Karnali Province

Carving Roads to Prosperity

Published On: May 8, 2022 07:30 PM NPT By: Nagendra Upadhyaya

Nepal’s Karnali Province is the only province that is not connected to neighboring India. And as the province has no road-link with the northern neighbor China, either, this province has remained under shadow despite huge potentials for development. But this story of the sorry state of Karnali Province is going to change for the better in a few years because the Karnali and Bheri corridors, which are currently under-construction, are set to emerge as game-changers for Karnali. 

The fifth Cabinet meeting of Karnali Province was held in the Rara Lake in Mugu district on April 13, 2018. The meeting held in the country's largest lake was historic in itself. The presence of the then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in the meeting further added to its significance. The historic meeting decided to name the under-construction road from Surkhet to Hilsa - the nearest border point with China - as Prime Minister International Fast Track. The same meeting also decided to expand the road that passes through Surkhet--Dailekh, Jumla to Nakche Nangla of Mugu district and the Surkhet-Jajarkot Road to Dho, a border point to enter China from Dolpa and open two more entry points with China.

The Province Cabinet requested the then Prime Minister Oli to include all three roads leading to the Chinese border in the list of national pride projects. The reason was the provincial government expected a budget from the federal government for the expansion and upgradation of these vital road networks. But the federal government did not declare these roads that connect Nepal to the northern neighbor as national pride projects. The pace of construction of these roads was very slow. As a result, the construction of these strategic roads has not been completed yet.

Karnali Province constitutes 21.6 percent of the total territory of the country. However, the province has a population of only about 1.6 million. The incidence of poverty in this province is so high that the latest statistics based on the Multidimensional Poverty Index show that 51.2 percent people here live below the extreme poverty line. Among the 10 districts in Karnali Province, only Surkhet and Salyan are self-dependent in food items. As farming is not possible due to the lack of irrigation, most youths from the province go to India for work.

Karnali Province, characterized by huge geography and a small population, has a total 79 local units. Among them, 10 local units are yet to be connected by a road network. Humla - one of the 10 districts of the province - is not connected to the national road network. Since Karnali is the only province that is not connected to India, the only means to bring prosperity to this province is to ensure a road network with China. The Karnali Province government is working to realize this.

The three proposed roads that will connect Karnali to China will be the lifelines of Karnali Province. Chief Minister of Karnali Province Jeevan Bahadur Shahi said his government has kept Karnali (Khulalu-Hilsa) and Bheri (Surkhet-Morilla) corridors in priority for now. "Both the corridors are the lifelines of Karnali Province. The provincial government itself has been putting necessary investment, ensuring cooperation and facilitating in order to bring these road networks into operation at the earliest possible," he said. Chief Minister Shahi takes updates on the progress of these corridors on a daily basis. It is expected that these two 'lifelines' will come into operation within the next five years.

The distance from Surkhet to the Hilsa stretch of Karnali Corridor is 504 kilometers. The construction of the road corridors that pass through Surkhet, Dailekh, Kalikot and Bajura district (Sudur Paschim Province) is gaining momentum lately. We can reach Hilsa -- the main border point to enter China-- after crossing an eight-kilometer stretch of rocky mountain area of Chharebhir and Khunakhada in Humla district. Chief of Karnali Corridor (i.e.Hilsa-Simikot Road Project) Engineer Birendra Yadav said Nepal Army has taken the responsibility of building the road stretch in Chharebhir and Khunakhada. The construction of nine bridges as part of the corridor is also currently underway.

Last year, a Chinese company called China Railway Irwan Engineering Company had prepared a Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the corridor, keeping Dhuliyabit of Birendranagar (Surkhet) as its starting point. The DPR developed by 30 Chinese engineers in six months at the request of the provincial government showed that the distance between Dhuliyabit and Hilsa would be 403.52 kilometers. Currently, the distance between Surkhet and Hilsa is 504 kilometers.

