KATHMANDU, August 13: When the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli visited China in June 2018, an agreement was signed between the two countries regarding railway connectivity cooperation. Under the said agreement, the two countries agreed to proceed with pre-feasibility study with a Chinese grant for the implementation of the trans-Himalayan railway project.
Similarly, the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal in 2019, an agreement was signed on the feasibility study of Nepal-China cross-border railway construction. When the Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi visited Nepal last March, a technical agreement was signed again between the two countries regarding the feasibility study with Chinese assistance for the cross-border railway project.
As if this was not enough, an agreement was reached with Chinese counterpart Wang to carry out the feasibility study on the international railway project with Chinese assistance during the recent visit of Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka to China.
The feasibility study of the international railway project has become a topic of discussion in every high-level visit from both countries for the past few years. However, the actual work of the feasibility study has not progressed even after four years of the signing of the railway connectivity cooperation agreement between the two countries.
According to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT), the pre-feasibility study on the international railway project has been completed already. “At present, it is not clear who would invest in the railway at first. Therefore, the study could not proceed forward. China announced that it will assist in the feasibility study only recently," said an official at the ministry.
The official said that the work cannot be expedited as soon as the agreement was signed as it is expensive and takes a long time to make such a study. Experts say that as the technical side is also important for the feasibility study, there are different agreements during the visit between the two countries.
A senior official at the MoPIT said that despite the project being finalized at once by concluding the financial and technical issues, the project is taking a slow pace due to the signing of agreement one by one.
Meanwhile, Infrastructure expert Dr Suryaraj Acharya said that due to the fluctuations in relation with China after the formation of the current government and COVID-19 pandemic, the work of feasibility study may have been delayed. “Feasibility study according to Chinese procedure is like DPR. So, even if there is some delay, that is a positive aspect," he said.
According to expert Acharya, even though all the interests of Nepal are not aligned with China, the international railway project is a 'game changer' project for Nepal and it should be advanced as much as possible. Stating that Nepal and China have common interests in this, he said that this project is important for expanding access of Nepali products to the market in China, which is emerging as a world economic power, and for international connectivity.
Acharya said that Nepal should also adopt and share in the technical aspect of the project. While mentioning that the government's initiative in this regard is zero, Acharya said that the construction of this project will not only benefit Nepal but also India. “There is a possibility of railway connection through Nepal to South Asia,” he said.