Nepal, India expedite Connectivity Projects
Kamal Dev Bhattarai

On October 22, India handed over Jaynagar-Kurtha cross-border rail line to Nepal. This is expected to further facilitate the movements of goods, services, and people between two countries. The railway line comes into operation oncethe Nepal government removes legal hurdles and manages necessary logistics.

This is one in the series of connectivity projects that both countries have initiated over the past decade. India often faces criticism of delaying development projects in neighbouring countries, which is partially true and there is a realization on the Indian side. So both countries, over the past few years, have taken proactive steps to speed up the developmentprojects and some results are becoming visible. A number of projects have been completed within the stipulated time, some even before the deadline.

The above-mentioned 34.9 km Jaynagar-Kurtha section is part of the 68.72 km Jaynagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas rail link being built under Indian assistance. There are eight stations and halts on the Jaynagar-Kurtha section, which include Janakpur, a historical and religious place of Nepal. India has a wide domestic network of railways that are not connected with neighbouring countries, including Nepal. Such railway lines should have been built decades ago.

In order to expedite the connectivity projects, the meetings of bilateral mechanisms are taking place on regular basis.On October 7, Nepal and India held the meeting of the Joint Working Group and Project Steering Committee on India-Nepal cross-border railway to sign Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to kick off passenger train services on the Jaynagar-Kurtha section. During the meeting both sides also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Final Location Survey (FLS) of the proposed broad gauge railway line between Raxaul and Kathmandu, another landmark decision.

The proposed Raxaul-Kathmandu railway line is termed as a strategic project between two countries which is expected to boost connectivity between two countries. In 2018, two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of the Raxual-Kathmandu railway line which is expected to cost $3.15 billion. The Raxual-Kathmandu railway line is expected to get momentum as a route of railway line does not contain difficult geographical terrain.

The pre-feasibility study of the Kathmandu-Raxual railway line is already completed. Preparations are underway to push forward other cross-border railway projects. At the meeting of the Joint Working Group, both sides agreed to expedite the work on completion of the 18.6 km long Jogbani-Biratnagar rail link and its early operationalization.

The construction of Nepal-India railway lines is feasible in terms of both geography and is cost-effective as well. However, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the development of railway infrastructure at five points along the Nepal-India border was signed in 2010 but there was a delay in the implementation.

As mentioned above, there is progress on railway lines over the past few years. Construction of railway lines both with India and China is a main priority of the government. Nepal and China are in talks to construct the Kerung-Kathmandu railway line which has not made so much progress. The two countries are at odds over the investment modality of this railway line.

Similarly, there has been speedy progress in road projects as well. India-funded Terai projects have seen good progress. Out of 14 road packages, 13 roads have already been completed. Despite the covid-19 pandemic, Terai roads are making good progress.

Construction of Integrated Check Post known as ICP is another area where there has been progressing over the past few years. Three ICPs stand completed and additional ICPs are under construction. Nepal-India cross-border petroleum pipeline is another connectivity project that deserves to be highlighted.South Asia’s first cross-border petroleum products pipeline, was remotely inaugurated by the two Prime Ministers on 10 September 2019. Bilateral talks are underway to develop additional petroleum pipeline projects between two countries.

Waterways are another area where two countries are closely working with other.India has already agreed to allow Nepal to use three inland waterways on the Ganga River. If this is materialized, Nepal’s transit cost will reduce.

Kathmandu-New Delhi bus service is already in operation. Due to the Pandemic, the service was partially affected which now has resumed. There are also other bus services between the cities of two countries.

There are bilateral oversight mechanisms which regularly monitor and address the bottlenecks in connectivity projects. So, other remaining connectivity projects between two countries are expected to gather momentum. The mechanism which was formed in 2016 is regularly overseeing the development projects.

In the coming days, Nepal and India should work on other connectivity projects. Over the past five years, Nepal and India have witnessed several ups and downs in their relationship but development projects are moving ahead. Both countries seem cautious that differences at the political level do not affect the entire bilateral relations. This spirit must be continued in the days to come.

Bhattarai is a Kathmandu-based journalist and political commentator. He has a deep interest in international affairs

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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