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Is Melamchi Water Flowing?

Issue May 2019

Is Melamchi Water Flowing?

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Melamchi Water had been the talk of the town for so many years: exactly for 30 years since 1990. It had almost flowed to the Kathmandu Valley last Dashain but it did not. Then, in December the government arrested a group of the Italian contractors from Thamel in Kathmandu because they were about to flee. Actually, they said that they were going home for their great festival called Christmas. The people’s concern had been for only the water, as folks had been waiting for so many years but never coming. What happened to the project?


Then, the “Artha Bazaar”: daily supplement to “Gorkhapatra” published the news on May 25, 2019 with the title “Melamchi ko kam ‘drut-marga’ baat.” The title literally translates “The work on Melamchi on the fast track”; the water will flow in Kathmandu within a year. Such targets had been missed not once in the past. However, let us see whether the target would stay and water would flow to Kathmandu at this time or not.


The same news stated that the Kathmandu Valley has the demand for 450 million liters of water per day but Kathmandu Upatayaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL) could produce 160 million liters per day during the wet season, and 120 million liters during the dry season. It is only the one-third of the actual requirement of water.


The news also stated that the first phase of the Melamchi project would produce 170 liters a day, and the second phase 350 million liter per day making total 520 million liters of water per day. It would surely meet the requirement; and it would not only significantly reduced but also end the current vast deficit, and the folks would have more water than what needed.


The second phase Melamchi project would surely produce additional 350 million liters per day to make the total production of water 520 million, which would surely meet the today’s demand. Mind it, it would be only in 2022 even if all the targets were met and everything was done as scheduled, and no contractors would flee. However, these are a few unpredictable factors that often become the hurdles to the completion of the projects on time. Consequently, consumers or beneficiaries had to wait decades even more for any benefits any projects would bring. So, the credibility of the State for meeting the deadline of completing the development projects had been severely damaged.


Now, the question is who is meeting the current unmet demands for water. Hundreds of private water tankers have been busy with carrying water and delivering water home. Buying water has been the regular business for the folks in Kathmandu. The concerned State agency has attempted to set the quality of water, and give the stickers that would say the quality of water. However, the private companies were not willing to follow the standard, and they removed the stickers particularly the tankers carrying the stickers that said the low quality water. What to do? The State agency did not know and became the mute spectator.


So, supplying water has been the business of billions of rupees. It is good that a new business has flourished. It must have contributed to the economic growth, as it has created the jobs for the thousands of drivers of water tankers, and to another thousands of water producers. Common folks have the water. The short supply of water has not caused any social and political upheavals, as the private water companies have been closing the gap between the supply and demand for water.


The State agencies must have been taking it easy to complete the Melamchi Project, as the private companies have been doing a good business of supplying water, and the folks in Kathmandu have been having at least the lowest possible minimum water requirement. Some folks even have suspected whether the private water companies have been lobbying the State water agency and the concerned ministry to keep the work going on but never completing the Melamchi project so that their business of supplying water would not only continue even flourish, as the demand for water has been growing every year. Probably, by the time the Melamchi project completes the demand for water would be doubled and the business of the private companies would increases.


The same news in ‘Artha Bazaar’ of “Gorkhapatra” has stated that the first phase Melamchi project that brings 170 million liters of water every day is of NPR 27.76 billion, and the second phase is of NPR 25 billion, and it brings in 350 million liter per day. The second phase project looks so cheap because it would use the same tunnel that has been dug for the first phase. The second phase project would add its own 12 km tunnel to bring water from two rivers such as Yangri and Larkay to the 27 km-long tunnel of the first phase project.


The first and the second phase projects together bring 520 million liters of water per day every day. The total cost of the two projects would be 52.76 billion rupee. The simple arithmetic states that the cost of bringing 100 million liter water per day would be about one billion rupee.


Since the Italian contractors left the country without completing the work on the Melamchi in December 2018, all the work on the project had been suspended. Probably, the State agency did not know what to do with the remaining work to complete. Probably, legal provisions must have been to sort out before initiating the work. So, it has almost been more than five months the work on the Melamchi project has been stopped; nothing has been done, yet.


The State-run media and the private media also have been writing and saying that 97 percent of the work on the Melamchi project had been done only three percent was left to complete. So, the project was almost done. If the Italian contractors had not left then the water must have flowed to Kathmandu.


Why the Italian contractors left Nepal it had been the matter of public interest. Again, both the State media and the establishments had been shy to disclose the reasons for why the Italian contractors had left so unceremoniously. The private media stated that the Italian contractors had demanded extra money for completing the project to compensate work they had to suspend due to the earthquakes and then the Indian embargo on Nepal. Again, the private media stated that the government of Nepal offered only NPR 360 million only a half of what the contractors had asked for.


The news on ‘Artha Bazaar’ of “Gorkhapatra” on May 25, 2019 stated that the cabinet meeting held on May 20, 2019 decided to instruct the KUKL to complete the remaining work on the Melamchi project on contract giving in pieces following the Article 66 of the Public Procurement Act 2063 (2006), and the Clause 145 of the Rules and Regulations 2064 (2007) so that the work could be put on the fast track.


The estimated cost of the remaining work was three billion rupee, the same news in “Artha Bazaar” stated. Mind it, the remaining wok was only three percent of the total work, as the State media had stated. The total cost of the Melamchi project was 27.76 billion rupee, the news stated. So, the cost of one percent of the work had been 277.6 million. However, the cost of each one percent of the remaining work had been estimated at one billion, which was more than 3.6 times the original cost of every percent of the Melamchi project.


Neither the cabinet nor the KUKL bothered to explain why the cost had been so enormously increased for the last three percent of the work to be done. However, the same news on ‘Artha Bazaar’ stated that the deposit the Italian contractor had made of about two billion rupee while accepting the contract would be used for the remaining three percent of the work.


No matter who pays for the work on the Melamchi project, the public has the rights to know the reasons for the so high cost of the remaining three percent of the work on the Melamchi project. The State needs to explain to the public following the Rights to Information law.


Anyway, the folks in the Kathmandu Valley have been waiting for the water coming from the Melamchi River and other sister rivers there so that they would have high quality drinkable water, and so that they would not need to pay the high price for the water of the dubious quality the private water companies had been delivering at the fantastically high prices.


Water consumers in Kathmandu had been paying 500 rupee in an average for every thousand liter of water the private companies deliver. KUKL had been charging only 15.5 rupees for every thousand liter up to ten thousand liters, and then about 50 rupee for every additional thousand liter of water KUKL delivered. However, the water KUKL supposed to deliver sometimes never showed up if it showed up it might be once a month in the dry season and three times a month in the wet season that also every consumer had to use high power pump to suck in the water from the main line. When the water from KUKL would flow in the main city line then the whole neighborhood would be buzzing with the sound of pumps pulling in the water from the public line to the private line.


It was illegal to use the pump to draw water from the public line but the folks had no choice, as even a single drop of water would not flow in if anybody would not use a pump. So, KUKL had not been able to enforce the law because the law had been impracticable, and the folks had to defy the State law because of the so low-pressure supply of water.


May 26, 2019

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