Monday, 16 September, 2019
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OPINION

Whither The Melamchi Project?



Uttam Maharjan

 

It has been over two decades since the Melamchi Drinking Water Project was started in 2000 AD. The project aims at supplying 170 million litres of drinking water to the Kathmandu Valley per day. The demand for drinking water for the Kathmandu Valley is put at 370 million litres per day, while the supply is just 110 million litres per day. Thus there is a huge gap between the demand for and supply of drinking water in the Kathmandu Valley.
There is also a plan for supplying an additional 340 lites of drinking water to the Kathmandu Valley in the second phase. As per the plan, water will be diverted to the Melamchi River from the Yangri and Larke rivers, which will make it possible to supply 510 million litres of drinking water to the Kathmandu Valley on a daily basis. This will solve the drinking water problem in the Kathmandu Valley to a great extent.
The government has decided to hire Sinohydro, a Chinese hydropower engineering and construction company, for the completion of the remaining works- construction of headworks and finishing- of the Melamchi project. Over 90 per cent of the works of the project have already been completed before the Italian contractor CMC (Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti de Ravenna) abandoned the project in December 2018, citing the bankruptcy of its parent company in Italy.
However, Sinohydro is facing difficulties in doing its work on the project due to protests from the labourers and local suppliers. There are about 800 labourers and dozens of suppliers who are intransigent about their stance that they will not allow the company, or any other company for that matter, to work on the project unless their dues to the tune of Rs. 1.65 billion are cleared. They have been demanding that their dues be cleared through the bank guarantee of the Italian contractor and the dues to be paid to it. Meanwhile, the government has formed a committee under the coordination of the head of the Drinking Water Division of the Ministry of Water Supply to study the dues. In the past, the government was saying that it could not pay the dues to the labourers and local suppliers.
The Melamchi project is one of the national pride projects. But it is an irony that despite being an essential project tied up with one of the basic needs of the people of the Kathmandu Valley, the project is still lingering to the dismay of the Kathmanduites. A British company identified the Melamchi River as a reliable and viable source of drinking water for the Kathmandu Valley way back in 1988 AD. Initially, the project had a dual purpose: supply of drinking water and generation of 25 megawatts of electricity. But the latter has been thrown on the scrap-heap.
In 2000 AD, a loan agreement of Rs. 120 million was signed between the government and the Asian Development Bank for the completion of the project by 2007. As the work could not move ahead as expected, the project was restructured in 2008 AD. In 2009 AD, a contract was made with a Chinese company, China Railway 15 Bureau, for tunnel work. However, the company announced the unilateral termination of the contract in 2012 AD. The contract was later scrapped by the government.
In 2013, the Italian company CMC was selected with the deadline for completing the project by June 2018. But the 2015 earthquake hampered its work, making it difficult for it to complete the project by the deadline. By December 2018, over 90 per cent of the works of the project had been completed, when the Italian contractor all of a sudden abandoned the project, leaving it in midstream. The government tried to woo back the contractor but to no avail. At the time, the government said that there would be no problem with completing the project as the local contractors could be hired. But contrary to what the government said, the government has now decided to hire a Chinese company, Sinohydro.
Since the Melamchi project, touted as a national pride project, has disappointed the people of the Kathmandu Valley, the government must take the initiative in completing the project at the earliest as only some works remain to be completed. As the labourers and local suppliers have been left in the lurch by the Italian contractor CMC by not settling their dues before abandoning the project and there is also a bank guarantee of Rs. 2.56 billion of the contractor seized by the government, the government should settle scores with them on the basis of the report submitted by the committee recently formed by the government.
The failure of the Melamchi project to get completed despite pushing further of several deadlines has eroded the credibility of the government. Although pipes have been laid in many places in the Kathmandu Valley for the supply of Melamchi water, some pipe have burst, which has been a blow to the Melamchi project. Although it is said that the pipes have burst due to the high pressure of water on them, the matter needs to be investigated. There is no alternative other than replacing the pipes, which will jack up the cost of the project.
Anyway, the government should work on the project expeditiously. With the completion of the first phase of the project, the second phase of the project needs to be completed as soon as possible so that 510 litres of drinking water can be purveyed to the Kathmandu Valley to quench the thirst of the denizens.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. He can be reached at uttam.maharjan1964@gmail.com) 

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