By PR Pradhan
On the day when President Bidya Devi Bhandari was leaving for a nine-day visit to China, the roads from Maharajgunj, Baluatar and Gaushala to the Trivhuvan International Airport were blocked for half an hour for the President’s travel. Kathmandu’s skies were also closed for 57 minutes to operate the VVIP flight from the only international airport of the country. According to reports, around 200 domestic and international flights were affected due to the closure of the Kathmandu sky. A Chinese aircraft flying from Chengdu via Lhasa was on hold for one hour in the Simara skies and then when the pilot didn’t get clearance to land at the Tribhuvan International Airport, he had returned back to Lhasa. We are going to observe the Visit Nepal Year 2020 next year. Can we bring 2 million tourists to visit Nepal by following such a traditional security mechanism?
President Bhandari is a people-elected head of the nation. On security grounds, she is just at risk as a ceremonial head of the nation or even the common people who elected her. Still, an unnecessarily high security alert was maintained during her travel affecting the Kathmandu traffic and also the air traffic.
In many European countries even the executive chiefs are found travelling on bicycle, City Metro, etc. Why the ceremonial President wished to give trouble to the people? Tomorrow, obviously, after retirement from the President’s position, she will be walking in the streets as a commoner, then, why she needs to give such a pose and trouble the people? Will prosperity come by halting thousands of people in the streets and by halting hundreds of people in different aircrafts in the sky? The head of the state, head of the government and also other VVIPs should try to learn from the existing practice in such travels in places like New Delhi or Beijing or London, or Washington DC and New York, where the VVIP flow is very high. It is funny to note that when the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi visited Kathmandu, the government had announced a nationwide holiday. In which era are we?
The dream of Trans-Himalayan Railway
Of course, we are happy that the Belt and Road Forum, at the end of the summit, included the trans-Himalayan connectivity in its declaration. More than us, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali expressed his happiness that the dream to link Kathmandu with China by train will come true now. We know, this is the beginning only. Construction of the railway line is a multi-billion project, which is beyond our capacity for investment. China is not going to construct such a huge project in grants. Therefore, the Nepal government should do its homework very well to make the dream come true. There are different options as well. First of all, how much investment the Nepali side can make, Nepal should make clear this to China. Then, Nepal should lobby for increasing grant amount from the Chinese side. Besides, on the loan also, Nepal should make special demand for China taking only some nominal interest rate and arrange for a long term loan payback period. The other possible modality is BOT (build, operate and transfer).
Yes, some Westerners and the Western agents are creating propaganda and even trying to justify that the trans-Himalayan railway is useless for a country like Nepal. However, this scribe believes, such a venture will obviously open the doors of tremendous opportunities for Nepal. Nepal is a landlocked country, more than that, it is an India locked country. A railway connection with China will pave the way for Nepal to trade with other countries in the Asian and European continents. Nepal can import petro-products from the Gulf countries and can increase trade with Pakistan by using the Chinese land as transit. More importantly, trains operated by electricity will be cheaper compared to the vehicles operated by petrol and diesel. Furthermore, increasing consumption of the petro-products can be reduced by home-generated electricity, which will support to minimize the continuously and alarmingly increasing deficit in our international trade. Therefore, Nepali planners have to give priority in developing the railway network as well as cable car operation in the hill districts.
There is the question about what will Nepal export after the arrival of the Chinese goods carrying trains made in China! This is a genuine question. Nepal should identify products which can be exported to China and other countries via China. For example, China is importing a large quantity of livestock from the US. Why can’t we supply such livestock from Nepal? The other item is export of herbs. China is a big market for traditional medicines. Nepal should think about the installation of traditional medicine factories within the country as raw materials are available in the domestic market. China is a big country with large population. Therefore, China is also a big market for Nepal. China has provided zero tariff facility to nearly 9000 Nepali products. Have we been able to take benefit of such a facility? At any cost, we have to be able to enjoy this facility provided by China. And if we don’t work on this side of our opportunity for development, the construction of the railway line will be very costly for us.
The other important part is the operational and maintenance costs. Sure, a trans-Himalayan railway is a challenging task due to the geographical structure and the maintenance cost could be high as well. We should be ready for it from now. To operate the railway in profit, we have to do good homework right from now. For example, India has already constructed a railway line but until now, we don’t have a law related to the railway operation and also we don’t have any railway engine and bogey yet. Along with the construction of the railway line, we have to prepare for the operation modality. If the government will not change its present working style, we cannot achieve our goals. If we will not be able to face the challenge, it is sure that a railway line can be a white elephant for us. More important for us is the use of trans-Himalayan railway connectivity and more than that, it is to operate the railway in profit and giving boost to our economy!