Ten years ago, at the beginning of the last decade, Nepalis looked forward with optimism to a country with greater connectivity — at least a railway or two, smart cities, more energy sources and a great leap forward in infrastructure. The war had ended, a new constitution was being drafted and there was optimism about the future in 2010.
Fast forward 10 years and many of those projects have not materialised, while even the ones nearing completion, like Melamchi, Pokhara Airport, or the Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway, are delayed. The 2015 earthquake and Blockade, as well as endemic corruption, were blamed. But it was mainly failure of political leadership.
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Yet, many of these projects and others planned for the coming decade are more ambitious than ever. The government hopes to start on a new international airport in Nijgad, upgrade Kathmandu airport, build two highway tunnels to Rasuwagadi, start a feasibility study on the Kerung-Kathmandu railway, expedite the East-West Railway, and add at least 10,000MW of hydropower to the grid in the next decade.
Nepalis have got used to delays and disappointment, and there is a ‘we will believe it when we see it’ attitude about the megaprojects in the pipeline. A government that cannot even upgrade the Nagarkot road or finish the 5km stretch from Chabahil to Gokarna, it is felt, has no right promising a $6billion new airport by clearing native forest.
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Earlier this year, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada promised that the government would complete the feasibility study of the Kerung-Kathmandu railway and begin construction by 2022. This came without a definite budget or financial modality, still the Nepali engineer on the project, Paribesh Parajuli says it will happen within the coming decade.
“The detailed project report and feasibility study for the Kerung-Kathmandu Railway will take more than two years but we are hopeful that it will be done within the given timeframe,” Parajuli told Nepali Times. “If everything goes as planned, the railway should be completed within nine years of the start of construction.”
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Another faraway project is the 945km East-West Railway. To span 24 Tarai districts from Mechi to Mahakali, it is expected to be completed by the middle of the coming decade. In fact, 30km of the track-bed from Bardibas to Nijgad is scheduled to be finished next year. This line will connect with the 69km Janakpur-Jayanagar-Kurtha line that will start operating in March 2020. Also being surveyed is the Raxaul-Kathmandu Railway.
Out of the 22 national pride projects, 17 are scheduled for completion in the next 5 years, according to the National Planning Commission’s Approach Paper. Sushil Bhatta of the NPC says: “The government is focusing on giving priority to certain projects, making sure that resources are effectively and efficiently utilised in order to meet the targets that have been outlined.”
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In the next five-year periodic plan, the government is prioritising completion of projects that have already begun, allocating resources on the basis of the progress achieved and the significance of the projects to the economy.
Bhatta says: “We want to give priority to result-oriented national pride projects and those that help enhance economic growth.”
The government is determined to complete Nijgad International Airport in the coming decade despite strong protests from environmental activists and criticism that it is too grandiose. Bhairawa and Pokhara airports will be operational in 2020 and 2021, but whether they will act as alternative airports and reduce congestion in Kathmandu is debatable.
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During this year’s Nepal Investment Summit there were numerous proposals for smart cities in Hetauda — integrated urban development programs that were built on digital frameworks, improved technology, energy-efficient apartments, electric vehicle charging stations and bus rapid transit.
Between 2020-2030 there will also be explosive growth in the telecommunication sector with the introduction of 4G and 5G networks. Anand Khanal at the Nepal Telecommunications Authourity says, “In the next decade, we will see blanket coverage of mobile broadband in the country. The infrastructure will be established so that 100% of the public will have access to the internet and broadband service. “
Nepal hopes to become a middle-income country by 2030, and the country needs to invest more than $1billion annually on infrastructure development to reach this goal.
Bhatta says: “To achieve our 5-year goals and even 25-year goals, we need to streamline our projects, strategically invest in those projects and push for a paradigm shift in the way Nepal manages development.”
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