One major reason why Melamchi Drinking Water Project has become like a mirage for thirsty Kathmandu is because the political leaders in power have cared little to complete the project on time. We were told, months ago, that over 90 percent of the works have been completed and that it would take just a couple of months to get the water from Melamchi to the houses of residents of Kathmandu Valley. And then the new deadline was set followed by another and yet another. To be fair, project abandonment by Italian company Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti (CMC) in December, 2018 contributed to the delay. But then equally true is the fact that government sat idle for about nine months before awarding the contract to complete the remaining works to a Chinese contractor Sinohydro Corporation Limited in September, 2019. Sinohydro, which is the fourth company selected for completing the remaining tunnel work of the project, was given one year to complete the work. The new contractor is said to have had good track record of completing projects on time and hopefully it will not let us down. But people will believe only when they get to use the water themselves.
Because of frustrating delay and the government’s failure to get the contractor to complete the job on time Melamchi project has come to feel like a mirage. So when the Minister for Water Supply Bina Magar on Thursday announced that Melamchi water would be brought to Kathmandu by mid-July this year, many on social media scoffed at her: Really? Mid-July of which year? Will I get to consume the water of Melamchi during my lifetime? While issuing the whitepaper on the project, the minister and Melamchi Water Supply Development Board have claimed that 94 percent of physical infrastructure work of the project has been completed and remaining six percent will be accomplished within the next five months. We wish it were so.
Our failure to complete this national pride project, which started off in the 90s, has become a matter of national as well as international embarrassment. Over 24 billion rupees have been spent for this project so far. In Kathmandu, water woes have multiplied several folds as underground water sources are drying up. Kathmandu was kept enveloped in dust for months during the pipe laying works. People tolerated and breathed in dust with the hope that the water woes of the valley would be solved to a large extent, once the project is completed. But then there was little progress on the ground. The trend so far has been announcing the deadline—we were told Melamchi project would be completed in Dashain last year and the year before that too—and let that deadline pass before announcing another deadline. It has almost seemed like the government is fooling the people with the promise of Melamchi water. People of Kathmandu should not be betrayed again. They have lived with water crisis for decades. Their patience and trust are running out.