‘‘Railway and roadway network connecting China and India can change Nepal's fortune’’

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Hridayesh Tripathi, Former Minister, Physical Planning and Works
Hridayesh Tripathi
Former Minister
Physical Planning and Works
How can we transform Nepal from landlocked to land-linked?
To transform Nepal from a landlocked country to a land-linked nation, we have only two potential mediums available so far. One is the railway link and the other is the road transport. For surface transport, the east-west highway is to be linked with the proposed Trans-Asian highway. For that a bridge over the Mahakali river near Mahendranagar of Kanchanpur has been built. Similarly, some planned corridors linking China are in the pipeline.
The use of railway in Nepal for internal transport is not economic as it cannot meet the operation cost and the size of trading transactions of our country. When we were in the government, a plan was formulated to link India and China with the railway network. The plan envisaged opening a railway track to link Shigastse and Kerung of Tibet to Rasuwagadhi, Galchhi, Anbukhaireni and Tamsaria of Nepal. The main aim of the plan was to connect the north-south railway to the east-west rail line. The main target is to grasp the opportunities associated with the bilateral trade between China and India. As a signatory to the Trans-Asian Railway Network Agreement of 2006, Nepal has seen some progress to establish the railway line. These are the major projects that can change Nepal's fortune from landlocked to land-linked.
How has been the progress towards this end?
When I was the Minister for Physical Planning and Works, the construction of east-west railway project started. During my tenure, the construction of Jogbani-Biratnagar-Katahari sector of the project started. Similarly, the land acquisition process for the Jayanagar-Janakpur-Bardibas sector also began. The project comprises three loops to connect the east-west railway to India. Accordingly, the task of preparing Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the Birgung-Lumbini part or the western sector was awarded to a contractor. Likewise, assuming that the Chinese railway track would soon reach Kerung through Shigastse, another plan was formulated so that we could start primary surveys and initiate the land acquisition processes to build the north-south railway network.
The land acquisition process is a major bottleneck for these projects. The ministry had started to prepare a draft for establishing a central authority to deal with such problems which are faced by the Projects of National Pride. For the roadway linkage, we had proposed three north-south corridors during the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's official visit to Nepal in January, 2012. The proposal which was positively received by China aims to link Nepal's roadways with the highways of China and India. The corridors were proposed in locations with potentials of higher economic activities which could also become major export-import points for Nepal. The Chinese delegation agreed to start the DPR process for the proposed project. I suggest to the current government to engage actively for initiating the DPR process. 
Are China and India interested to use Nepal as a transit country for their bilateral trade which is tipped to reach USD 100 bn soon?
Nepal is totally encircled by India and China. Besides, China and India are linked directly in various parts of their border regions such as the Nathu La pass. Since they share long border, the two countries might be interested in using such points to increase their bilateral trade. However, given the expansion of railway in China, we are fortunate that Kerung, which is the ending point of their railway network on this side, is close to Nepal. Since there are no railway lines across the borders of India and China, we can largely exploit the potentials created by the Kerung railway line.
Nepal’s terrain, too, carries a huge scope for developing cross-border surface transport. If we are able to develop north-south highways, the transport cost and distance between our two neighbours would come down significantly as the cross-border roadways connect major entry points of both countries through Nepal. Likewise, one fact neither China nor India wants to admit is that a highway or a railway through Nepal is more acceptable to them than a direct link between them due to their security concerns. I think if we prepare plans to realize these possibilities with good homework, investments from multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) could be obtained.
What benefits can Nepal reap from the Sino-India trade once it starts happening through Nepal?
Since the two countries have various means of connectivity at their disposal, we cannot route their entire trade through our country. However, establishing a transport system all the way through Nepal will likely have a bigger impact on the trade between India and China. For instance, transport of goods from China to Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and some parts of Rajasthan take an average duration of 86 days to reach the destination. By a railway through Nepal, it’s possible in just 13 days. Similarly, the transportation cost, too, would come down significantly. 
Our country will be able to achieve various benefits for allowing to use its railways according to the international practices and standard set by the the Trans-Asian Railway Agreement. Likewise, Nepal's trade deficit will also come down as the connectivity will enhance our export potentials. 
Has Nepal raised these issues at bilateral, trilateral and regional forums?
Nepal has raised these issues in some intergovernmental meetings with both India and China. The topics have also been discussed in regional forums such as the SAARC. However, there is a lack of proper homework to identify the specific benefits from these projects. The issues should be raised and discussed on practical grounds.
Presentation : Sanjeev Sharma

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