Melamchi likely to face more delays as workers leave the siteJust as the project was on course to meeting its completion deadline of mid-July, workers have left project site due to the lockdown triggered by Covid-19 pandemic, officials say
The much-awaited Melamchi Water Supply Project is bracing for yet another delay as the ongoing lockdown in light of the Covid-19 pandemic has affected work at the site.
The halt comes at a time when the project was on course to meeting the latest deadline of mid-July for supplying water to Katmandu Valley. Releasing a white paper on the national pride project, Water Supply Minister Bina Magar, in February, had vowed that water from the Melamchi river would reach Valley households by the end of the current fiscal year.
However, the fresh deadline is unlikely to be met as the majority of workers have left the project site, following the lockdown imposed by the government to contain the spread of Covid-19.
According to Rajendra Prasad Pant, senior divisional engineer and information officer with the Melamchi Water Development Board, the main body responsible for implementing the national pride project, work has been hit due to lockdown after workers have returned home and construction materials are over.
“The project work was going smoothly. Required construction materials were also stored for some days,” said Pant. “But as the fear of coronavirus infection grew bigger and workers started panicking and many of them left, work remains suspended at the moment.”
The project has long been embroiled in a controversy and marred by several delays over the years. Currently, the Chinese contractor Sinohydro Corporation Ltd has been hired to finish remaining works after the Italy-based Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna (CMC) abandoned the project in December 2018 over a financial dispute with the government.
The hiring of Chinese contractors, six months after terminating the contract with the Italian contractor, was expected to expedite the project.
According to Pant, nearly 50 Chinese workers are still at the site whereas the majority of 300 domestic workers have gone home.
“Those workers still at the site had been living in confinement. Workers from Sindhupalchok and nearby districts managed to go back but those from faraway districts remain stranded,” said Pant. “However, the lack of construction materials has affected the project now. Even those who have left the site cannot immediately return to work.”
Although the board official agrees that the disturbance will affect the completion deadline, he refused to say how long the delay might be.
An engineer working with the Chinese contractor told the Post that the delay might be of a minimum two months.
“Now the water from Melamchi will not reach Kathmandu in mid-July as said earlier, but only during Dashain,” said the worker, who did not want to be identified fearing action from the contractor. “The Chinese have continued working.
According to him, as the lockdown began local workers started protesting fearing coronavirus infection. Workers’ camp and project site were placed under lockdown, barring the entry of outsiders.
“Those who stayed back are working in a safe environment. Others protested and subsequently left the site as they did not want to stay in the camp under lockdown but only wanted to work,” said the engineer. “Work has remained affected at the Gyalthum and Sindhu sites. Nearly 50 workers are planning to leave the site on April 9.”
Once completed, the Melamchi project will divert 170 million litres of water every day to the Kathmandu valley from Melamchi River in Sindhupalchok district in the first phase. Currently finishing work inside the tunnel and headworks is going on.
Now, the Melamchi Board looks up to the government decision of allowing major projects to operate even in the lockdown period.
“The project has been affected but there is still time to catch up. As the government has said that work at major projects could continue, we will soon transport construction materials,” said Pant.
“We have communicated the matter with all stakeholders and are facilitating them so that work resumes soon.”