In the general election of 1991, veteran leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai was contestant from Kathmandu constituency-1.
“I will clean the valley with the water of Melamchi.” This was how Bhattarai tried to woo the voters then. But they were least impressed. He did not forget to sell Melamchi dream five years later when he went for another election from Parsa district. However, people again laughed it away.
Now Bhattarai is no more with us. However, his vision is no more a farfetched dream, if the assertion of the Melamchi project officials is anything to go by.
Kathmanduities collecting the water of Melamchi through their taps is just likely within two years.
A worker at a tunnel of Melamchi Drinking Water Project in Sundarijal on Wednsday. The project is being expedited over the recent weeks.(Photos: Chandra Shekhar Karki/Republica)
“Just be assured of it. You can drink from the Melamchi water within 2015,” says Krishna Prasad Acharya, executive director of the project. “The government is very serious about it, the infrastructures and massive support of the locals quite guarantee it.”
The government has also accorded a high priority to the Melamchi project as one of the projects of national pride.
The construction of the 26-kilometer tunnel to supply the water to Kathmandu has gained momentum. A plant to filter the water in Sundarijal is making headway. Similarly, Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL) has already initiated works to supply the Melamchi water to Kathmandu households.
Thus, the project seems to be going in full swing and it is not hard to believe in what the concerned officials are upbeat about the completion of the project this time around.
The work for the project had started back in 2001.
An Italian company – CMC Cooperative Muratorie Cementisti di Ravenna – is carrying out the construction of the tunnel in full swing.
Over the past few weeks, it has been digging 25 meters of the tunnel every day, which has given much credence to the plan to complete the project within two years.
Among the seven parts of the tunnel, the construction is already underway at five parts. Due to the mobilization of skilled human resource and modern technology and machineries, the project is being expedited.
“The other work related to the tunnel is going to be started after a week,” said Acharya. “The progress made by the Italian company is very encouraging.”
He added that 20 kilometer of the tunnel would be completed within 20 months at the latest.
“We have meticulously studied the plan for the project. We are sure of the work getting completed on time.”
Currently, the Sundarijal – Sindhu (two way), Gyalthum – Sindhu (one way), Gyalthum – Ambathan (two way) components of the tunnel is being carried out on a war footing. Similarly, progress at Sundarijal section is also encouraging.
The Italian company was roped in a year ago after earlier contract with a Chinese company was terminated for poor performance.
The current contractor has assured to supply drinking water to the valley residents before April, 2016. All the equipments imported by CMC from Denmark and Germany among other countries are already at the site to expedite the work.
According to the project officials, over 400 workers are working day in and day out for the project.
Another remarkable development is the setting up of the water purification center at Sundarijal.
In the first phase, Kathmandu would be receiving 17,000,000 liters of water everyday from Melamchi. The water from Melamchi would pass through Sundarijal to Mahankal before being distributed to the houses in the valley through nine places.
According to Ghanashaym Bhattarai, Assistant Director of the project, the purification center has capacity of holding 8.5 crore liter of water, while Melamchi supplies 17 crore liter of water.
Transforming the project area
Even though Melamchi Drinking Water Project is yet to be realized, it has already brought about visible development in the Melamchi region.
While there was just a service road to Melamchi until the project was incepted, all of the 24 Village Development Committees (VDCs) boast of polished roads to their nooks and corners now.
There is regular public transportation to the remotest of the villages such as Melchighyang and Bhotang.
This would not have been possible without the investment made in the Melamchi project. The roads were bound to spread as the multi-million dollar project needed a network of access roads to lay pipelines and for other works of the project. Just the access road to the source of water is 66 kilometers long.
Similarly, the project has also spurred various social development initiatives in 35 VDCs of the region. It includes programs for road, education, health, employment and environment conservations.
Each VDC has received Rs 2.1 million for development. Just for the promotion of these programs, Rs 110 million has been earmarked in the current fiscal year alone.
How the project fell by the wayside
The Kathmandu Valley had witnessed scarcity of drinking water back in the seventies with the first wave of population explosion. But it took three long decades for the authorities concerned to actually spring into action.
That’s how the Melamchi project was conceptualized after brainstorming various alternatives.
Even before the project was actually commissioned, it became the favorite agenda among politicians basically when they would contest elections.
After a long wait, the Melamchi project was finally started in 2001, but it never quite picked up momentum until very recently.
The project was initially planned to completed seven years ago – if everything had gone as planned.
But the state alone cannot be held responsible for the delayed project.
While the locals would obstruct the construction work now and then with one or the other demand, the government did not show political will to overcome the challenges. According to Acharya, the delay in the work has added substantially to the cost of the construction.
He said that the project would be completed with the investment of US 55 million dollar-much more than what was expected when the project was incepted.
Meanwhile the capital continues to reel under unprecedented water crisis with the authorities concerned supplying only 130 million liters at present against the actual demand for 320 million liters.
Acharya stated that 17 crore liter of water to be supplied through Melamchi be bring huge relief to the valley dwellers.