• 18 May 2016 | 21:57pm

KATHMANDU, May 19 : National Planning Commission (NPC) has converted over 80 small road projects into multi-year projects over the past one and half months. Most of these projects are not categorized as 'strategic road' by the Department of Roads (DoR), according to officials. mThe decision means the cost of these small road projects have now swelled to millions of rupees, in some case billions of rupees. But officials say that the decision has been take on ad hoc basis. Investments on such roads can neither bring meaningful changes in the society, nor economic returns. They only add liability on the government as it will have to allocate funds for these projects in next fiscal year as well.

In recent days, Ministry of Finance has been writing a series of letters to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, asking it to begin contract process for the project on a multi-year basis. According to conservative estimates, combined cost of such projects is in tune Rs 50 billion. The figure surpasses the budget of Rs 42.02 billion allocated for all roads in regular budget program in 2015/16. Unfortunately, less than 25 percent of the allocation has been spent so far.

A source privy to the issue said that the government has okayed all projects forwarded by all influential leaders and lawmakers. The intention behind this approach is to please all, the source added. Bureaucrats do not want to be named fearing retribution from political leaders and their seniors. NPC Member Sumitra Amatya is the final authority to oversee the issue. She admitted that around 83 small projects have been converted into multi-year projects so far. "But I have only provided approval in principle with some conditions attached that too for strategic roads only," she maintained. Completion of land acquisition, preparation of detailed project report (DPR) and completion of IEE and EIA, if needed, are the pre-conditions for project conversion, according to Amatya. However, highly placed government officials have slammed the decision, saying that most of such roads are small ones and that they do not have strategic importance. This means these projects only serve the interest of political leaders. Though project conversion was in practice in past as well, officials say it was at a negligible level.

"We have allocated Rs 1.35 billion for Koshi Corridor that is important to boost north-south connectivity, and Rs 2.30 billion for Baglung-Maldhunga-Jomsom-Kora La road, among others," added Amatya. "Once a project becomes a multi-year contract project, executing agencies do not have to wait till the next fiscal year to start contract process. They can start works right away" A 21-kilometer road linking Belabas to Bethali in Rupandehi is not a strategic road. But it has been converted into a multi-year project. Tender notice to implement the project was published on Sunday. Interestingly, the project, which lies in the constituency of Minister for Finance Bishnu Prasad Paudel, has received budget of Rs 1.94 billion. Only Rs 5 million had been allocated to the project in regular budget. Division Road Offices under the Department of Roads are now publishing notice to award contracts of these new multi-year contract projects. NPC Spokesperson Tulsi Prasad Gautam told Republica that they are in the process of preparing standards to convert projects into multi-year contract projects.