Govt disregards NPC VC advice, prepares to give expressway contract to army

April 1, 2017 10:19 AM

KATHMANDU, March 31: Instead of starting work immediately on the Kathmandu-Tarai Expressway project by instituting a special purpose vehicle as per recommendations, the government has started preparations to award the contract to Nepal Army. 

A high-level study team formed to recommend a modality to develop a 76-km expressway to connect the tarai with the Kathmandu Valley had suggested instituting a special purpose vehicle, which would act like an authority or a development committee. 

But putting aside the study report prepared by vice-chair of the National Planning Commission Min Bahadur Shrestha, the Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Ramesh Lekhak has disregarded the report’s recommendation and started preparations to give the project -- estimated to cost Rs 100 billion -- to Nepal Army. 

Lekhak has intensified discussions with the officials of the Department of Roads on awarding the project. 

At least two rounds of discussion were held on Wednesday and Thursday amongst senior engineers of the ministry and the Department of Roads to evaluating the implementation capacity of the Department of Roads. 

But the discussions were preoccupied with soliciting consent on giving the project to the armed services agency which has been accused of focusing on profits and deviating from its role of managing the countries security. 

Previously, the army has mainly carried out tasks of track-openings, particularly in places with difficult geological structures. But such road projects have been managed by hiring small contractors and the army has no workforce with required technical skills and also lacks experience in building such expressways. 

Work handled by the army has attracted controversies in previous times. Corruption allegations were made about a Rs 940-billion track-opening of the expressway carried out by the army between 2008 and 2011. The parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had discussed this in multiple rounds of meetings. Nepal Army was quizzed on the spending by PAC.  

A PAC subcommittee, led by lawmaker Rabindra Adhikari, probed the spending on the track-opening but nothing of substance came out of it. 

Project Chief Satyendra Shakya refused to explain the details on the current preparations. “I am not allowed to talk on the issue which is in the process of decision-making,” Shakya told Republica. 
Meanwhile, Hirendra Man Pradhan, a member of the NPC’s Shrestha-led study committee, said the committee did not mean to give the project to Nepal Army. 

“We are wondering why the government is dilly-dallying in deciding on purchasing the DPR from an Indian company and is instituting an agency to begin developing the project,” Pradhan said. 
Ending a contract process with an Indian company to award the project in a BOOT model in 2015, government decided to build the project on its own.  

Trying to give a twist to the project, the newly-appointed Indian Ambassador to Nepal Manjeev Singh Puri on Monday said India was committed to providing grants assistance for building the expressway and the Second International Airport (SIA) at Nijgadh. 

The statement contradicts with the new process started by Nepal to do the project on its own.

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