Dream projectGovernment must ensure that the Melamchi Project is completed by 2016
Two years ago, when the government signed a contract with an Italian company—Cooperativa Muratori E Cementisti (CMC) di Ravenna—to resume work on the tunnel construction of the Melamchi Water Supply Project, the decision received widespread support. The firm with over 100 years of history and the experience of constructing subways, railways for high speed trains and highway tunnels in various parts of the world was expected to give much needed headway to the Project. More importantly, CMC was expected to work more efficiently than the previous contractor, China Railway 15 Bureau Group, whose persistent delay led the government to cancel the contract after it built 6.5 km of the 26.5 km tunnel. In July 2013, CMC signed an agreement with the government to complete the construction of 20km of the 26.5km tunnel from Ambathan in Sindupalchowk to Sundarijal in Kathmandu by April, 2016. However, going by the way things are progressing it looks as though the Italian company is following the footsteps of its predecessor.
To begin with, CMC needs to dig 40 metres of the tunnel each day, but it is reportedly digging less than 20 metres. It is also working only on three sites though it is supposed to simultaneously work on six of them. Last month, the company stopped work for 15 days on account of the lack of materials due to landslides in Kavre. The contractor, however, is required to maintain a buffer stock to last for a month; it cannot stop the project under any circumstances. The Italian firm has now demanded Rs 600 million from the Melamchi Water Supply Development Board citing cash flow
problems. The Board, meanwhile, claims to have already provided around 40 percent of the contract amount to the Italian firm. Meanwhile, only 13.50 km of the tunnel has been completed till date—including the 6.5 km previously built by the Chinese company—and CMC has submitted a revised plan to complete the
project by September, 2016.
If the past is any indication, there is no guarantee that the Project will be completed by the new date as well. To prevent that from happening, the government along with the project donor, Asian Development Bank, must use its leverage to pressure the Italian firm. In addition, there is a need to investigate into the alleged link between the contractor and some politicians which prevents officials from taking stern action against it. Consultants hired by for the Project should also come under scrutiny as their late submission of designs have also pushed back CMC’s work. The Melamchi Project has consumed far too much time and money in the last two decades to extend it any further. It must be completed as soon as possible to prevent this national pride project from turning into a national disaster instead.