hamrakura.com 17 January
Prime Minister KP Oli inaugurated the construction of a dry port in Chobhar last week, despite protests from the local community. A leader of the Chobhar residents Panchalal Maharjan informed that 26 people had been taken into custody for peacefully protesting at the inauguration site. They were concerned that the project had not consulted with local people and would eventually displace them. Some of the protesters were injured during the conflict with security personnel.
The site had been previously occupied by Himal Cement, which closed down due to local residents’ concerns about environmental pollution. Four years ago, the government made an agreement to acquire Himal Cement’s land at Chobhar. With a Rs1.5 billion grant from the World Bank, the Ministry of Finance is building a cargo terminal and an exhibition area over more than 40 hectares. The government plans to directly link the dry port to Indian and Chinese Railway stations. It is expected to accommodate 350 trucks and 600 containers, and a 6-lane highway to access the dry port is also planned, linking it to Kathmandu’s Ring Road at Balkhu. According to a 2013 agreement with the World Bank, the government would finish constructing the port by 2019.
A meeting in mid-November between the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Matrika Yadav, the World Bank and builder company Intermodal had decided to take the concerns of local people into consideration. But the construction began without such a step, according to locals. Their main concern is that the proposed road for the dry port would go through the land of more than 200 people who have not agreed to it. They are also concerned that the project will damage Chobhar’a historical, religious and cultural heritages.
The Chobhar Protection Committee claims that the project has begun without an Environmental Impact Assessment, and that could prove disastrous for the entire Kathmandu Valley because Chobhar is a fragile point which is the only outlet for the Bagmati from Kathmandu Valley. They allege that the so-called ‘democratic government’ is behaving in a dictatorial manner, and imposing a project that is bound to create noise and air pollution on unwilling residents.
Chobhar residents are already tired of the pollution from Himal Cement factory, and are angry that the government’s compensation from cement dust never materialised. They say the 5-point agreement was never implemented, and they demand an immediate stop to the construction process.