KATHMANDU, Dec 27: Nepal Army has sought a total of Rs 680 million as incentive payment for staff deployed to build the Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway or fast-track. The demand for the additional incentive out of the government's annual budgets for four years—Rs 170 million each year —is sure to result in cost overruns at the project assigned to the army . The government has, meanwhile, already started reducing its own costs by cutting similar incentives provided to civil servants .
The fast-track project was handed over to the army in August 2017 without calculating the operational costs, estimated project costs and any other costs.
The project has also run into stiff opposition from the locals of Khokana in Lalitpur district, who have demanded more compensation for land taken up by the road and raised concerns about destruction of their ancient culture.The army's demand, which has been submitted to the Ministry of Finance, is to pay Rs 400 per day to each of 500 army personnel involved in risky construction work. Similarly the security agency has proposed Rs 150 as lunch allowance for another 1,334 security personal deployed at the project site to provide security, according to a proposal sent to the Ministry of Finance. Both payments are on top of the regular salaries they receive from the government.The army claims that these payments are for work in addition to regular duty . But the claim is not fully convincing as the security personnel are only carrying out regular duty.Army officials repeated the same demand during the first trimester review program organized at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport on Tuesday.Speaking at the review program, Under-secretary at the Ministry of Finance Tirth Raj Chiluwal said the incentive sought by the army cannot be provided as the personnel are doing regular work. “Paying such incentives to security personnel on this project may have a knock- on effect on security personnel working on similar projects in the remote areas ,” argued Chiluwal.
Officials at both the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport fear the possible knock-on effect at other projects. And paying security personnel without a name list might be another tricky step.
During a press meet on September 22, Major General Yogendra Bahadur Khand informed that about 1,200 army personnel are involved in the construction work. The number has now increased to over 1,800 of different ranks and it includes personnel on security assignment.
Khand had said that each person gets Rs 150 per day in additional remuneration for non-risk work and Rs 550 if the work involves risk. But the army did not specify the source of funds for such payment and there is no budget allocation under this head to date. This is the second proposal the army has tabled to make direct changes to the cost of the project. Back in September, the security agency, which has been building the 76 km fast-track road without a detailed project report and awarding contracts, pushed for the expansion of a tunnel and addition of new tunnels .
The army claims that the tunnels are suggested by experts and argues that they are essential for saving travel time as well as reducing the risk from earthquakes as they will replace a few proposed high bridges . But taxpayers will have to fork out an additional Rs 4.29 billion , according to the army's own calculation . The proposal has not yet been approved . The army has been saying that the tunnels will be incorporated in the detailed project report, which is being prepared by a South Korean company. This raises doubts whether the consultant can work independently to prepare the DPR.