According to the DPR, it would be appropriate to build a six-lane road from Dhuliyabit to Kapase area. "The report has further stated that it will be appropriate to build a four-lane road in market and human settlement area and three-lane road in other areas," said Ananda Saru, secretary at the Office of Chief Minister and Council of Ministers. According to the report, the Surkhet stretch will be 24.1 kilometers, Dailekh stretch 104.6 kilometers, Kalikot stretch 39.14 kilometers, Bajura stretch 43.49 kilometers and Humla stretch 192.29 kilometers. The Surkhet-Kulalu stretch of Karnali Highway and the Khulalu-Hilsa stretch of the Karnali corridor will be part of the Surkhet-Hilsa road project.

Nepal Army had handed over Khulalu (Kalikot)--Sallisalla (Humla) stretch of the Karnali corridor to the Department of Road after completion of the construction in July last year. The national army had taken the responsibility to build the road in 2071 BS. The track of Surkhet-Hilsa corridor has already been opened except for a 51-kilometer stretch from Sallisalla to Simkot. The 94-kilometer stretch of the road of this corridor from Simikot -- the district headquarters of Humla - to Hilsa is also currently under operation.

It may be just a coincidence. Chief Minister Shahi hails from Humla — the only district which is yet to be connected to the national road network. Chief Minister Shahi, who took leadership to build a road toward China when he was serving as the president of the District Development Committee, believes that the Karnali and Bheri corridors are the roads to prosperity and development of Karnali Province. “The Karnali corridor not only links Karnali and Sudur Paschim Province with China but also connects these two provinces with Haat and Bhot (i.e. markets in India and markets in China),” he said. “This will also play a very important role to bring qualitative changes in the lives of the ordinary people in the province and help take the province toward the path of development and prosperity.”

In the past, the people of the Karnali region used to travel to India and China for trade. They would export valuable herbs to China and bring home wool and gold to sell them in the Indian market. And from the Indian market, they would bring kerosene and salt. “This road will not only ensure Karnali’s access to China; this will also again establish the centuries-old trade relations that Karnali and Sudurpaschim region had with both India and China,” he said. “This is the reason why the Karnali corridor is the foundation of our prosperity.”

The construction of roads is one of the six priorities set by the Karnali Province Government to improve the economic condition of the province. The Bheri corridor is shorter than the Karnali corridor in order to help connect Nepal to China. The total length of the Bheri corridor that runs from Chhinchu-Jajarkot-Dolpa to Dhomisilla that borders the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China is just 332 kilometers.  A 110 kilometers long blacktopped road from Chhinchu (Surkhet) to Pashagad (Jajarkot) is already in place. Although the track from Pashgadh to Dunai — the district headquarters of Dolpa — has already been opened, this road has yet to come into full-fledged operation.

Chief of the Bheri Corridor Project, Dhruva Kumar Jha said the Pashagad-Dunai stretch of the road will come into operation by mid-May. The Nepal Army was entrusted with the responsibility of opening the track. The army has already built four bailey bridges and three other such bridges are currently under-construction.  The distance from Dunai to Dhomo Rimla is 110 kilometers. Of the total distance, a 75 kilometer stretch of the road has already been constructed. A tender has already been awarded for the construction of a 35-kilometer stretch of the road from Lasikyap to Dho area. “Works are currently underway to open the Bheri corridor within the next two years,” said Jha. “Once the Bheri corridor comes into operation, the distance with China will be further reduced.”

Chief Minister Shahi, who faced different legal hassles to build roads that connected the province to China when he was the president of the District Development Committee of Humla, argues that roads that connect Karnali to both India and China will be the game changers for Karnali Province and its people. “Although Karnali and Bheri corridors have fallen in our priority for now, the provincial government is working to ensure road access to the far-flung villages in the northern areas of the province and connect them to the nearby Chinese towns,” he said, adding that rural roads are the key to change the lives of the people of Karnali Province.


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