Project to upgrade Janakpur-Bijalpura railway line in limbo
BHOJ RAJ POUDEL
KATHMANDU, May 2: The much-touted program of upgrading the existing Janakpur-Bijalpura railway track and extending it up to Bardibas, a major junction along the East-West Highway, has landed in troubled waters after the government failed to arrange budget for land acquisition.
Acquisition of land is crucial for the project as the government cannot kick-start the project without completely taking over the land on which the track will be laid.
“The program is already two years old. Sadly, we are still facing dearth of capital to compensate the landowners and complete the formalities of acquisition,” said a senior official at the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works (MoPPW).
To complete the acquisition, Department of Railway (DoR) has assessed it would need a total of Rs 1.25 billion. It has long been pushing the MoPPW and Ministry of Finance (MoF) to arrange at least Rs 300 million to kick-start the process.
“MoF about a month ago had even informed us that it has agreed in principle to pledge the fund by transferring fund from other projects that have not used their allocations,” said Minister for Physical Planning and Works. “But we never got the money. And unfortunately, MoF now says it cannot provide us the fund.”
Interestingly, the latest obstacle to arrange fund for the project has surfaced after MoF realized the project - that stands as one of the important components of the East-West Railway Line - was rated as Priority 3 (P3) project by the MoPPW.
“East-West Railway clearly is a ´national pride´ project. We had never guessed one of its important components will be placed in the least priority project,” said a source, disclosing that this very mismatched prioritization by the MoPPW made MoF to refuse fund for it.
Going by the existing norms, MoF can transfer funds (in case of poor spending by other projects) to important project. But those projects have to be listed under P1 projects.
“The complication, meanwhile, has put the project in an uncertainty,” said an official at DoR.
The DoR has further notified the MoPPW and MoF that it would not be able to start the project if the government did not correct the order of priority of the project immediately.
According to DoR, it needs to acquire a total of 220 hectares of land from Janakpur to Bijulpura to upgrade the existing track. India has allocated Rs 600 million in its project to upgrade the 51-km rail track from Janakpur to Bijulpura.