Billions spent on Dharahara but schools reconstruction suffering in lack of fundsReconstruction of college buildings damaged in the 2015 earthquakes is yet to begin as the government only recently decided to take Indian loan despite stringent conditions.
The Post Disaster Recovery Framework prepared in May 2016 for the systematised and structured reconstruction of the 2015 earthquakes ravaged structures envisioned completing the reconstruction of schools in three years.
It had kept the individual homes, hospitals and academic institutions first in priority for reconstruction followed by the public infrastructures and heritage sites.
However, it has been five years since the framework came into effect, two years since the deadline passed, and thousands of classrooms from the hundreds of schools damaged in the earthquakes still await reconstruction for lack of adequate budget.
“Lack of adequate budget and delay in the release of needed budget is a major challenge in attaining the set goals,” Yadu Bikram Thapa, an officer at the education unit, said.
Around 9,000 people were killed while property worth billions of rupees turned to rubble in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck on April 25, 2015.
Records at the Central Level Project Implementation Unit (Education) under the National Reconstruction Authority, which is mandated to oversee the reconstruction of academic institutions, show 9,072 schools from 31 districts, suffered damage in the earthquake. However, just 6,246 schools have been fully rebuilt while another 1,307 are under construction.
As many as 1,519 schools have been altogether left out from the reconstruction citing lack of budget. Of these, however, only 882 need reconstruction as the rest will be closed soon and merged with another because they have low enrolment of students.
“It is a challenge to arrange the budget for the 5,973 classrooms from 882 schools that need reconstruction,” said Thapa.
Some Rs6.1 billion will be needed to complete the reconstruction of all the schools.
Meanwhile, a whopping Rs3.47 billion has been spent on rebuilding Dharahara which is being inaugurated on Saturday, on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the great earthquake.
Education experts say while the heritage sites like Dharahara do need reconstruction, poor countries like Nepal should get their priority right. They say reconstruction of the schools is far more important than spending billions in erecting the structures like Dharahara.
“Governments with a vision set the right priority,” Binay Kusiyait, a professor at Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “This government is running after the cheap popularity which it is getting from reconstruction of the Dharahara.”
An estimated Rs110 billion was expected to be spent for the schools reconstruction when the framework was prepared in 2016 as the government envisioned constructing the schools in a holistic manner which included toilets, furniture and other amenities. But with the government not having an adequate budget, the reconstruction drive was limited to erecting the school buildings.
It spent Rs56.6 billion for the school reconstruction until fiscal year 2019-20 and has allocated Rs18.6 billion for the current one.
“We are lobbying the Ministry of Finance through the National Reconstruction Authority to release the needed budget for the reconstruction of the remaining schools in the upcoming fiscal year,” said Ram Sharan Sapkota, chief of the education unit. “We expect the entire construction drive to complete in the next one and a half years given that adequate budget is allocated.”
The government is all set to present the national budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 on May 29.
Meanwhile, the reconstruction of colleges damaged and destroyed by the 2015 earthquakes has not taken place in the past six years as the government could not manage the funds needed.
Only this year did the government decide to avail of loan from the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) for the reconstruction of 39 college buildings, most of them from the Valley.
The Nepal government hadn’t used the loan sanctioned over four years ago due to the tough conditions attached by the bank.
The Line of Credit Nepal government and the Exim Bank had agreed upon on September 16, 2016, stipulated the use of 75 percent of Indian components including plant, machinery, equipment and services and 50 percent Indian components in civil works in earthquake-damage reconstruction. Furthermore, the contractor selection process should first have to go through the pre-qualification process before starting the tender process.
The Indian government had announced a support of $1 billion for the reconstruction drive in Nepal, of which $250 million was a grant and the remaining $750 million was credit from the Indian government-owned Exim Bank. The money to be used for the reconstruction of the college buildings is from the line of credit from the $750 million.
With no other funding sources available, the government is now using the Indian loan fulfilling all the conditions, according to officials at the the education unit of the National Reconstruction Authority.
An estimated Rs20 billion will be used for the reconstruction of colleges with an aim to complete them in the next three years.
Education experts say the structures like Dharahara can get constructed together with the schools if the government can afford their parallel reconstruction.
If it doesn’t, the schools should get prioritised before such structures.
“The government should be mindful of its investment,” Bal Chandra Luitel, a professor at Kathmandu University, told the Post.