General

Land acquisition issues peg back infra projects

- SANJEEV GIRI, ROSHAN SEDHAI, KATHMANDU

Mar 26, 2014-

Acquiring land for infrastructure projects has emerged as one of the biggest headaches for the government, with locals demanding compensation higher than estimation.

The fact that a senior official at the Finance Ministry expressed his frustration on twitter on Monday illustrates how chronic the issue has become.

On Monday, Madhu Marasini, chief of the international economic cooperation coordination division at the Finance Ministry, expressed his frustration on twitter over hefty compensation demand sought by Sindhuli locals for 3.6 hectares of land that comes under the Khimti-Dhalkebar Transmission Line Project.

“Extremely disheartened. Rs 100 million has been sought from the World Bank as compensation for 3.6 hectares of land in Sindhuli for transmission line. How can I ask for assistance,” twitted Marasini.

The locals demanded such an exorbitant amount during a recent visit by World Bank Country Director Johannes Zutt.

The World Bank-funded 75-km 220-KV transmission line project is yet to be completed even 10 years after the construction began. The project remained in limbo after the locals refused the government compensation.

Of the 188 towers under the project, 180 have already been constructed. It is the installation of eight towers that falls under this 3.5-km stretch that is delaying the project completion.

“Thirty-three households are refusing to accept the compensation package offered by the government,” said a senior government official. “We have offered 100 percent compensation instead of 10 percent as mentioned in the Land Acquisition Act.”

The transmission line, once completed, will reduce system loss by reducing power supply distance from the existing 300km to 75km to the Eastern Nepal, NEA officials said.

Currently, the electricity generated by Bhotekoshi and Khimti projects is rerouted to the Eastern Nepal via Kathmandu and Hetauda. According to NEA, completion of the transmission line is important to evacuate the power generated by the Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project (456 MW).

Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said land acquisition become a major problem for transmission line projects as locals in every project area seek hefty compensation for their land. “There should be a fair compensation provision, but outrageous demand will not be tolerated,” said Mahat on Tuesday addressing the 11th annual general meeting of the Confederation of Nepalese Industries, adding the government should stand firmly against such demands.

Beside the Khimti-Dhalkebar transmission line, several other transmission line projects are also facing the same problem. For an instance, NEA has failed to construct the 132-KV Thankot-Chapagaun-Bhaktapur Tranmission line for the last one decade for not being able acquire land along the corridor.

“We have already erected 50 percent of the pillars for the project, but have failed to complete the project due to this problem,” said NEA Spokesperson Sher Singh Bhat.

He said if this transmission line is not constructed, the load-shedding problem in the Kathmandu valley will continue even if all other parts of the country become load-shedding free. “It is because, we need this transmission line to bring power from the East,” he said.

This means the electricity generated by the Upper Tamakoshi Project may not enter Kathmandu without the completion of this transmission line as the existing transmission line cannot transmit additional power. The completion of the 456-MW project is expected to end load-shedding in the country after 2016.

The land acquisition problem also exists in the Kabeli corridor, from Damak to Phidim.

“It is equally difficult to get clearance from the Forest Ministry for cutting down

trees,” said Bhat. “If a tree grows after acquiring the approval, we have to start the whole process afresh to chop down that tree,” he complained.

Officials at ministries overseeing large infrastructure projects say stiff demand for compensation and obstruction by the locals have become routine affairs.

Government officials say the cost for acquiring land for any project has skyrocketed. People usually are not ready handover land to projects, and even if they are ready, they demand exorbitant compensation. “Especially, donor-funded projects are facing this problem because the people demand more if a project is funded by the donors,” said Tulasi Prasad Sitaula, secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport. “This, however, does not mean that locally-funded projects do not face this problem.”

Sitaula said land compensation has risen heavily as local land evaluation committees have been allowed to determine to do the valuation without a specific guideline. “If a project’s implementation does not start immediately, locals demand more for the same land after a few years when the government starts distributing the compensation,’ he said.

A committee headed by the National Planning Commission secretary under the National Development Problems Solution Committee has prepared a guideline to determine land compensation for the local evaluation committees. “After this guideline is implemented, the problem of land acquisition will probably ease somewhat,” he said.

In the recently concluded Nepal Business Conclave-2014, foreign investors asked that how easy was to acquire land for infrastructure projects in Nepal. In reply, government officials admitted that land acquisition has been a problem.

Nepal Rastra Bank Governor asked lawmakers even to introduce a law that would allow the government to acquire land easily for nationally important development projects.

 

 

 

 

Published: 26-03-2014 08:54

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