The government has signed an agreement with Chinese contractor Sinohydro Corporation Limited to complete the remaining construction work of Melamchi Water Supply Project (MWSP). The Chinese company has been given one year to complete the remaining works of the national pride project at the amount of Rs 850.1 million. This time around the government seems to be working cautiously because provision of reward (if the company completes the work before schedule) and punishment (if it misses the deadline) has been introduced. Even then it is going to take 15 more months to complete the project though Prime Minister KP Oli on Monday vowed to complete it in less than a year. With this decision the government has broken the months of indecision and uncertainty over the project that completely stalled after the Italian company Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti (CMC) abandoned it on December 17, 2018.
Though this comes rather too late—nearly 10 months after the Italian contractor walked away leaving the work in limbo—it must be called positive. Now the government must closely monitor the progress on the ground and get the Chinese company to work on war footing for if the works continue in the usual slow pace, it might not be completed even in the next 15 months. And given that the government creates the favorable situation for the company to work on, it won’t be impossible to meet the deadline for only three percent works—plastering around 700 meters of the tunnel with cement, headworks construction and installation of ventilator shafts—are to be accomplished. Besides, Sinohydro may be a company to rely on because it is already working on various other Nepali hydropower projects including the 456 MW Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project and 140 MW Tanahun Hydropower Project. Of course, much depends on how fast the new company will work but main responsibility lies on the government, for it was the government’s failure to chart new course for Melamchi which led the project in limbo for months.
It need not be reemphasized how important Melamchi project is for the residents of Kathmandu. The people of Kathmandu have waited for decades since the project was launched in 1998. They have lived with the acute water shortage all these many years thinking that one day water of Melamchi will trickle through the taps in their households. In the last two years, they have battled with dust pollution resulting from digging of the roads to lay water pipes. For months, Kathmandu looked like a valley of dusts. Besides, for the last three years every government has promised to get the works complete and bring water to Kathmandu by Dashain. It was said so for last Dashain, the Dashain of the year before last and this Dashain as well. Melamchi project has been pushed to such a frustrating delay that the residents of Kathmandu, once excited and optimistic, have started giving up hope on it. The population of Kathmandu has increased by several folds since the project started in 1998. So Melamchi won’t be able to quench the thirst of Kathmandu but upon completion it is surely going to ameliorate Kathmandu’s drinking water problem to a great extent. The government of K P Sharma Oli has failed on most of its promises. Will it be able to prove different in Melamchi project?