As Nepal’s Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai prepares to depart for his first bilateral visit to India on Thursday, he has declared that forging a ‘development partnership’ with the southern neighbour will be among his key priorities.
Media reports suggest that the Prime Minister will urge India to provide a $1 billion line of credit for infrastructure projects, assistance in construction of hospitals, bridges, embankments and canals, creation of world class engineering and medical colleges.
If there is a formal agreement in this regard, it will expand the already existing Indian development assistance programme in Nepal, which includes both Small Development Projects (SDPs) and larger projects.
In the late 90s, India diversified its assistance to grassroots projects, where the focus was on infrastructure and capacity building in the areas of education, health and community development. These include projects below Rs. 5 crore. A presentation prepared by the Embassy of India in Kathmandu states that the range of projects include building schools, libraries, campuses, primary health posts, hospitals, micro hydro projects, bridges, drinking water projects, canals, and gifting school buses and ambulances.
The larger projects include the construction of a 200-bed Emergency and Trauma Centre in Kathmandu, support to the BP Koirala Health Institute in Dharan, and road construction in both hills and plains. A major emphasis has been on enhancing cross-border connectivity. This includes the Tarai Road Projects, which would upgrade 1450 km of postal and feeder roads in the plains next to the border with India, integrated check posts at four points on the border, and building cross-border railway links.
Since 2003, work has been underway in 411 large and small projects. According to the Indian embassy, the total outlay for all the projects is around Rs. 4000 crore.
Ulterior motives suspected
India has said that its assistance to Nepal is in keeping with the larger philosophy that ‘alongside progress in the political process, it is equally critical to ensure economic deliverables’. But many attribute more ulterior motives.
Maoist-nominated MP Hari Roka told The Hindu, “Instead of designing the smaller projects as per the development priorities of Nepal, India’s aim seems to be to expand political patronage. They use the projects to reward loyalists, and win friends without keeping in mind the real needs on the ground.”
A development worker with an international organisation, who wished to remain anonymous since he was not authorised to speak, said that India does not go through official government channels. “The allocations are arbitrary, and they award all of their construction tenders to Indian contractors.”
‘All projects implemented through Nepal govt.’
An Indian official strongly rebutted the allegations, and said, “All our projects, 100 per cent of them, are implemented through the Government of Nepal. The sole role of the Government of India (GOI) is to release the funds after due inspection of the projects.” The official also emphasised that not a single contract for a small development project has been granted to any Indian contractor, and it is the local District Development Committees (DDCs) that float the tenders. Both Indian companies as well as joint ventures are eligible to bid for the larger GOI projects.
The official added that all projects come through civil society, local development officer, local leaders as per the MoU. “Cost estimates are prepared by the DDCs, and approval is sought from the government for all projects.” Pointing to the spread of projects to show there was no bias, he mentioned that assistance in some form spreads to all districts of Nepal, with exactly 50 per cent of the projects in the Tarai and 50 per cent in the hills.