Melamchi – A mirage for Kathmandu denizens?
By Sujan Ghimire, N24:
Melamchi, the dream sold to the people of Kathmandu valley who have to wait for hours and hours to get a pitcher full of water, has again been rescheduled to complete by March 2016. When public are asked regarding the availability of Melamchi water in valley the single answer is probably during the generation of my grand children.
Such answer from the general public is expected one because the much hyped project has been mired into controversy, disturbance, over politicization since its inception in 2002. Has anyone ever think what would be the cost to access the Melamchi water which will be distributed and managed by the private sector if disturbances continue? The water tariff would surely be much more times higher than present as they want returns of the investment quick which is alarmingly increasing due to disturbances, delay, inflation and increase in dollar rate. What would happen if there is the water in the tap but out of access to the public? But this time there are few sign to be optimistic as the Melamchi Water Supply Project( MWSP) has brought the provision of awarding the contractor, 0.5% of total bidding amount for tunnel construction if the project get completed six months earlier than scheduled date of completion and to penalize by the same amount if get extended. And the next important is that this time contract will be awarded on the basis of technical and financial standing of the company along with its experience and reputation in doing similar project rather on the basis of lowest bidding amount . This might be the lesson Melamchi has learned from awarding.the contract to Chinese joint venture China Railway 15 Bureau Group Corporation and China Machinery Industry Construction Group where they had bided amount 1.72 billion less than the estimated budget.
Melamchi water supply project is designed to divert 170 MLD of water from Melamchi river and later additional of 170 MLD from yangri and larke rivers to Kathmandu to alleviate the chronic water shortage in Kathmandu valley on a sustainable long term basis. Various report says that the demand of water in Kathmandu valley is 320 MLD but the supply is only 88.5MLD during dry season and 118.4 MLD during wet season. This clearly indicates the gap between demand and supply which is increasing day by day due increase in population growth rate and drying of the water resource like stone sprout. Melamchi also aims to improve the health and well being of inhabitants and the also the comprehensive institutional framework for water resources management within the valley. Melamchi, one important among 17 different national glory project declared by the government of Nepal has to do many things other than construction of diversion tunnel like construction of water treatment plant and reservoirs at sundarijal site and the next challenging is to improve and manage the poor water supply network inside valley which provides enough background to doubt in its completion by march 2016.
$ 464 million estimated project which has increased by significant percentage with delay has always been the targeted one from the top level minister to the grass shoot level local public which is considered as one important reason for the delay of the project. Who knows the concerned politicians, Engineers, bureaucrats ,consultant themselves intentionally lagging the project behind so their job will be extended more from where they are can get much and more personal financial benefit? Sometimes it compel us to think that they want Melamchi not to be completed earlier so that they can get retired from the same project bagging huge amount of personal financial benefit. So that they can appoint their son, daughter relatives in the different post in the project and make it as a source of family income rather than concentrating for completion of the project. The most important thing that should be noted is that the huge amount of money has been allocated for the high income class people of Kathmandu by the government even ignoring the basic needs of people in the remote places so there is not enough background to delay this project and increase the cost with social injustice to poor people. When we look, every big infrastructure project of Nepal has always suffered and suffering from over politicization which has severely crippled us. The next is the local interference that Melamchi has been experiencing since long. And this will be challenging one to start the work for the new contractor again as people are already aware about the new contractor to come and might be ready with the different financial proposals for their personal benefits. When we look back when Chinese company was there, the level of public interference was extreme to that when a local she-goat had a miscarriage, people sought compensations, claiming that it has happened due to explosion in the tunnel works. Locals put forward the invalid demand like looking up their financial crisis, funding their picnic, games and so on.
Even though there is a high-level committee whose job is to work as a bridge between the project and the locals. The committee has representation of the locals also. Instead of working to solve the problem, most of the members of the committee seek benefits from the projects, They do not care what is going on in the field. This is what that can be seen in other big project too.
When we look towards the system of water supply in kathamandu valley the already well functioning public utility Nepal Water Supply corporation was dissolved upon the pressure from Asian Development Bank(ADB) which is the major donor for Melamchi project. ADB black mailed the government saying that without appointment of private management of contractor there will be no ground to persuade the extension of funding commitment. Such activities make us to think once whether bank mechanism is doing anything to rectify the situation or oriented only at using its financial leverage and indebtedness to create entry of private capital. One important thing is that water is an essential service and every person has right to its access so delivery of such must be in public hands. Even the private sector came up as KUKL( Kathamandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited) the water supply distribution has more worsened. The existing leakage of at least 40-70 per cent of water due to old water supply infrastructures is another problem that has not been tackled. Kathmandu is not a properly planned city. Drainage and drinking water pipes are lined together without maintaining certain distance or zoning due to which sanitation problem is existing. The quality, quantity , distribution, management and operation of KUKL is always being question marked. And it will be challenging job for MWSP to rebuild the proper water supply network in improperly planned and growing Kathmandu valley.
The question still today arises whether it was the best alternative and good decision to come up with Melamchi project where there is inter basin supply of water? Was it good to cut-off the water for the local public of Melamchi who entirely depend upon agriculture and fishing? Will it be effective to bring the water through 26.3 km long tunnel in the seismic prone zone?
Anyway Melamchi is the project of national glory and the Kathmandu is waiting for it so concerned authority should be concentrated for early completion of this project. Nobody wants to see the delay in this project, Nobody want to see the more and more expenditure from the government in the same project for long years which affects the new projects to come up. And none of the resident of Kathmandu are willing to pay high water tariff due to increase in project cost. So Melamchi should be completed early as soon as possible and the most important thing government should not left any problem unsolved and should come up with the proper planning to address the local condition and scenario that arises in Melamchi region after the water started diverting to Kathmandu.
-Ghimire is a Civil Engineering Student at National Institute of Technology, Warangal in India and pens on Nepal’s political, development and social issues. He can be reached at email@example.com