Donor gives the green light to appoint a contractor for Nagdhunga Tunnel ProjectThe project office and locals of Dhunibesi yet to agree on land compensation amount.
After much delay, the donor agency has given the green signal to project officials to appoint a contractor to execute the multibillion Nagdhunga Tunnel Project which will eliminate the many switchbacks on the main highway leading into Kathmandu and shorten travel time to the southern plains.
However, the project office and locals of Dhunibesi Municipality in Dhading—where the project is yet to acquire 44 ropanis of land before it goes into implementation—are yet to come to an agreement and settle the amount of compensation to be paid for land acquisition.
“We have received the go-ahead from the donor, and are preparing a draft agreement to appoint the contractor,” said Shyam Kharel, project chief. “However, without acquiring the required land, we are not in a position to mobilise the developer at the site.”
As of date, multiple rounds of negotiations involving local authorities, representatives and project officials have failed to produce a tangible outcome as locals have demanded compensation beyond what the project can afford to pay.
“We are ready to pay Rs14.8 million per ropani which amounts to a total of Rs6.51 billion for 44 ropanis of land, but locals have demanded around Rs9 billion which is beyond our scope,” said Kharel. “Locals are asking for a price which equals land prices in Kathmandu even for fallow land. And the mayor of the municipality has not attended meetings organised to settle the issue.”
However, local level authorities deny that the denizens of Dhunibesi have asked for exorbitant land compensation and said that the project office had not offered locals Rs14.8 million per ropani.
“The project office has paid Rs67.2 million per ropani to acquire land near the highway in Chandragiri Municipality in Kathmandu; and when locals of Dhunibesi, which is also a municipality near the highway, demanded half the amount or Rs33.6 million per ropani, the project officials did not agree,” Balkrishna Acharya, mayor of Dhunibesi, told the Post.
According to Acharya, even locals who will be displaced by the construction of a tunnel are supporting the project, but project officials have not yet come up with a favourable proposal.
When asked about the meetings, the mayor said he was the one who called the previous meeting in June, and tried to resolve the issue in the presence of the chief district officer.
Amid the row, project officials are now planning to take the matter to the Prime Minister’s Office in a bid to open the deadlock.
The government officials designated to mediate between project officials and locals say they are unaware of the issue bogging down the project. “We do not know of any land compensation issue, and hence cannot comment,” said Jagnath Nepal, chief of the District Coordination Committee of Dhading, declining to talk further.
The Rs20.2 billion project covered by a soft loan from the Japanese government was expected to complete land acquisition by 2018. As of date, the project has disbursed around Rs4.5 billion in land compensation in Kathmandu and Dhading.
In 2016, the Japan government had agreed to provide a soft loan of Rs15.28 billion to build the Nagdhunga Tunnel to eliminate the need to travel the circuitous route over the Valley’s western rim, which is the main overland link between the capital and the southern plains.
Once built, commuters on the stretch will be able to avoid at least 19 hairpin bends and sharp curves along an 8 km section of the roadway.
Initially, the project was expected to go into implementation by January 2019, but it got bogged down in paperwork leading to delay in contractor selection.
As per a 2015 preparatory survey, it takes around 34 minutes to navigate the 8-km section following the existing alignment of the route.
The project, which will be overseen by the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, is expected to be completed within three and a half years from the date of implementation.
The selected contractor, Japanese infrastructure developer Hazama Ando JV, has executed projects such as the Koteshwor-Suryabinayak road section and the 158-km BP Highway, also known as Banepa-Bardibas Highway.
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