The Tatopani Customs at Nepal-China border in Sindhupalchok that has been shut following the devastating earthquake on April 25, 2015 could start official work as early as next year as China continues to pump investment into rebuilding the damaged infrastructure, Nepali officials said on Tuesday.
Government officials from the two countries involved in a recent field study of the bordering region concluded that the customs point could be operated as soon as the construction of dry port and other infrastructure is complete.
The dry port is expected to be completed by May 2019.
Though the condition of road on Nepal’s side is impassable at the moment, officials said it can be repaired within five to six months.
“We need to work on a war footing to repair the road,” Gopal Sigdel, the join secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, told the Post.
Noting that works on the Chinese side were taking place in a full swing, he said Nepal, too, should take immediate steps to rebuild the strategic road.
The customs office could be brought back to operation within a year by clearing the debris on the road
and installing a bailey bridge, but it could take two to three years to completely reconstruct the road that suffered heavy damages during the earthquake.
Following the closure of the Tatopani border point, bilateral trade between Nepal and China has been redirected through Kerung in China and Kolkata in India.
“The closure of the Tataopani border has not had visible impact in monetary terms, but we cannot discount the issue of time and cost overrun at traders’ end, which has hit them hard,” said Department of Customs Director General Toyam Raya.
Besides, he added, “the closure of the custom point in Tatopani has also impacted the commercial activities along the bordering region in Sindhupalchok.”
Around four kilometers of road starting at Bahrabishe in Sindhupalchok needs serious reconstruction work, according to officials.
Deputy Director General of Department of Roads Shiva Prasad Nepal, also the member of field study, said as many as three big and small bridges on Nepal’s side have been swept away by floods and need to be rebuilt.
The road which was cleared by the Chinese side in 2016 remains inoperational due to poor maintenance.
Government officials say that the maintenance work has been hit due to a sharp decline in the movement of vehicles following the shutdown of the customs point.
On the Chinese side, construction of 20 kilometres of road from Nyalam to Zhangmu (Khasa) stretch has been
completed. It needs to maintain an additional eight kilometres road to clear the way up to the Sino-Nepal Friendship Bridge.
According to Sigdel, China has made a huge investment in infrastructure development on its side, which shows that the northern neighbour is serious about resuming the bilateral trade through Tatopani, which used to be the sole trading point between Nepal and China before the earthquake.
“Chinese officials informed us that they are making an investment of Rs1 billion per kilometre on the road connecting Nepal,” Sigdel said.
“The road situated beneath the Tibetan plateau, too, had absorbed serious impact of Nepal earthquake, posing severe engineering challenge. They [Chinese] are building robust infrastructure that can withstand similar disasters in the future.”
On Nepal’s side, the reconstruction work, which includes rebuilding the damaged road section and upgrading it to double lane, could cost around Rs3-4 billion, said Sigdel.
Officials involved in the process told the Post that the government has urged China to help in the construction of the road on Nepal’s side as well.
The officials at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure said the agency cannot make a decision on its own to maintain the road until and unless it receives a directive from the National Planning Commission and receives a dedicated fund from the Finance Ministry.
“Nepal’s Consulate General in Lhasa is coordinating the development with our Foreign Ministry and Chinese authorities,” the official said, adding that both sides are in a mood to hold the task even if they fail to do it during Mahara’s visit.
The Speaker of Federal Parliament will depart on September 7 and return on 11. China will rebuild the earthquake-ravaged bridge at the same location. A bailey bridge will be built for diversion unitl the project is completed. The project is estimated to cost Rs480 million and expected to be completed in 18 months. (PR)