Infrastructure development needs a one-window approach. Clearances should be available to developers at one spot
Infrastructure development and environment are deeply interrelated. Many works of development demand some kind of sacrifice on the part of the environment. Natural resources are also a part of the environment. While a country is enhancing its physical infrastructures like roads, railways, airports, dams, hydropower projects and transmission lines, it should also carry out measures to compensate for the loss imparted to the environment.
As countries progress on the path to development, they face a rising concern in the world about environmental degradation. There have been big debates, symposiums and seminars on it. Scientists, social activists and even politicians have expressed their concerns about it. Issues like global warming, sea-level rising, and snow melting have perplexed them so much that they have become restless.
Regarding development and its effect on the environment, the world is divided into two groups: the developed and the under-developed.Developed countries are those fortunate ones which have exploited their natural resources to the maximum, and whose physical infrastructures are well established. It has already given rise to economic stability and prosperity for them. The other side of the world has not utilized its natural resources. Poverty has gripped these nations so tightly that shock waves from these countries are likely to hit developed countries in the near future, if an urgent cure is not attempted by developed countries.
Of course, we have to take up the challenge of finding a middle path between environmental conservation and development. In almost every other country, this debate either peaked in the past, or is garnering attention at present, depending on which development is either in full swing or faltering.
Infrastructure development is subject to many hurdles within a country itself. Many clearances are required before such projects are kicked off. In our country, environmental and forest clearances generally take a long time, delaying many projects. Bureaucratic hurdles in dealing with them not only consume plenty of time, but also harass investors and developers of projects. There are many examples of such delays, including a delay in starting the transmission infrastructure for evacuation of power in the 22MW Mai Hydropower Project, being developed by a private sector company in Eastern Nepal.
The inertial tendency of our bureaucracy needs to change. Also, the impact of unstable politics is clearly visible in the process of infrastructure development in the country. Hydropower is one such unfortunate sector which has fallen prey to these elements, and as a result we are bereft of its many benefits like electricity, drinking water, irrigation, fisheries, hydro-transport, and eco-tourism. But unless vibrant and stable politics brings reforms to a stagnant bureaucracy, our pace of development is not likely to quicken.
Infrastructure development needs a one-window solution. Whatever clearances are required by a development project should be made available to investors and developers without them having to visit different entities. It avoids unnecessary delay in decision making, and attracts investors to feasible projects. It also attracts the private sectors’ investment in development projects.
Though small and medium projects can be executed by domestic investors, Nepali commercial banks do not have enough capital to invest in large projects. This highlights the importance of foreign direct investment (FDI) in a developing country and the need of appropriate investment policies to attract the same. In countries with a single door mechanism for investing in infrastructure-based projects, development has taken place at high speeds. Licenses are generally issued on a competitive basis by evaluating proposals received for a particular project. All terms and conditions are made clear in project development agreements, according to which projects are to be executed, and completed by the specified milestone date.
In our country, Nepal Investment Board (NIB) was formed in 2011 according to Investment Board Act 2010 to offer a one-window solution to potential investors of large projects. The Act is a commendable step taken by the dissolved Constituent Assembly in the capacity of Legislature Parliament. In Nepal, infrastructure has not developed well so far, and most poverty alleviation programs from government as well as non-government organizations have been ineffective. The Act has created a conducive environment for the mobilization of investment of Public Private Partnership (PPP), co-operative and private sector, both national and foreign, in projects which are expected to boost national economy. The Act is likely to be enforced in all infrastructure development projects involving a fixed capital of one billion Rupees or more. In fact, the Act is in itself a potential harbinger for constructive reform in the country’s orientation toward development. On the basis of this Act, NIB embarked on a frenzy of attracting FDI in mega projects, heralding an era of infrastructure development in Nepal.
NIB, which is chaired by the prime minister, has taken on 14 national projects including Kathmandu-Terai Fast Track, Nijgadh Airport, and Kathmandu Metro Railway. As far as hydropower sector is concerned, projects with an installed capacity of 500 MW and above come under the Board’s purview as per the provision of the corresponding Act. Currently, the Board is dealing with West Seti (750 MW), Upper Marsyangdi II (600 MW), Tamakoshi III (880 MW), Arun III (900 MW)–pertaining to issues like license renewal, capital augmentation, project development agreement, and office setup in the developer’s country, as per each project’s specific needs.
We need to focus on the development of sectors which empower the minorities, the suppressed, and the poor. The elites of this country never worked in this direction in the past, because they were afraid that the resulting rearrangement of social order might sweep them away. In this regard, development should be interpreted as a means of improving the status of human rights in a poor and under-privileged country like Nepal. In the years to come, not just mega projects but also small and medium projects associated with local people should be handled through a single window so that development can be participated in, owned, enjoyed, and shared by all stakeholders.
The author is an Electrical Engineer firstname.lastname@example.org