Oli rushes to inaugurate 165 road projects without their preparatory works completeObservers term prime minister’s move a populist ploy aimed at securing his political position.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Saturday announced the commencement of 165 strategic road projects, one in each electoral constituency. But the environmental impact assessment (EIA) and detailed project report (DPR) study have not been conducted for most of the said road projects.
According to the Department of Road, the strategic road projects were finalised only on Friday as per the proposal of the lawmakers although the programme was first announced in the budget of fiscal year 2019-20 in May 2019.
According to a press statement issued by the prime minister’s personal secretariat, the road projects were chosen based on numerous factors, including the completion of their EIA and DPR.
However, officials at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Department of Road said neither EIA nor Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) has been conducted in most of the selected projects, while DPR has been completed for only less than a dozen of the selected roads.
“As the projects have just been selected, neither EIA nor IEE has been conducted in most of the selected projects,” said Shiva Prasad Nepal, deputy director general at the Department of Road. “We don’t know how many roads need to undergo the EIA or IEE process. Some roads need to be upgraded and they may only require DPR.”
According to the officials at the ministry and the department, it takes more than six months to conduct IEE while at least one year is needed for conducting IEA. Similarly, it takes three to four months to prepare the DPR after selecting the consultant, a process that itself takes three to four months.
“As per the information that I have received, the DPR of only 10 selected roads has been completed,” said Nepal. “It is not the confirmed number as we are still collecting the details from concerned division road offices.”
Like many other projects inaugurated by Prime Minister Oli in the recent months, the roads to be built or upgraded in each constituency have also been inaugurated.
Observers say that the inauguration spree of development projects by the prime minister began when he dissolved the House of Representatives on December 20 last year and announced mid-term elections for April 30 and May 10.
Now, even after the Supreme Court on February 23 reinstated the dissolved House, they say Prime Minister Oli has continued the apparent populist campaign as the prospect of elections has not ended with the opposition parties still struggling to give an alternative to the current government.
“He [Prime Minister Oli] might have hoped that he could hold next parliamentary elections if an alternative government is not formed,” a senior former government official told the Post on condition of anonymity. “Even if he cannot hold the elections, he wants to take credit for every major development effort for political benefits.”
If the opposition parties fail to form an alternative government and the current government loses the majority in the House of Representatives, the country may have to go for fresh elections as per the constitution.
“Just look at how the government organised three separate programmes related to the Melamchi Water Supply Project in the last one month,” said the former government official, hinting at Oli’s long-term plan to secure his political position.
On February 23, Water Supply Minister Mani Chandra Thapa inaugurated the testing of tunnel for the Melamchi project.
Prime Minister Oli, participated in an event organised to mark the arrival of water at Sundarijal on March 6. Another event was organised on Friday to inaugurate the distribution of Melamchi water in Kathmandu Valley by President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
Former government secretary Tulasi Sitaula said development projects should be inaugurated only after completion of all preparatory works including EIA or IEE, DPR, appointment of contractors and their mobilisation.
“Otherwise, despite inauguration, there is a risk of projects remaining unfinished. The fate of the projects inaugurated by Oli should not be like the Chandragadhi—Galgaliya bridge over Mechi river which went into implementation after its inauguration for around 30 times since the Panchayat era,” Sitaula said.
Some government officials also don’t think it was the right time to inaugurate the road projects.
A senior official at the physical infrastructure ministry told the Post on condition of anonymity that contractors should have been at the project site working once it is declared that the work has begun.
“But in the case of these 165 road projects, neither preparatory work has been completed nor the necessary budget has been allocated,” said the official.
The government has allocated Rs3.3 billion for these road projects in the current fiscal year and the budget for different preparatory works for these projects was segregated only early this week, according to officials.
As per the Department of Road, the estimated cost of these road projects stands at Rs57.1 billion which was prepared based on evaluation of similar other road projects in the absence of DPR.
During the inauguration ceremony on Saturday, Prime Minister Oli instructed the department to complete these projects in three years.
“If you don’t count this fiscal year’s budget, the government has to allocate at least Rs18 billion in each three next fiscal years to complete these projects,” said the senior official at the physical infrastructure ministry.
“There is a tradition of increasing the budget by 10-12 project for a project. Will the government be ready to increase substantially for these road projects?”
The official also asked whether completion of these projects could be possible in the next three years considering the low to no preparatory works.
In the last fiscal year, the government had completed blacktopping of just around 1,100km of road nationwide including on the roads which were upgraded, according to the physical infrastructure ministry.
“Constructing, upgrading and blacktopping over 2,200km under a single programme in three years is a herculean task,” the official said..