Dhangadi - Khutiya - Dipayal fast track loses steam amid political wrangling

Published On: August 13, 2019 04:30 AM NPT By: Arun Bam

DOTI, Aug 13: While inaugurating the office of Dhangadi – Khutiya – Dipayal fast-track project on 16 December 2015 the then Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Ramesh Lekhak, directed officials to open the track within two months. Of the total 96 kilometers, 10 kilometers in Doti and 29 kilometers in Kailali was opened at the time.

During the past year, construction of the road came to a standstill due to wrangling between the provincial and the federal government for its control. After a brief spell of ownership, the provincial government handed back the reins to the federal government. But this wrangling cost the project a year of delay.

Prior to the establishment of the project's office, the Doti and Kailali road sections were being handled by the Road Department's office in Dipayal and Kanchanpur respectively. Though the project was launched in 2009, its implementation pace was sluggish.

The establishment of the new office inaugurated by Lekhak was pitched as a testimony to the government's seriousness on completing the project. However, three years down the line, there has not been much progress. The track which Lekhak had wanted to be opened in two months has not been opened yet.

Dillydallying by the contractor, controversies over the forest, tug of war between the federal and provincial governments over the jurisdiction, among other reasons has left the project in limbo. This has left people disappointed. Earlier when there was no provincial and local government, Nepal Government would have the one and final say in all public decisions. Since the country adopted the federal structure, the lack of clarity over the rights and responsibilities of the tri-layer governments has made things difficult for the authorities to handle.

Like this project, various developmental projects across the country have been affected by this kind of confusion. In his budget speech, Finance Minister Yuvaraj Khatiwada stated that a tunnel would be constructed as part of this fast track road. The budget speech mentions Khutiya – BP Nagar – Dipayal track would be surveyed immediately for the construction of a tunnel.

Chief Minister of Sudurpaschim, Trilochan Bhatta has shown no less interest in the track. He had made it a primarily political agenda when he was in the election race. And after being elected and subsequently assuming the responsibilities of the CM, he has focused on the road several times. Consequently, the project which was under the Nepal government earlier came under the domain of the provincial government. But given the size of the project, local leaders were not sure whether the provincial government could handle it. Many criticized the move to get it under provincial authority. Due to this controversy, the project failed to make headway.

Slamming the provincial government's decision to take over the project's responsibility, Bir Bahadur Balayar, former minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transportation, remarked that the provincial government cannot handle such a project. "The road project is worth billions of rupees. There are plans to connect it to Gaurifanta of India to Taklakot. How can a province government handle it?" he questioned. "Though the province can take care of certain things, the federal government should be allowed to plays its role. The federal government cannot leave it all to the province government. Doing so would mean that the project will never complete," he warned.

Many other ministers in Sudurpaschim itself were unhappy over the development. Speaking at a press meet in Silgadhi, Jhapad Bahadur Bohora, minister for Economic Affairs and Planning, said that the provincial government should not take the sole responsibility of completing the project. "The project is bigger than the province's one year's entire budget," he said.

Following intense debate and pressure, the province had to rethink over the development. CM Bhatta then handed over the responsibility of the project to the federal government on 20 November 2018. On 4 February 2019, the federal government took the project under its fold.

Amid all this, the project did not see any progress throughout the year. According to the project chief Arjun Kumar Bam, besides political wrangling, work on the project has not moved further due to resource crunch.

"We don't have the required number of technicians and staff. The delay in handing over responsibility is another issue. I have not yet received the old documents. Contractors are not in contact," Bam said. "It is very challenging to handle this project.                                                

A dream project for the residents of the three districts lost steam. And they are now demanding authorities concerned to push for speedy implementation of the project. Currently, Dipayal – Dadeldhura – Dhangadi is 182 kilometers long. Once the fast track opens, it will cut down the length to just 96 kilometers.


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