HONG KONG May 27: Bijaya Gurung, who is leading a group of engineers building a tunnel 35 meters below the ground in Nam Chung area of Hong Kong, appears upbeat about the Kathmandu Metro Rail and Hetauda-Kathmandu fast-track projects. Gurung is very hopeful he will get to utilize in Nepal skills that he has acquired working as a deputy construction manager for a French construction company of international repute.
"I strongly feel that we should do something for our own country," says the 43-year-old engineer from Dhampus, Kaski district, sitting in the pilot room of a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) under the ground. "I will not ask for as many facilities as I´m entitled to while working abroad. I´ll definitely use my skills for the development of our country if my expertise is sought."
The tunnel being constructed by Gurung´s team is part of the Hong Kong-Guangzhou railway that will link Hong Kong with mainland China. The French company Gurung works for has been awarded the contract for digging an 8.9 km-section of the tunnel which covers 26 km in Hong Kong alone. Many Nepali migrants -- manual workers and technicians alike -- are now working on the Nam Chung section of the tunnel.
Gurung, whose role as TBM pilot is very important in tunnel construction, is shift in-charge for Nepali engineers duo Jham Bahadur Gurung and Nar Bahadur Thakali. Electrical engineer Birendra Rai, mechanical supervisor Indra Bahadur Limbu, Kamal Thapa, Deb Rai and Prem Bahadur Singh are among other Nepalis working in the tunnel construction. Not only inside the under-construction tunnel, Nepalis are working in planning as well. Rajendra Gurung and Buddha Shrestha are among a few senior Nepali engineers who oversee planning work for the tunnel construction.
There types of technology -- Drill and Blast, Cut and Cover and TBM -- are now in use for tunnel construction. TBM is considered the safest technology, particularly in boring tunnels for metro rails in urban areas. This was the technology used for digging tunnels for the Delhi metro rail.
The TBM is itself like a short train. The TBM moves like a train, making a big hole under the ground. The hole created by the TBM is later developed as an underground passageway for a train. The TBM used by Gurung´s team is 114 meters long though shorter and smaller versions are also available. Despite being costly, the TBM is popular as it is very safe for use in crowded areas.
Digging a tunnel is in itself risky work. Although digging with a TBM is relatively safer, it requires a specialist TBM pilot. The demand for TBM pilots is now very high. Those TBM pilots who worked on the Delhi metro have now become construction heroes. An engineer who worked as a TBM pilot on the Deli metro is also working with Gurung in Hong Kong.
As of now, six Nepali engineers have worked as TBM pilots. Of them, Bijaya Gurung, Jhamak Bahadur Gurung, Nar Bahadur Thakali, Yuddha Malla and Ashok KC are still working in Hong Kong while Bed Thapa is in Australia.
Gurung came to Hong Kong 12 years ago. In 2007, he earned a post graduate degree in civil engineering from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. "I was already a civil engineer when I came here," says Gurung. "But, the Chinese did not recognize my Nepali degree. Only after I did my post graduation from a Hong Kong university did they start treating me like an engineer."
Nepali TMB pilots can easily land high-paying jobs anywhere in the world. "I have offers from Australia and Brazil. But I do not feel like going elsewhere," says Jham Bahadur. "Instead, I will be happy to work in Nepal."
A majority of the 35,000 Nepalis in Hong Kong are involved in three ´D´ work -- Dangerous, Difficult and Dirty. Nepali people never hesitate to take up three ´D´ work. Therefore, 95 percent of workers with the French company where Gurung works are Nepali.
"At the outset, we were trusted because we were hardworking, honest and dedicated. Later, we learned the skills and made ourselves indispensable," says Jham Bahadur. Handling a TBM is an important skill learnt by some Nepali workers and they will never be jobless. "Learning to handle a TBM has heralded boom times for some Nepalis in Hong Kong," says Gurung.