The parliamentary committee on International Relations and Labor has instructed the government to allocate adequate budget for Hulaki Rajmarga, which is also known as Postal Highway, so that the key road project can be completed in the next three years.
Lawmakers representing districts in the Tarai region, stretching from Parsa to Jhapa, claimed that the road construction has been delayed indefinitely mainly due to lack of government failure to prioritize the project.
After hours-long discussion, the committee meeting on Monday decided to direct bureaucrats and concerned government agencies to treat the project as a “national-priority project.”
The committee has also decided to order the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) to form a body to coordinate various agencies involved in implementing the project. The committee also asked the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport to develop sub-roads that connect various locations with the Hulaki Highway with equal priority.
“After a rigorous discussion among the lawmakers representing the districts connected by the Hulaki Highway, we came up with a conclusion that we must press the government to allocate sufficient money in the coming fiscal budget,” Prabhu Sah, chairman of the committee, announced at the end of the meeting. “Otherwise the project will linger on for many years.”
The 1,792-kilometer project has been stalled even though the government has already built 45 concrete bridges along the highway. The highway project began in 2010 with grant assistance from the Government of India. As per the agreement with India, Nepal has to build bridges along the road using its own resources.
At present, only 67 kilometers–Lamki-Tikapur section (27.5 km) and Seti-Bhajani section (40 km)–are being blacktopped. Similarly, 58 bridges are under different stages of construction while work on 46 bridges has yet to begin.
India has agreed to provide grant assistance to build 607 km section of the 1,792-kilometer project.
“Initially, India had shown willingness to bear the cost of building the entire highway,” said Project Director Balaram Mishra.
“We were all set to sign a deal with India on the selection of consultant for the road project during President Bidyadevi Bhandari’s India visit. That would have paved the way for receiving the budget from India. But the president’s visit was called of in the last minute,” Mishra said. President Bhandari was scheduled to embark on a five-day India visit from May 9.
According to him, both the governments had signed the MoU on developing the project during Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s India visit about four months ago. The MoU states that the process to get the Indian assistance could move ahead after appointing a consultant from India.
According to Mishra, the project has called for bids to build different nine road sections at various locations along the highway. “We have planned to develop 17 roads along the highway. India has promised to give Rs 8 billion, while we need almost Rs 13 billion to build 17 road sections alone,” he said.
The 17 road sections cover only 518 km of the 1,792-kilometer Hulaki Highway.
Several lawmakers, representing various Tarai districts, have claimed that the government has simply chosen to ignore the project.
A member of the committee, Surendra Deshman, emphasized the need of mounting pressure on the government and political leadership to expedite work on the highway.
“The highway can be instrumental in making the region economically strong,” said lawmaker Rewati Raman Bhandari. “The government must allocate maximum budget for the timely completion of this project.”