Kalanki-Maharajgunj road widening project in limboThe widening of the 8.2km section was set to be carried out by the Chinese government, and the work was initially planned to start from early 2020.
The second phase of the Ring Road widening project remains uncertain as the work on the Kalanki-Maharajgunj section has failed to gather momentum ever after over two years since it was planned.
Officials at the Department of the Road said that they were taken by surprise by the dilly-dallying of the Chinese contractor in starting the work on the site, citing various reasons. They said they have cleared the roadsides as per the contractor’s request and have completed other related tasks, but the contractor is yet to start the work.
“Two weeks ago, representatives of the Chinese contractor had asked us to visit the road sections and we went there along with them,” Arjun Jung Thapa, director general at the Department of Roads, told the Post. “They asked us to remove the small temples on the roadsides, which was not even an issue because it could easily be done.”
According to Thapa, the road department has performed all the necessary tasks to clear the road sections.
“We are surprised why the Chinese contractor has not started the work on the site,” said Thapa.
Upon request from the Departments of the Roads, the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) cleared impediments on the road section four months ago.
“We have already removed all the electric poles and the high voltage line in the Swayambhu and Halchowk section,” said Suresh Bahadur Bhattarai, spokesperson at the NEA.
The widening of the 8.2km section was set to be carried out by the Chinese government, and the work was initially planned to start from early 2020, but even after a two year gap, the project has not progressed.
“The contractor asked us to remove the high voltage transmission line at Balaju even though that does not fall in the road expansion section,” said Thapa. “It seems they are reluctant to start the work there.”
To prepare the ground for widening of the road, the Kathmandu Ring Road Improvement Project under the Department of Roads had in August 2019 started cutting down trees—more than 2,000 in number—along the Kalanki-Balaju-Maharajganj section, drawing widespread criticism from environmentalists and urban planners.
But, from March 2020, Nepal went into a nationwide lockdown, which shut down all sectors, including infrastructure projects. Thereafter, a second wave of Covid-19 gripped the country, with prohibitory orders being reintroduced from April 29 last year.
Last year in March, the road clearance work was disrupted after the government could not resolve the dispute concerning the roadside shrine at Swayambhu and acquire private plots along the road section at Maharajgunj.
Nabin Manandhar, spokesperson at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, said the issue of Swayambhu and Maharajgunj is not going to obstruct the road expansion work.
“Over 95 percent of roadsides between Kalanki and Maharajgunj are clear now, and the Chinese contractor can carry out the task,” Manandhar said. “We are ready to help them for this purpose.”
Manandhar said the City has cleared all the illegal shacks along the road section as part of its drive to demolish illegal structures within the City.
Last year, after inspecting the road section, the Chinese contractor had said that they were not going to start the widening work until electricity power lines along the Swayambhu-Halchowk section were removed.
Last year in October, Thapa had hinted that the road widening work could start after the Tihar and Chhath festivals, in mid-November, but it didn’t.
In his conversation with the Post earlier, Thapa had said that the Chinese contractor had already handed over a detailed project report, but in the Chinese language, and that he had asked for an English version of the report. He said the department had yet to receive the translated copy in English.
People were optimistic about the start of the road expansion after the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal in the second week of October 2019.
Earlier, in January 2019, the Chinese government had handed over the 10.5 km eight-lane Koteshwar-Kalanki section of the Ring Road to the Nepal government. Work on the section had started in 2013 and was completed in five years at the cost of Rs5.13 billion.