KTM-Nijgadh fast track
The awarding of the long-delayed Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway project to Nepal Army, we believe, is the right decision. The earlier awarding of the ‘national pride project’ to an Indian consortium had created a lot of controversy, after which the government of Sushil Koirala put the project on hold. Later, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli terminated the contract and declared that the expressway would be built by mobilizing Nepal’s own resources. It had even allocated Rs 10 billion for the purpose, but for various reasons the project never got off the ground. The 76-km expressway connecting Kathmandu to Bara’s Nijgadh, when complete, will not only drastically reduce travel time, it is also expected to save Rs 5 billion worth of annual spending on petrol products. The decision to award the contract to Nepal Army is justified because the army has in the past successfully undertaken many such road projects. Moreover, it is one of very few national institutions that are over the political fray. As Minister for Transport Ramesh Lekhak has clarified, had the project been given to someone else, there would have been a fresh controversy and the much-desired expressway could once again have been shelved indefinitely.
Whether it is the job of a security agency to undertake such projects is a debatable topic.
But if Nepal Army is not to be involved in any construction activities, its nearly 100,000-strengh will be hard to justify in peace-time Nepal. The army understands this more than anyone else, which is why it has been at the forefront of post-disaster search-and-rescue activities and in the construction of vital road projects. And over the years, as it involves itself in more and more of these projects, the army has also gotten progressively better at delivering. We hope that the army can now bring its vast expertise to bear on this project and ensure that it is completed within the four-year timeframe. One reason successive governments have been so keen on the fast track is because of the planned international airport at Nijgadh. Yet this project has been in perpetual limbo for over two decades. If the fast track is built, it will definitely give an impetus to airport construction. But there is no reason the government should wait for the completion of the fast-track to build the airport.
Now that a decision on the expressway has been made, work on the delayed Nijgadh airport should also be expedited.
Our major infrastructure projects have at one time or the other all been victims of Nepal’s unstable polity and the tendency to give political color to all important projects. Our bitter past experience suggests that there will be progress on these crucial projects only if they can be kept away from the vagaries of national politics. After all, even if these projects are given to competent constructors, it is the major parties which will continue to control the purse to finance them. The tardy budgetary cycle and rampant corruption mean that few of these projects are completed on time and inside the projected cost. But perhaps, in case of the Kathmandu-Tarai fast track, the army will be able to impose some much needed discipline to take it all the way.