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Gautam Buddha airport project faces material supply problems

- MADHAV DHUNGANA, BHAIRAHAWA

Apr 24, 2019-

Construction work on Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa has hit a snag with local authorities demanding a higher price for riverbed materials. The country’s national pride project was on track for year-end completion, but after Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City refused to provide gravel and sand at the old rate, the scheme could be looking at time and cost overruns.

Project officials said that if the sub-metropolitan city sticks to its stance to charge for riverbed materials at current market rates, construction would be halted from next week. The sub-metropolitan city had signed an agreement with the project to provide 17,228 cubic metres of riverbed materials, but it prevented the project from extracting the materials stating that the rates quoted earlier were low, according to project officials.  

Chakrapani Sharma, chief administrative officer of Butwal, said that a meeting of the municipal council had decided to allow the project to extract the materials after revising the rates. “The rates quoted earlier were low compared to the current market rate. Whatever decision was made earlier, the council has decided to enforce the latest decision,” he said.

As per the earlier agreement, the rate of riverbed materials was Rs6 per cubic foot plus 13 percent value added tax. The latest rate quoted by the local government is Rs15 per cubic foot plus VAT. China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group, the contractor for the civil works component of the project, had assigned Swasam Construction to supply the riverbed materials from the Tinau River.

Swasam Construction deposited Rs3.7 million in the account of Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City as per the agreement. “But when we reached the site to extract the materials a week ago, city officials stopped us,” said Sunil Raymajhi, proprietor of the company. “The Chinese contractor has been exerting constant pressure on us,” he said. “But Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City isn’t budging.” According to Swasam, the Chinese contractor needs to get approval from its headquarters to pay the increased rates, and it would take at least two months to get it.

Another hitch is that environment laws do not allow the extraction of riverbed materials from the pre-monsoon season that starts in mid-May. Prabesh Adhikari, chief of the project, said that the existing stock of construction materials would last only a week. “If the materials are not supplied, work could come to a halt.” He said that the project had written to Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City about the problem.

Of the project’s two components—civil works and air traffic management systems—the civil works component accounts for 70 percent of the project while the remaining 30 percent involves Communications, Navigation and Surveillance (ANS) and Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems. The project has achieved 68 percent physical progress in the civil work component.

The airport was initially slated to be ready by December 2017. Fuel and building material shortages due to the months-long Tarai banda in 2015 delayed the upgradation work by six months, and its operation deadline was pushed back to June 2018.

Subsequently, a dispute over payment between the Chinese contractor and the Nepali sub-contractor, Northwest Infra Nepal, stalled works at the construction site for more than six months. As a result, the project deadline was extended many times after the initial extensions.

Published: 24-04-2019 08:04

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