalu Barun National Park, Lamtang National Park, Banke National Park, among others, are no exceptions.
For the amelioration of the tourism sector, it is suggested that the NPC should put forward a new concept to benefit from Nepal's green gold by enlisting it in the category of national pride project. Environment and ecology friendly DPR preparation for tourism infrastructure for Bardiya National Park, Rara National Park, Khaptad National Park and Shuklaphant National Park in one basket, which can be named 'Karnali-Triveni Ecotourism Infrastructure Circuit', could be a game changer project.
Undoubtedly, it is time to replace some irrelevant project like the Kathmandu Metro Rails with potential one relatively in moderate budget but of high value. Integration of the enchanting wildlife of Bardiya with the biggest and the deepest lake of Rara and from Rara linking up the moorlands (Patans) of Khaptad with the open grassland of Shuklaphant out of vivacious ecotourism infrastructure circuit could be a high value project for Karnali and far west regions. On top, assimilation of this project for DPR preparation with implementation blueprint in the 16th five-year periodic plan of NPC, which is going to be implemented from July 2024, will honour our decades old conservation endeavour.
(The author is a former Nepali Army senior engineer. firstname.lastname@example.org)