Birgunj, May 19, 2016:Â Hulaki Highway a dream project for most Nepalis has remained in limbo for nearly a decade reportedly due to the lack of budget. Nepali and the Indian government had signed mutual agreement on 6 June 2006 for constructing 1440 kilometers of the highway. As part of the understanding, in the first phase 607 kilometers of the highway was to be constructed under India’s supervision. However, after much lagging in implementing, the agreement was cancelled and a new agreement was signed between both nations on February 20 this year.
As part of this agreement India has pledged to provide eight billion rupees of the needed Rs 13.68 billion for completing the unfinished first phase. The government has not been able to arrange remaining budget for completing the phase and this has left the fate of the project undecided. Along with that the government has not yet prepared detailed project report for constructing the second phase of the highway.
The Indian construction company which was given the responsibility for constructing the first phase of the highway had abandoned the project citing lack of coordination from concerned authorities in settling compensation with the locals for constructing the road.
The Department of Roads claims that the project implementation did not progress due to lack of budget. A 26 June, 2006 agreement between the nations agreed to conduct a detailed engineering survey for constructing the highway. As per the agreement, Nepal would be finalizing the road design, monitoring and construction in three phases and all the costs would be borne by India.
The agreement further said that Nepal would be responsible for removing of trees and houses on the way and construction of necessary number of bridges longer than six meters. The two countries had agreed again on 15 January, 2010 that 19 different road sections would be constructed as part of the first phase.
As of now, Nepal has completed 80 percent of bridge construction work. However Indian contractor cited several reasons among the lack of materials and lack of coordination from concerned authorities and locals in abandoning the project. In doing so, the contractor cancelled five among six work packages in the fiscal year 2014 / 15.
Balaram Mishra, chief of Hulaki Highway Project, claimed the new bids will be opened for completing rest of the work and said that the process for it was underway. “As per the new agreement, India is giving eight billion rupees to Nepal. But this is far less than the estimated 13.68 billion rupees for completing the first phase,” he said.
As per government’s survey, total length of the highway is 1792.42 kilometer. The first phase of the road, that is only 33 percent of the total, remains incomplete and lacking budget. The second phase that comprises 66 percent of the project is yet to initiate. “Development is the best way to address the dissatisfaction among people in the Tarai range. And construction of Hulaki highway is very essential for this,” said Devendra Mishra, professor at Thakur Ram Multiple Campus, Birgunj. Project progress report claims that that no more than 67.84 kilometer of the road has been blacktopped so far.
To expedite implementation of the project, project officials had had proposed the formation of a high level committee with members from finance, forest, local development, power, and communication ministries along with representatives from the National Planning Commission.
Such a mechanism, project officials believed would provide the road network, which is supposed to connect 20 districts across the tarai region, would get due attention and support from the Ministries to get through.
However, such a committee has not been formed yet. In lack of coordination between authorities and locals, the issue of compensation has become complicated. Land owners whose land will be acquired for constructing the highway, feel that the government fixed the compensation haphazardly. According to leader of the compensation claimers, Kishore Chaurasiya, local of Bhauarwa village, such land owners had challenged this ‘unfair compensation’ by filing case at the District Administration Office. He informed that the DAO is yet to resolve the case and claimed that until and unless the concerned departments come forward and fulfill their responsibilities, the Hulaki highway might remain a distant dream.