June 21, 2018 02:00 AM NPT
Road and railway projects
It is beyond dispute that we need reliable road and rail infrastructures for rapid growth and development. This is why road and railway development have rightly received the national attention in the past few years. And there have been some progress in this direction too. But as experts have pointed out, the way we are pursuing these projects are deeply flawed, which could not only minimize chances of extracting maximum benefits from these expensive infrastructures but also put a huge financial burden on the national treasury. A look at the alignment and positioning of some of these projects shows where and how we have been making mistakes.
We have started building Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway. But the government has also announced to build a railway line along the same route, extending up to Raxaul across the Indian border. This is but one case. We have been spending a huge amount of money on three motorable roads ending in Hetauda via different terrains, which is close to Nijgadh where the expressway meets the East-West Highway. The East-West railway, of which a 135-kilometer portion from Bardibas to Simara is under construction, is also almost in the same alignment with existing East-West Highway. Toward the northern front, a two-lane highway to Galchhi in Rasuwagadhi is under construction, which will connect Kathmandu with Kerung in Tibet. Along the same alignment we are also talking about building railway line to connect Kathmandu with Kerung. In fact, Prime Minister KP Oli has made this his signature project to be built under Chinese assistance. But the way we have been going on with these projects reflects on very poor planning and lack of proper homework.
The consequences of all this are obvious. Making two parallel highways or railways will result in waste of taxpayers’ money for people will choose the routes that are closer and cheaper, leaving the rest useless. Unplanned mode of development and infrastructure building could also lead us to debt trap. Thus we need to select projects only after ensuring financial viability. Otherwise government resources may dry up leaving us with little or no fund for other vital projects. The government should think of repositioning these vital projects, wherever possible, and bring an integrated transportation master plan, including the aviation sector, before building projects. We need to set our priority right and select projects based on utility rather than whims and fancies of certain politicians. Needless to say, meaningful infrastructure projects will pay back ultimately. It will enhance mobility of goods and people; generate resources for further development thereby contributing to national goal of prosperity and development. It will unlock the growth constraints as well. But if we do it in a wrong way without assessing the usability and viability we might only be draining the scarce resources for the projects that might at the end prove to be useless. Government ministers and policy makers, will you pay attention to this?