By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Mar. 29: As per the data provided by the Postal Highway Directorate (PHD), 59 per cent of the physical construction work of the Postal Highway is complete. Meanwhile, its fiscal progress stands at 61 per cent.
The highway, which will span the entire length of the country from east to west and pass through 20 districts of the Terai, is considered a vital infrastructure project that will aid in the country’s development. According to Rohit Bisural, director of the directorate, the highway will directly benefit around 10 million people and indirectly benefit the entire nation.
Work on the Postal Highway began more than a decade ago in the fiscal year 2008/09. Initially, India was to provide financial and technical assistance for the highway with the Government of Nepal only providing land and removing administrative hurdles. “Under this arrangement, the Indian contractors and consultants came and started work but they then left. This left the project in limbo for many years,” Bisural said.
“It was with the establishment of the Postal Highway Directorate in 2015 that the project picked up pace from the fiscal year 2016/17,” he added.
For the large part, work has been moving forward smoothly for the past five years. Of the total 1,857-kilometre length of the highway, the directorate has completed blacktopping of 650 kilometres and is currently working on 677 kilometres. “The remaining 530 kilometres have also been contracted out and are under the management of other government agencies,” Bisural said, mentioning that the department was not the sole body working on the road. “Work is not just being carried out under the PHD. The government has authorised other agencies like the Department of Roads to work on some sections.”
Similarly, work is also moving rapidly forward on the 37 feeder roads with 11 of them already complete. India has completed construction of the nine feeder roads it was responsible for. Nepal was to construct 28 roads out of which two are complete and 26 are under construction. These feeder roads extend from the postal highway to the southern Indian border.
However, it is not all a smooth sailing. The directorate has been dealing with some challenges, one of the major ones being the locals’ reluctance to give their land up without any compensation. This has stalled the project’s progress in some places.
“The original plan was to follow the alignment of the old Rana-era postal roads while constructing the new highway. However, it is not possible to build a modern highway following
the designs of historic foot trails.
So, we have to expand and upgrade and for that, we need to acquire land. But the government does not have a policy of providing compensation for our project.
So, people are expected to give their land up voluntarily, which they do not do. This has led to some delays,” Bisural told The Rising Nepal. “Some land acquisition cases have also reached the courts.”
Another challenge is that the route of the postal highway passes through a number of protected and forested areas, the most notable ones being the Chitwan National Park, Banke National Park and Shuklaphanta National Park.
“These are sensitive areas where we can’t just work as we please. We have to coordinate with other departments and the Ministry of Forests and Environment.
Sometimes, we also have to discuss with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and in the case of Chitwan National Park, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) because it is a world heritage site,” Bisural informed.
COVID-19 also brought the work to a standstill. The lockdown and restrictions on movement prevented PHD from transporting